Bathroom Wars and Identity

Bathroom Wars and Identity

Why have public restrooms become an issue in our culture?


Transcript Bathroom Wars and Identity

KEVIN HARRIS: They are being called “bathroom wars.” We’ve been hearing about it in the news for quite some time. It doesn’t look like it is going away – and that is the issue of transgenderism. Which bathroom you can use according to whether you feel like you are a man or woman. This has got conservatives extremely upset and more progressives or liberal people want to include this in their agenda. You’ve been following this whole thing. What are your thoughts on the bathroom wars that you have been hearing about it?

DR. CRAIG: It is an astonishing cultural shift. It is amazing how rapid it has become such that now industry seems to be behind this. Professional sports seems to be supporting this. If someone is of the opinion that biological men ought to use the men’s room and biological females ought to use the women’s room he is regarded as a bigot. I find this absolutely astonishing, especially since using a toilet facility is a matter of the privacy of the other people who are in the room. It’s not a matter of the rights of the transgender person – the man who feels like he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. When he goes into that ladies’ room it’s the other women in the room whose privacy it seems to me is being violated by having this man walk in regardless of how he feels. So I find it so odd that the issue is about the person who wants to use the facilities opposite his biological sex as opposed to the rights of the other people using those facilities which seem to be violated – the right to privacy.

KEVIN HARRIS: Because it has gone that direction we’re bypassing the main issue that we, as Christians, could get on board, and that is we ought to be loving toward people who may be confused about their gender or who have what is known as gender dysphoria. We can get fully on board with reaching out to someone who has any kind of an identity problem or any kind of a bodily problem. But they turned it instead into this public restroom thing demanding that as a matter of principle let them use that bathroom and then putting it as part of the gay agenda. Advocate magazine wants to include transgenderism in their whole agenda, but it has nothing to do with being homosexual or heterosexual.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That’s correct. That would be a confusion. Someone who is experiencing gender dysphoria would be someone who feels that his biological sex doesn’t match up with the gender that he feels. I might feel like I’m a woman trapped in a male body, and you can imagine how horrible that would be to have that kind of experience or to think that you’re a man trapped in a woman’s body. It must be just a terribly difficult experience for those who experience gender dysphoria. But, as you say, this is not anything to do with homosexual attraction or activity. It’s a matter of one’s self-perceived identity.

And then I’m just puzzled, as I say, by thinking that folks who have gender dysphoria have rights to use public restroom facilities that trump the right to privacy of women using those facilities or men using their facilities. By what principle or legality would that trump the rights of other people using those facilities? I don’t understand that.

KEVIN HARRIS: Because the agenda has to make a point. That is the only thing I can think of.

DR. CRAIG: Right, but that is not an answer to the question though.

KEVIN HARRIS: No, it is not. Christianity Today has the leading Christian scholar on gender dysphoria – Mark Yarhouse – who defines gender dysphoria as this: it “refers to deep and abiding discomfort over the incongruence between one’s biological sex and one’s psychological and emotional experience of gender.”[1]

DR. CRAIG: Right.[2] Now what is odd, I think though, is that Yarhouse defines gender identity as simply how people experience themselves as male or female, depending on how masculine or feminine they feel. Notice the emphasis on feelings. That is odd. Why would one’s identity be a matter of feelings? I would think that that is a misuse of terms philosophically. Identity is mind-independent. It is something that is objective regardless of how you feel. The term “gender identity” seems to me to be something of an oxymoron. It is not really about one’s identity. It is rather a matter of one’s self-perception or one’s feelings about oneself.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is like if I were to walk up to you and say, I am a six-foot-five Chinese woman. I’m actually a five-foot-eleven white Caucasian man. No, you are about five-foot-eleven. You are a Caucasian man. You’re not a Chinese woman. Yeah, but I feel like I’m a Chinese woman. I am a six-foot-five Chinese woman trapped in a five-foot-eleven Caucasian man’s body. That is how I feel. That is my identity. That is how I choose to identify.

DR. CRAIG: This is a non-philosophical use of the word “identity.” Here we are talking about a purely subjective self-perception. But in terms of objective identity, for example, to be absurd, a horse is not identical to a human being. If a human being felt that he were a horse, that would just be irrelevant to his identity as a human being, no matter how he felt. It is important when people talk about these things that we do understand that we are using terms in a sense that is completely subjective and a matter of self-perception. We are not talking about objective identity.

KEVIN HARRIS: He distinguishes further on the second page: “‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term for the many ways people experience a mismatch between their gender identity and their biological sex.” So there is “gender dysphoria” and also an umbrella term, “transgender.” “This means that transgender people are much more common than those formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria.”

DR. CRAIG: Right. The people with gender dysphoria are really conflicted. They point out that the manual for the American Psychiatric Association used to define this as gender identity disorder. This was a mental health problem. A man who thinks he’s a woman has a mental health problem. They’ve now changed this in the APA’s diagnostic manual to speak of gender dysphoria rather than gender identity disorder. It’s become politically incorrect now to think of this as a mental health disorder even though these people have severe dysfunction as a result of how they feel. But there can be transgender experiences, he says, that are not gender dysphoria. There could be a whole continuum where some people could just feel like they could go either way. It is a continuum between being a man and being a woman, and it is not so severe as those who suffer this dysphoria.

KEVIN HARRIS: Am I overstating the case when I say this is very scary and problematic in that a rapist or voyeur can put on a wig and woman’s clothing and go into a woman’s bathroom and then cry gender dysphoria or cry transgender when apprehended? Well it’s already happened in Dallas. They caught a guy in the girl’s bathroom with a wig. He was just trying to spy on the girls. But he said, no, I am transgender. It has to be said.[3]

DR. CRAIG: It makes you shutter, doesn’t it, to think that this could compromise not just the privacy (as I said earlier) but even the safety of, say, little girls using the ladies’ room and having men come in there. Suppose there is nobody else in there except the little girl and then this person claiming to be transgender. I just don’t understand how people can think that the rights of people suffering from transgender dysphoria trump the rights of other persons to privacy and safety.

KEVIN HARRIS: It is crazy thinking, it seems to be, in order to push an agenda. And people seem to be blinded by their agenda if they can’t see the problems with this. What would you do if you were king of the world?

DR. CRAIG: I would base it on one’s biological sex. That’s determined by one’s DNA. There is actually a question of the week early on in our Reasonable Faith website written by one of my students on hermaphrodites and what they should do about dating.[4] These are persons who don’t simply experience that they are of the opposite sex, but they actually have a mixture biologically of sexual traits. They are really in a bad way because their very body is not clearly female or male. But their DNA is clearly male or female. That is their biological sex. So it seems to me that gender identity ought to be determined by your genetic identity. That’s what identity is. It is an objective fact, not a subjective perception. So I would say that people who are biologically male ought to use the men’s room, and people who are biologically female ought to use the ladies’ room. Even though that may cause them discomfort, nevertheless this is for the rights and out of deference to other persons who are using those facilities and have the right to privacy and safety. Now, in many cases, there can be unisex bathrooms where you lock the door when you go in and there is just facilities that can be used by either sex.

KEVIN HARRIS: Family bathrooms.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that’s right. Family bathrooms or things of that sort. That would be unproblematic it seems to me.

KEVIN HARRIS: Can you imagine the costs to a business if they start having to have men’s, women’s, and then either-or?

DR. CRAIG: It would be excessive and there is simply no reason to force commercial enterprises or others to have those kind of facilities out of deference to a segment of the population that is so tiny as to be almost minuscule. It points out in the article that the number of people that are transexual is as low as 0.005 to 0.014 with respect to men. This is a tiny, tiny segment of our society. So I think it is an unreasonable burden to require commercial enterprises to have a men’s room, a ladies’ room, and then a sort of transgender facility. Actually you would need four, wouldn't you? You would need one for those who think that they are women, and then you’d need one who think that they are men.

KEVIN HARRIS: Why stop there? Then you’d have to do another bathroom for someone who has had perhaps a sex change operation. You will have to have fifty bathrooms to accommodate everybody’s agenda here.

Dr. Craig, I think you’ve given us some good direction on this. It may not even be necessary to go to the philosophical question of essence versus what you think you are. If you are born a male, is there an essence present there that needs to be appealed to that you are in fact male whether you feel like you are not?

DR. CRAIG: Right, and I would say that would be genetically evident. Even if there is a soul that is gendered (feminine souls and masculine souls, for example; that is possible), in any case the body will bear the evidence in its genetic makeup of whether this person is biologically male or female.[5]



[1] See http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-august/understanding-transgender-gender-dysphoria.html (accessed January 2, 2017).

[2] 5:17

[3] 10:05

[4] See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dating-advice-for-hermaphrodites

[5] Total Running Time: 15:12 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)