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Nestor Ramos

Transgender question puts bigotry and fear on the ballot

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)Toby Talbot

. . . And so it was that the Commonwealth, having successfully solved every other crisis, returned once more to the most pressing matter of their time: Who gets to use which potty?

— excerpt from “A History of 21st Century Massachusetts,” to be published in 2132.

* * *

We’re still doing this, huh?

In November, more than two years after Massachusetts legislators overwhelmingly adopted broad protections of the rights of transgender people, the public will vote on the issue.

Never mind that the protections the state passed in 2016 have been an actual problem for exactly no one. Forget that putting basic civil rights and human dignity to a direct-democracy, majority-rules vote is fundamentally inconsistent with the American ideal. And ignore that North Carolina became a national laughingstock for just this sort of backward thinking.


Instead of facing those facts, Massachusetts is about to be force-fed a fantasy: The boogeytransman is coming for your children. And because fear-mongering is awfully effective, the people seeking to repeal the state’s bathroom bill have a scary good chance of succeeding.

If that happens, the history books won’t be kind to us.

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to permit same-sex marriage, despite the wails of opponents wielding scare tactics and cockeyed moral compasses. Over their objections, Massachusetts accomplished what we now, a few years later, see as a point of pride.

So it’s telling that some of the same groups that fought same-sex marriage are standing in opposition to the rights of transgender people today. They never seem to get tired of being wrong.

This time, they’re armed with dubious nightmare scenarios in which rough-looking men dressed in tattered prom dresses stroll into ladies rooms so they can sexually assault people with impunity. They’re spreading vaguely relevant stories about far-flung creeps — mostly not trans people, by the way — being arrested for things that are already illegal. And they’re making “think of the children” videos about the horror of having to answer your daughter’s questions about a man in the ladies room.


Apparently, we fathers of daughters are meant to be deeply worried of questions like, “Daddy, why is that man putting on lip gloss in the women’s bathroom?”

Well, if that’s your concern, then let’s dispense with it quickly. First, dad, remind your daughter to stop eyeballing strangers in the bathroom. Nobody likes that.

Then, tell her the truth: “That’s a woman. And she’s putting on lip gloss because she likes how it looks.”

Maybe, with a lot of empathy and compassion (and an open mind about changing tastes in clothes and music) you’ll reach retirement age without your daughter having to apologize to whomever she’s dating before they come for dinner.

It should be that simple. After all, people in Massachusetts have been using the restroom alongside transgender people for years without incident.

Frankly, the dude-in-the-women’s-loo canard only even becomes observable in the wild if you start forcing trans men into women’s restrooms. Why? Because trans men look like — spoiler alert — men. Because they are men.

Those aren’t the trans people you’ll find in the fear-mongers’ ads, of course (in fact, you won’t often find any trans people at all). Instead, you’ll find someone who looks like The Rock wearing a tutu or something from a 19th-century carnival.


Those dumb caricatures reveal what’s really at issue for those seeking to roll back transgender rights. They may be playing on fear, but it’s really just distaste for people who are a little different. That shaming of differences is textbook bigotry.

For so many years, shame has been this country’s greatest cudgel against transgender people. (And women. And gay people. And people of color. And people with disabilities. And, and, and. . . ) When someone says their children shouldn’t have to look at a person who is different than they are, shame is what’s being leveraged. Act “normal.” Don’t ask, don’t tell.

In Massachusetts, the law says transgender people have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s those attacking their rights who do.

And if you’re still worried about how to explain all this to your daughter, just wait a few years.

She’ll explain it to you.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.