Home / General / Fearmongering




The anti-gay, anti-transgender fearmongering never ends. It might retreat as civil rights and social acceptance is slowly achieved, but there’s always another scare campaign about scary queer people.

Such fear mongering against gays and transgender people is a time-tested strategy, despite plenty of evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. In the battle for marriage equality, the nation was told time and again that marriage itself, along with the American family, would be imperiled if same-sex couples were allowed to marry. “Freedom will be taken away,” said one infamous 2009 ad titled “Gathering Storm.” Religion would be destroyed because the clergy would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, no matter their convictions. Yet none of these doomsday scenarios has come to pass.

The particular terrors that fueled the campaigns in Houston and North Carolina have an even longer history. In the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” opponents of openly gay service spent decades fanning the flames of anxiety about straight recruits sharing quarters — sharing showers! — with known gays and lesbians. At one point, senators held congressional hearings in the bowels of a nuclear submarine to infuse the news cycle with frightening images of the compromised privacy of military life. The message was clear: In such conditions, gay people were not to be trusted, unit cohesion could not be maintained and an inclusive policy would be a clear and present danger to the United States.

Again, none of this was true, as a wealth of research before and after “don’t ask, don’t tell” concluded (some of it was buried by those opposed to change).

A 2003 Palm Center study found that the experience of military and paramilitary organizations that lifted their gay bans showed that “cohesion, morale, recruitment, retention and privacy will be preserved or even enhanced” by ending policies that required gay people to lie about their identities or stay out of uniform. Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them) in fact developed an “etiquette of disregard.” In doctor’s offices, in military barracks, in locker rooms and restrooms, most people simply finished their business and ignored those around them. Those who had predicted disaster were spectacularly wrong.

But no amount of evidence seems capable of stopping the fear strategy. The Rand Corp. has completed a new study on transgender military service concluding, unsurprisingly, that ending discrimination against transgender troops will not harm military readiness. The Pentagon has neither released the study nor met its own deadline for reviewing the policy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who wrongly predicted that openly gay military service would “complicate things” and “make it very difficult for us to take care of the troops,” is now opposing service by transgender troops because — guess what — he can’t understand which bathrooms they would use. And Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who had earlier wrongly predicted that openly gay troops would drive away one-quarter of the military, is now predicting that transgender service will increase sexual assaults.

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  • MikeJake

    The fearmongerers are gonna keep screwing around, and we’re all gonna end up with nothing but unisex restrooms, because it will be easier that way.

    • rea

      Why shouldn’t all restrooms be unisex? It’s not like guys can’t use toilets rather than urinals.

      The assumption that everyone will be grownup and nonsociopathic enough to behave around members of the same or opposite sex, whatever you’re attracted to, ought to be normal.

      • MikeJake

        I don’t know that it would be against the law for me to use the women’s restroom now. I might get yelled at, but I don’t think it’s a crime in my state.

        If gendered restrooms went away tomorrow, everyone would get used to it. But oh, the skreeing that would ensue.

        • Thirtyish

          And the in 20 years’ time, the Xtian right would claim to have always been in favor of unisex bathrooms.

          • Judas Peckerwood

            Well, unisex bathrooms are mentioned in the Bible.

            • John Revolta

              And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: 14For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp

              Deut. 23:13-14

              • Very nice. I was going to wonder why Inhofe was so confused; since it’s the military, can’t they just dig their own latrines?

      • DrDick

        However, it is pretty clear that conservatives are a real threat to everyone around them, so maybe we just give them their own toilets – out in the alleys.

        • rea

          We’d all die of cholera

          • guthrie

            The list of relevant diseases is quite horrifying:

            I have some old books from the first half of the 20th century with statistics and public health advice in them, there was a lot of good work done in the late 19th century onwards to curb such diseases. Naturally, the early work was obstructed by people who worshipped private property and didn’t like being taxed, or having inspectors actually making sure they had proper drains on their houses.

      • Joe_JP

        Assuming all guys will be “grownup and nonsociopathic” especially when they are drunk might be something a few will find risky.

        It ought to be possible to have a unisex bathroom with a separated area for urinals if necessary.

        • rea

          Assuming all guys will be “grownup and nonsociopathic” especially when they are drunk might be something a few will find risky

          I’ve managed to go a whole 61+ years without molesting some guy in a mensroom

          • Joe_JP

            okay … thought we were talking about UNISEX bathrooms here, the idea of men and women being in the bathroom and men acting like “grownups” and “nonsociopaths” (both of which means more than not molesting guys) there.

            So, you seem to be talking about something else than what I was commenting on.

            • rea

              If a gay man like me is expected to be capable of self-control, why not straight men?

              • Joe_JP

                Assuming all guys will be “grownup and nonsociopathic” especially when they are drunk might be something a few will find risky.

                We should “expect” people to not do that but “a few” will think it risky to trust they all will, including in a unisex bathroom. This is so even if many guys (all types) do act like grownups, just like loads of guys don’t act sexist or boorish but many in part from experience don’t trust them.

        • guthrie

          I recall several times at uni and elsewhere a woman or two invading the mens. Mostly we were a little embarassed, and nothing happened.

          Just for efficiency’s sake you could cram the urinals into one long back wall or something, not directly visible from the stall access.

          • DocAmazing

            Back in my nightclub days, women used the men’s room when the line for the women’s room got too long. Plenty of TV/TS folks in the whizzer, too. No one cared, unless you interrupted someone’s powder-snorting acivities.

            • guthrie

              I think it’s basically about the sub-cultures in question. The one which has lots of drunk frat brothers with more money than sense has a well known problem with sexual assault. Other subcultures not so much. Heck, the swinging scene is really hot on informed consent precisely to avoid such problems.

          • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

            One of the dorms I lived in at college (35+ years ago) had a coed bathroom, not by college policy but by general agreement of the students on the floor. Never but never was there any problem. And there’s really no need even to segregate the urinals. Users are facing away from the main part of the bathroom, so there’s really nothing to see, especially if (as was the case in this bathroom) there are dividers between the urinals. Males who were somehow made uncomfortable by the fact that females could see their backs while they were peeing were in any case free to use the stalls.

      • wjts

        Why shouldn’t all restrooms be unisex? It’s not like guys can’t use toilets rather than urinals.

        That’s true, but it’s also true that you can cram more urinals (or troughs) into the same amount of space than you can toilets. This isn’t an argument against unsegregated restrooms per se, but it does mean urinals are handy things in places like theaters and stadia where large numbers of people converge on the restrooms at the same time.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        Why shouldn’t all restrooms be unisex? It’s not like guys can’t use toilets rather than urinals.

        Whenever I see statements like this, I’m always left to wonder whether the writer has ever seen both the men’s and women’s rooms at the same building, i.e., a situation where one would expect the facilities to be roughly comparable. Because I have in a handful of locations and, based on the immediately apparent differences in relative luxuries in women’s bathrooms (e.g., couches, flowers, hand lotion, doors on the stalls, no feces smeared on the walls, etc.), I can’t imagine any woman voluntarily agreeing to share a public restroom with men outside of an emergency situation.

        P.S. I don’t think fear of transgendered individuals in bathrooms is rational. I just have noticed that even in fairly controlled environments (e.g., on a building floor occupied exclusively by one company) public men’s bathrooms are distinctly in worse shape than women’s bathrooms.

        • wjts

          Back in my barback/bouncer days, I noticed exactly the opposite situation when it came time to mop up: the women’s room was always dirtier and more urine-spattered than the men’s.

          • guthrie

            I think it comes down to the social culture of the specific groups in question. If you get both men and women trained to leave places in a good state, then it’ll be fine. At the moment certain groups have an expectation, especially after a few drinks, of leaving somewhere in a mess.

            • cpinva

              I suppose that’s possible. the men were pretty much all Marine NCO’s, with lots of former DI’s among them, so they expected the place to be clean both going in and coming out. the women not so much, I guess.

          • cpinva

            “Back in my barback/bouncer days, I noticed exactly the opposite situation when it came time to mop up: the women’s room was always dirtier and more urine-spattered than the men’s.”

            back in high school, I worked weekends at the NCO Club at Quantico. part of the job entailed cleaning up the heads, both men’s and women’s. this is the exact thing I found; the women’s were foul, just disgusting. I hated just going in them, much less cleaning them. whatever myths about women that had been drilled into me (I have no sisters), were quickly dispelled by that experience.

        • The restrooms in my office building are identical, other than two extra stalls in one where four urinals are in the other. They’re both generally clean. I don’t see any problem with unisex group restrooms, but I think we’re likely to more rapidly see movement toward single-occupancy approaches — either single-occupancy restrooms (with their own sink, etc.) or lockable, private stalls attached to a shared washing room. I believe there are some designs which also include a separate urinal area for people who prefer to stand up; that might make sense for very large venues.

          There are designs for single-occupancy restrooms which are quite space-efficient. Not particularly luxurious and a little claustrophobic, but personally I’ll trade a little claustrophobia for more privacy.

        • JL

          I can’t imagine any woman voluntarily agreeing to share a public restroom with men outside of an emergency situation.

          Huh? Genders agree to share restrooms all the time – look at college dorms with mixed restrooms (as my dorm had). Look at various LGBTQ conventions and occasionally other conventions with a large LGBTQ population, where the restrooms are de-gendered for the duration of the convention.

          The best argument I’ve heard against mixed restrooms is that there are some trans women who are legit afraid of being in the restroom with men, as it’s been a common site of harassment and violence for them (far more, as far as I know, than for cis women). Given that, I’ve moved a bit off my former position of “All public restrooms should be de-gendered, now (and we should also have restrooms built for more privacy, what is with the doors that only partially cover the stalls?)” to “Many of them should but we should probably keep some women-only options available too.”

      • erick

        I think for places with large bathrooms (airports, stadiums, etc) the men’s room with urinals is a good use of space, you can fit a lot more in.

        But fior smaller places unisex makes a lot of sense. I was at a Starbucks yesterday that had the typical set up of two single use bathrooms, one labeled men and one women, why?

        • wjts

          In the building where I teach, there are two restrooms at the end of the hall. Both are identical, with a single sit-down toilet and a sink. But one is for the menfolk and one is for the womenfolk.

        • Joe_JP

          have a urinal room and a room with stalls

        • djw

          When I encounter single use restrooms with locking doors, I don’t pay any mind to any assigned gender status. I mean, I’ll go with the M-marking if both are open, but otherwise I’m using the first available one. I’ve adhered to this policy for the better part of the last two decades–ever since I noticed everyone else ignoring the M and W on the two single bathrooms at a bar I frequented in Seattle–and never heard a word about it from anyone.

        • I damn well use the room marked WOMEN if the one marked MEN is occupied, as long as it’s a single-occupant room. As I recall, there are no urinals in most Starbucks’ “mens” rooms anyway.

          As per djw below.

      • Weed Atman

        I don’t see why we can’t have urinals in a unisex bathroom. Would probably make things move faster-if you’re a dude and just have to pee that frees up a stall, making things run more smoothly. I also like using a urinal.

    • DrDick

      These are the same stupid arguments that have been around since I was a kid in the 50s and 60s about the threats of homosexuality to the social order. Oddly, none of those dire predictions have ever come to pass.

      • CrunchyFrog

        And before that about why we couldn’t allow women in the military … and before that blacks. Conservative bigots are the same in every era and every human population. The same 1/3 (plus or minus) that wants to be controlled by an authoritarian daddy with very strict rules putting people into tight categories, and who quietly behind closed doors uses whatever power they have over others to gain enjoyment through the abuse of others.

      • PhoenixRising

        I thought these were the dire predictions from the Schafly crowd about the ERA, and that the joke was to live to see all of them come true (same-sex marriage, women in combat and unisex bathrooms) without a formal right to equality for women and girls.

        • skate

          You left out women forced to get jobs outside the home.

    • Psssst. Your house has unisex bathrooms.

      • wjts

        When I’ve lived by myself, the house bathroom has been, alas, pretty relentlessly unisex.

  • Owlbear1

    Why are conservatives so terrified of their genitalia?

    • DrDick

      Because they know they cannot control it.

    • Thirtyish

      Because they’re both fascinated (tantalized) by and deeply disgusted by said genitalia. That cognitive dissonance is untenable.

      • Owlbear1

        Immersed in a culture that insists possession of a penis infers superiority over those who don’t.

        • wjts

          Pet Peeve Time: “imbues”, “implies”, or “confers”, but not “infers”.

          ETA: This is kind of a dickhole comment. Sorry, Owlbear.

          • Owlbear1

            Heh, is “infers” even a word?


            oop, it is. Does it help if I say it’s the word I needed for the sentence to work?

            • wjts

              It’s a perfectly cromulent word. It’s a synonym for “deduces”.

              (This comment has been brought to you by the International Committee for the Exasperation of Epistemologists.)

              • Colin Day

                Epistemologists? Shouldn’t that be etymologists?

            • N__B

              Of course it is.

          • Denverite

            I mean technically, many of those of us with possession of said organ do cite it to infer our superiority over others.

            • wjts

              No, we infer our superiority from our possession of penes. We cite our penes to imply our superiority.

              • Denverite

                Cite it to ourselves.

                [ETA: I initially had it “base or our possession of it” but changed it.]

    • Ask Rod Dreher.

      • DocAmazing

        Look, if you were named “Rod”…

      • celticdragonchick

        Rod Dreher has a pathological need to be bullied and persecuted by the very people he hates the most…so he begs them to come and stalk him and tell him very bad things.

        There is something badly broken in the man. I never never seen anybody else who was so obsessed with transgender people.

    • Bruce B.

      Quoting a trans friend, “Why is it that Republicans regard going to the bathroom as a sexual activity?”

  • thebewilderness

    The lack of access to safe public restrooms was part of keeping women out of the public sphere for so long. Men burned down the first woman only public rest room in London.
    As a general rule and in a general way: Women aren’t afraid of transgender people in the rest room. Women are afraid of men, because male violence is the greatest human rights crisis the world has ever known.

    • JL

      The lack of access to safe public restrooms is now part of keeping trans women, and to some extent trans men and nonbinary people, out of the public sphere. I would say that cis women should stop playing gatekeeper over which people with marginalized gender experiences get access to safety in public, except that it’s mostly cis men (who are not, as you pointed out, exactly known for their careful attention to cis women’s public safety) doing it while using cis women as a cover without their permission.

  • Bruce B.

    It always bear repeating: as nearly as I can tell, there are zero instances of trans people harassing others in bathrooms. Zero. There are cases of cis guys dressing up to get into women’s bathrooms to harass women, and of doing so without the dressing up, but none from anyone identifying as trans.

    It also bears repeating that up until this year, very, very few women – cis or trans – experienced male security guards and volunteer thugs barging into their restrooms to arrest people the bargers-in thought weren’t female. Now it’s quickly becoming the new normal in places with these bathroom laws. This is evil and wrong, and it’s entirely the creation of the men suing trans people as handy targets.

    Joanna Russ and others used to say that homophobia wasn’t just there to keep queer people in line, but to keep everybody else in line, too. Same deal here: laws against trans people are just great for harassing cis gay and lesbian people, and of course everyone else in the room at the time.

    • JL

      laws against trans people are just great for harassing cis gay and lesbian people

      Gender nonconforming ones yes, and also cis and genderqueer bi people, and anyone else regardless of sexual orientation who is gender nonconforming. As a bi butch who has been hassled in the restroom before, I feel like this is an important addendum to your point.

      Regarding your larger point, I really want the word “cisheteropatriarchy” to catch on more. Sexism/misogyny, heterosexism/queerphobia, and cissexism/transphobia are all about upholding a very particular gender system, and thus closely related. And while they’re all primarily targeting specific groups of people, they can all bite people outside those groups as well (e.g. feminine men being bitten by misogyny and/or transphobia).

      • Bruce B.

        Right you are. I was unnecessarily confining in my language. It pays to reaffirm that all kinds of people do exist and do suffer from hateful fearful BS like this.

  • Derelict

    Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them). . .

    And that, right there, is the peg on which hangs so much of conservative social anxiety. Because they’ve repressed sex so much, and worked so hard to make it shameful and dirty, they’re absolutely fascinated by it without actually understanding it beyond the mechanics and the desires.

    That’s why they figure that any gay person (and gay people can have all the wanton sex they’re wantin’, right? ‘Cause they can’t get pregnant!) would just be unable to control themselves in the presence of so much genitalia. And since transgender and gender-fluid people are just come new super-PC type of gay person, well, best not tempt fate by tempting these new-fangled gays.

  • Now, as to Target & fear-mongering:

    One woman even posted that she was using a women’s restroom in a Target north of Los Angeles when she spotted a pair of urinals fixed to the wall. This Kathleen Crawford also apparently refers to the penis and testicles by their scientific term: “giblets.”

    It’s true. ..I’m in the women’s bathroom at a Target north of LA…they actually took out a stall for women in order to accommodate the ones who have giblets…yes, these are urinals…for men…and so the war on women progresses. …

    A more plausible explanation exists. As you can see, the urinals are covered in plastic, indicating they are not for use. This particular Target is apparently under construction, so the restrooms have been temporarily relocated.

    Much more at the link.

    While I haven’t checked every Target near me, one that was built maybe two yrs. ago has a uni-(omni?) sex bathroom, pretty good-sized for single occupancy, maybe eight ft. by six, which contains a sink, a commode, & a baby-changing station. Also has one of those metal boxes for sanitary napkins & tampons.

    • Thirtyish

      yes, these are urinals…for men…and so the war on women progresses. …

      Oh, so that *is* a thing that exists! Gosh, it’s hard to keep up with right-wingers sometimes.

      And “giblets?” I, uh…I know everyone marries/partners at their own level of dysfunction, but I feel of twinge of concern for Kathleen’s husband/boyfriend (assuming she has one).

  • That fear won’t mong itself, will it?

    Ted Cruz continued to defend his position this morning that he doesn’t want grown men in bathrooms with little girls, while insisting that “the real danger is not people who are transgendered.”

    He told Chuck Todd his position is based in common sense as the father of two young girls.

    • wjts

      If I were a young girl, I certainly wouldn’t want to be in any sort of room – bath or otherwise – with Ted Cruz.

      • Denverite

        My young girl has been instructed that if she ever sees Ted Cruz, she is to run up and kick him in the balls.


        She’s like nine-and-a-half. That’s not so young.

        • wjts

          Make sure she knows to yell, “CANADANGER! CANADANGER!” at the top of her lungs when she does it.

          • Denverite

            Her mother was born two miles from the Canadian border. She was taught to hate Canadians at age two.

      • Thirtyish

        Ted Cruz in the self-appointed role of “protector” has to be one of the creepiest goddamn things ever.

        • wjts

          Not only is it creepy, but I wouldn’t trust the fucker to protect my bottle-cap “collection”, let alone anything I actually cared about.

  • JL

    Of course, trans people, just like bi/queer/lesbian/gay people, have been serving in the military forever, just not openly. In fact, trans people are quite a bit more likely to serve than cis people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (see page 30), 20% of trans/gender nonconforming adults in the US have served in the military, compared with 10% of the general population.

    • Derelict

      You gotta admit the reasoning for keeping non-hetero people out of the military was rock solid. Being gay in the military meant the end of your career because being gay made you susceptible to blackmail which could endanger national security. And you were susceptible to blackmail because you could be turned in and thus end your career. The perfect circularity was brilliant!

  • narciblog

    The assumption that everyone will be grownup and nonsociopathic enough to behave around members of the same or opposite sex, whatever you’re attracted to, ought to be normal.

    Based on the degree to which women get harassed by just Walking down the street, I’m not sure this is a reasonable assumption to make.

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