The debate over a Texas transgender bathroom bill has sparked a lot of talk about its economic impact and fantasies of sexual predators descending on little girls — so much that it’s easy to overlook the human-scale dramas and absurd dilemmas that such a law would create.
This week, two visitors to the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board offered a glimpse of just that.
Meet Ashley Smith and Ginger Main Chun.
Smith is a local architect. She’s also a transgender woman.
“I knew when I was very young that I was female,” she said. “I was depressed and unhappy for many, many years, well into adulthood. When I finally did transition, it was really just to save my life.”
Although she is now a female, Smith is listed on her birth certificate as a male.
“You can get your birth certificate updated depending on which state you were born in,” she said. “I happened to be born in a Deep Southern state, and changing my gender on my birth certificate is very difficult.”
In North Carolina, people now are required to use restrooms in public buildings that correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificate. Should the Texas Legislature pass a similar law, it would profoundly impact Smith’s daily life.
All of her clients, she said, are Texas universities.
“So I am worried on many levels about this legislation,” Smith said. “One is that every time I go to a meeting with a client, and I’m not out to my client — maybe some of them know, some of them don’t, I don’t know — I need to go take a bathroom break during a meeting with a bunch of mechanical and electrical engineers or staff people at a university, what could happen?
“It could negatively affect my company, my career,” she continued. “It could cause a ruckus. I would really just like to avoid that.”
Advocates of a Texas bathroom bill are courting this confusion: in effect, requiring a woman to use the men’s restroom and, by the same measure, forcing a man to use the women’s restroom — the same situations they say they want to outlaw.
Chun is the mother of a transgender teen. Her 16-year-old daughter transitioned this year.
“My child was depressed and my child was having issues until we were able to make this transition,” Chun said. “And it is a 100 percent turnaround in her happiness and well-being and ability to function.”
Her daughter is a high-school junior in the North East Independent School District: a musician, at the top of her class and involved in University Interscholastic League Academics.
When she returned to school this year as a female, she encountered virtually no conflict.
“It was already a nonissue with most of the kids at the school,” Chun said. “The school was very supportive. I had heard some rumors that the principal would not be supportive, but we basically avoided the principal. … Everybody else — the teachers, the counselors — everybody else has been 100 percent supportive.”
Everybody, that is, except for those advocating for the bathroom bill, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who would reopen Chun’s daughter’s old wounds.
“My child walking into a men’s room at her high school would be an issue because she does not look like a boy,” Chun said.
Chun’s daughter has had her birth certificate changed to reflect her female gender, an outcome of what Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, called “an ‘underground railroad’ of attorneys who help people do this.”
In Texas, most of these changes occur in Bexar County “because you have judges here that will grant them,” he added. “There are not judges in Houston that will do this.”
Considering the difficulty and expense of this process, a bathroom bill that relies on birth certificates would produce two classes of transgender citizens — and create even more inequality.
I asked Ashley Smith how she would deal with this.
“I really don’t know,” she said. “Maybe in some cases I would be able to sneak by. Maybe I would feel like it creates so much awareness in people like me that I would feel sort of paranoid, and I would eventually want to move away.”
And that, it seems, is the actual wish of the bill’s proponents.