The BLOG: Politics and Law

An alternative conservative view on the bathroom debate

Back in my UMass days, an eccentric Political Science professor of mine once quipped, “In the world of politics there’s a ’10-90′ rule.” The class looked up at him quizzically as he elaborated, “In the world of politics, 10 percent of the issues take 90 percent of the time, and 90 percent of the issues take 10 percent of the time.”

His observation has always stayed with me, as it demonstrates the relative inefficiency of government, how government may divert our attention away from meaningful matters in exchange for trivial ones, and how government may secure greater power by propagating these meaningless “10 percent” issues. Nowhere is this phenomenon better personified than in the current debate over transgender bathroom usage.

In case you are unaware, the latest contentious social debate, source of hashtag activism, and call-to-arms for social justice warriors, has been whether individuals personally identifying with a new gender should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. Basically, should a man, who identifies as a woman, be allowed to use the women’s restroom or visa-versa?

The case of the “bathroom debate” exemplifies all the baggage of the “10-90” rule. While we and our politicians have been bickering over this innocuous matter, we have largely been ignorant to the broader implications.

It seems that as a society, we are forgetting that we do not need government to get involved in every aspect of our lives. A conservative believes government should only be turned to when all other options have been exhausted; the less government we need in our lives the better. By this logic, conservatives should not be arguing with liberals over what the law should say; they should be arguing with liberals that there should be no law at all.

New laws for new issues means more government spending, more regulation and bigger government. Because of this, we should ask ourselves if new laws are really necessary before spending the time and money making, regulating, and enforcing them. I believe the case of transgender bathroom usage is a place the government need not and should not extend its authority.

My solution: let people self-regulate and figure things out for themselves on a case-by-case basis. This is a personal issue and should therefore be solved by the people involved. Say Tammy, hired as a woman, now tries to lead life as a man, Tommy. Tommy goes to his office manager and asks if he might be granted access to the men’s room. In a scenario like this, why on earth does the government need to get involved? Let those affected figure it out.

For instance, the manager can talk to other employees, who have a vested interest and are not detached government officials, to determine if the office community would be comfortable with this change. Perhaps the staff votes that they are comfortable allowing Tommy into the men’s room. Maybe, for whatever reason, the staff is opposed, and votes to not let Tommy in. Tommy can either live with the decision, try again down the road, or if it matters that much, seek employment elsewhere. This is a much more cost-effective, democratic, and therefore legitimate way of solving the issue than a “government said so” solution.

Government has never been intended to play judge, jury, and executioner on such personal discrepancies. And yes, the transgender bathroom debate boils down to personal discrepancy. One observer might argue that transgender Americans feel like a gender and should be allowed access to the bathroom of said gender. However, another onlooker might say that transgendered Americans are, on a biological level, the gender they were born as, and therefore transgender is too vague an identity to enforce and can be exploited by perverts.

From my point of view, both sides make some good points. Surely most transgender people are decent Americans genuinely trying to lead life as a new gender. I believe most citizens would have no problem allowing these individuals into their bathroom of choice. However, because there is no way to determine who actually identifies as a new gender, and who is just saying they do, there can be no easily enforceable bathroom law regarding the transgender identity. There is no possible way to determine if a person identifies the way they say they identify.

Conservatives lamenting we are becoming a “nanny state” should not be welcoming a law which allows the government to regulate where citizens “do their business.” Leave that to the liberals. Conservatism is the philosophy which emphasizes personal responsibility. Accordingly, let’s leave it to those involved to figure out for themselves. Because guess what? We do not need government bureaucracy to rule on minor issues that we, as adults, are capable of solving.

I fear we are heading down a path of calling for government intervention in more aspects of our lives. Let’s realize that we can more efficiently determine many matters government-free, and should therefore not forsake our freedom of self-determination by inviting more legislation on our lives. Let’s tell our politicians to spend their efforts on the matters we need them there for, not the ones we can personally resolve.

Matthew Goldberg is a recent Political Science graduate from UMass-Amherst and lives in Quincy. He can be reached at [email protected].