When I was in high school, my sister and I once invented, on the spot, a rule against riding in cars with men we weren’t related to, in order to avoid being driven home from babysitting by a Growing Kids God’s Way dad who creeped us out. That was the last time we babysat for that family, we made up an excuse about being too busy with school work but the truth was that we didn’t feel safe. When we ran into the family years later as adults, he remembered how old we were during that short time we sat for them, something neither of us could recall, but that made me uncomfortable for my teenage self all over again.
I tell this story because while everyone is running around screaming about how we need to ban trans people from bathrooms because a few predatory cis straight men might take advantage, I can’t stop thinking of all the times my creep-dar kicked into high gear.
None of them were in bathrooms.
None of them were around trans people.
No, all the times I felt unsafe or uncomfortable growing up, the times when every fiber of my being were screaming, “run away, stay away, keep your distance and don’t ever be alone with this man,” were all around “good Christian family men.”
I remember the man at my church who I felt strangely sexualized around, although I was too young to understand it, just that I felt very much aware that I had a body. He moved his family away, became quiverfull homeschoolers, his wife and daughters started wearing long dresses and head coverings. Some time later we got word that his wife was leaving him because she’d discovered he’d been molesting her oldest daughter, his stepdaughter, for years. Nobody reported the crime though, not their church, not the friends who knew about it, nobody. Sweep it under the rug and leave him free to prey again, because that’s called forgiveness.
I think back to all the homeschool dads, and they always seemed to be homeschool dads, who made me uncomfortable over the years because they wouldn’t stop staring at my chest. It didn’t matter that I was a teenager and it was the ‘90s when wearing inexplicably baggy clothes was not only considered modest, but fashionable. Stare they did, and I felt uncomfortable and sexualized and even now I feel my skin crawling and want to scrub away the ick.
But it’s the possibility of cis straight men busting into the women’s bathroom that I’m supposed to be afraid of.
It’s the trans women who need to use the bathroom like anybody else who are supposed to worry me.
Not the Growing Kids God’s Way dad who made us so uncomfortable that we pretended our parents were more strict than they really were because it was the only way we could figure out to avoid riding in a car with him. No, he was a good Christian man, and we’re supposed to trust good Christian men. No, it’s the existence of trans people who are endangering women and children.
I’d be more inclined to believe that claim was sincere, that this was really about fear of predators, that it wasn’t simply an excuse to discriminate against trans people because the evangelical church believes trans people are broken and shouldn’t exist, if the evangelical church wasn’t a haven for predators.
I think of when I was quite young and my Southern Baptist church welcomed the husband of a parishioner with open arms when he was released from prison. He’d been converted, you see, and that was the Christian thing to do. One year he even came to my house for Thanksgiving with other members of the church. It was some years later, after he’d moved on someplace else, that I overhead adults talking and found out that he’d been sent to prison for raping his stepdaughter. The church should have encouraged his wife to divorce him and protect her daughter, but instead they welcomed him into the fold and for all we children in the church knew he was just a funny man who was friends with our parents.
But it’s predators in bathrooms that we’re supposed to worry about.
Then there’s the registered sex offender who gave the invocation at a homeschool graduation I attended a few years ago. The church that oversees the school was entirely blasé about it, he was repentant you see, and it was just preying on the internet you see, and he’s under the care of elders so it’s all fine. And besides, it was really entrapment (not really, but that’s the lie people tell themselves), so we’re going to downplay that he was looking for 14 year old girls for sex.
But by all means, let’s worry about bathrooms.
Sexual predators are welcomed with open arms while the message from the pulpit is that trans people are broken, damaged, sinners, probably predators and by all means should be kept away from children.
It’s not about bathrooms. It never was about bathrooms.
It’s not about protecting children from predators either, and it never was about predators. It’s not about the inflated fear that cis straight men will “take advantage” of non-discrimination laws. It never was.
People who care about protecting children from predators don’t welcome predators into their churches with open arms. They don’t cover up sex offenses and defend the celebrity pastors like Doug Wilson, CJ Mahaney, and the rest, who have protected predators while punishing the victims.
It’s so blatantly clear that the bathroom predator argument is an excuse by an evangelical world that has consistently mishandled and covered up sex abuse for decades that it would be laughable if there weren’t actual lives at stake.
Trans Lifeline calls have doubled since HB2 passed in North Carolina. That’s not just because of politicians passing a discriminatory law, it’s because HB2 has given people open season to hate on trans people. Every skirmish in the culture wars, social media blows up, people start talking, and LGBT people get the distinct pleasure of finding out just how much their friends, family, and faith communities hate them.
Because it’s not about bathrooms. It’s not about predators. It’s about policing and criminalizing trans bodies, about making it so impossible to be trans, to come out, to exist, to function in society while trans that trans people fade away and disappear. Even, and perhaps especially if, fading away and disappearing means the 50% of trans people who attempt suicide succeed in ending their lives. It makes me sick to my stomach.
If the evangelical church is serious about predators, they need to stop harassing and discriminating against trans people and get their own house in order.
I’m not holding my breath.