Back when I taught high school English, I did an introductory lesson for The Crucible that introduced students to the concept of a “witch hunt.” I used “The Mob Song” from Beauty and the Beast, in which the villain, Gaston, whips the townspeople into a frenzy so that they will help him kill the Beast.
The Beast will make off with your children! He’ll come after them in the night! We’re not safe until his head is mounted on my wall. I say we kill the Beast!
Gaston doesn’t really believe any of this. His reasons for wanting to be rid of the Beast are selfish ones, but he uses fear to manipulate the townspeople into doing what he wants.
And it works. Frightened people, it turns out, are easy to manipulate. Soon, they are marching–with literal pitchforks and torches–to help Gaston kill the Beast, who was never really a threat to anyone.
We don’t like what we don’t understand
In fact, it scares us…
The words are simple, but I think they get to something at the heart of human nature.
So, why am I talking about this? Well, I originally started writing this quite a while ago, because of something I saw posted to facebook last year…an article about an organized boycott of Target, because of Target’s announced policy in response to so-called “bathroom bills” like the one passed in North Carolina.
Since then, this issue has come to the forefront again, as the current administration has moved to roll back protections for transgender individuals put in place by President Obama.
As transgender people have become more and more visible in mainstream culture, I’ve been seeing increased fear and panic coming from ordinary people. That fear and panic is, I think, genuine…but I believe it’s being stoked by various Gastons at various levels of political and cultural leadership.
Gaston’s goal was to remove the things he saw as obstacles to Belle marrying him. I’m truthfully not sure what the goal is here. (I have some guesses, but I’ll keep them to myself for now….that’s not really my point.)
I am far from being an expert on trans issues, but I do have a number of transgender friends and acquaintances. I do feel entirely comfortable in saying that they want what everyone wants: to be allowed to live their lives peacefully and be treated with dignity and respect. That dignity and respect includes being allowed to use public restrooms without being harassed or arrested. (and trust me, they are far more likely to be harassed or assaulted in a public restroom than you are.)
Chances are good that you, and your children, have been sharing public restrooms with transgender people without incident for some time now. You haven’t noticed. I’m not sure why people think, now, that this will somehow open a door for perverted straight cisgender men to pretend to be trans women for nefarious purposes. (There is no evidence at all that this has happened/is happening. And I submit…if there are actually people doing or wanting to do this, do you somehow think the lack of a specific law preventing it has been stopping them?) Also, there are plenty of people whose appearances don’t conform to “accepted” gender standards, regardless of how they identify…I’ve already seen a number of news stories involving cisgender* women being thrown out of women’s restrooms for this very reason.
I feel like I’m wandering away from my point, so I’ll end with this: “the Beast” is not a danger. In fact, I submit to you that, in this case, the Beast does not even exist. Don’t listen to those who are telling you to be afraid.
If you want to read more about this, here are a handful of articles I’ve come across that I thought were informative and well-written.
Stop Using Your Children As An Excuse To Be A Hateful Human Being (Scary Mommy)
North Carolina transgender student asks to meet governor over ‘bathroom bill’ (Today)
Top 10 Myths About Transgender People (Everyday Feminism)
Transgender People: 10 Common Myths (Vox)
(Please share your suggestions for additional reading on the topic, if you’ve got them)
*cisgender just means identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth.