Penises, Guns, and Fear in Texas

I want to push an analogy about two of the hottest debates in Texas politics now: bathroom bills and campus carry. Of course all analogies walk on three legs, and I may have pushed this one so far it falls over…


Someone with a penis walks into a women’s bathroom but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a trans woman who might look something like this. Someone with a gun walks onto a college campus but no one is ever the wiser, because it belongs to a conceal carry license holder. One is always hidden behind clothing or a stall door. The other is always hidden in a purse or a backpack.

Both are there because of rights claims – the right to equal treatment under the law, the right to self-defense. If either of them ever becomes visible, then almost certainly an illegal event has occurred. You cannot rip someone’s pants off and you cannot just rip someone’s purse off. Also, you cannot pull down your own pants in plain sight, and you cannot pull out your gun in plain sight (see the UNT campus carry policy).

In both cases, it is claimed that allowing a penis or a gun in those places will invite greater dangers. Men will take advantage of non-discrimination policies to gain access to women’s facilities. Disgruntled people will take advantage of concealed carry policies to bring more guns on campus. Then, they say, we’ll have increased sexual assault and campus shootings.

Sure, it is always possible that a dingbat uses a gender identity inclusive law to justify getting access to a bathroom or locker room. But it is exceedingly rare (over 200 cities and 18 states with non-discrimination laws report no increased incidents of sexual assault or public safety violations as a result of the laws). Further, this is all a red herring given the fact that over 80% of rape and sexual assault is perpetrated by non-strangers, whereas 64% of transgender individuals will experience sexual assault simply for being who they are.

And, sure, someone with a conceal carry license could fly off the handle and become a campus shooter. But it is exceedingly rare (in Texas, conceal carry holders, who comprise just three percent of the population, are six times less likely to commit a violent crime than the general public). In the US, 150 campuses have concealed carry laws and not one violent act has resulted. Further, if a person really wants to commit a violent crime on campus with a gun, they are not likely to go through the process of obtaining a legal license when they can much more quickly and easily just get a gun and illegally carry it on campus.

You want to restrict penises in ladies rooms and guns on campus? Good luck enforcing that without violating privacy rights and ratcheting up a culture of policing and control.

The penis or the gun doesn’t matter. It is the behavior that matters. If everyone is being peaceful and respectful, then there is no issue. And indeed in both cases, you can argue that history has proved this to be the case. Transgender people have long been using Texas restrooms that match their gender identity with no incidents. Conceal carry holders have long safely been walking around Texas.

Yes, in both cases there is the further argument not about behavior but about mere presence. People say they don’t feel safe just knowing there could be a penis in the stall next to you or a gun in the backpack next to you. It will foster an atmosphere of discomfort in one case. In the other case, it will have a chilling effect on free speech and critical feedback (e.g., honest grades).

But in the case of genitalia, this is simply a mental hang-up. It is not the responsibility of a trans person to help you deal with the complex reality of gender identity. That’s on you. They should not be forced to lead undignified, stigmatized double lives just because you have a vague sense of repugnance or discomfort. If there are bad behaviors, report it. Otherwise, get over it.

The same thing goes for guns. Your mental block and feeling of unease does not trump someone else’s right to self-defense. Yes, it would be more important if the statistics showed conceal carry leads to more actual threats of intimidation or violence, but they don’t show that. Of course, a gun is not neutral – it opens up a different reality and makes its possessor into a different subject. Still, though, there is no evidence that someone with a conceal carry license will turn into someone who intimidates or commits violent acts simply by virtue of having a gun.

In the end, if someone is going to hurt you either with a penis or a gun it won’t be because of a non-discrimination law or a campus carry law. Of course, there is always a slight chance – we can never rule out even the slimmest of possible risks, even death by falling coconut. But the fear engendered by these laws is blown way out of proportion.


One thought on “Penises, Guns, and Fear in Texas

  1. Very well said. In my life of 73 years, I have had to get over quite a few things. When I was a little girl and complained about something, my mother would say, “There but for the grace of God go you.” And she was right; compassion is a life skill that encompasses so so many things that we can react to emotionally from bad breath to the way people look or behave. Maybe I’ll never get over that our country dropped two nuclear bombs on purely civilian populations in Japan. But I sure as heck can get over these silly arguments about gender. We are all just people who need love and respect. I’m grateful we are going in the direction that integrates, and sheds light on hidden things that are somehow “new” to many of us. It’s NO BIG DEAL! If we want to live in fear at this level, we need to get a lot more brave in our hearts. Marylee Daniel Mitcham

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