Cartoon: Regarding Those Largely Imaginary Cis Men Pretending To Be Trans Women


If you enjoy these cartoons, then you’d be interested to know that many of history’s most famous people are also huge fans of my work, including Abraham Lincoln, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Thatcher (who wrote me only last week to let me know that I am objectively the greatest artist in all of history), and Ulysses. And all of them support my Patreon. So be like them!


This isn’t the most important or the most prominent anti-trans argument. But it’s one I’ve heard a whole bunch of times over the years, and it always bugs me that even taken on its own terms, it makes no sense. Nothing about restricting what bathrooms trans people use can stop predatory men from being predatory, or cis men from lying.

The entire argument is a pretext (even if not everyone making the argument is consciously aware that it’s a pretext). For the proponents of these laws, the mere existence of trans people is threatening, and so any law that strikes at and ostracizes trans people – even if the arguments are gibberish – is supported.

And that, in the end (literally in the fourth panel) is what this cartoon is really about – not a single nonsensical argument, but the way that this and other arguments, boiled down to their essence, are rationalizations for othering and harming trans people.

They also like fear mongering with that image of predatory men wearing dresses while attacking women – an image that goes back in pop culture at least as far back as Hitchcock’s Psycho, and probably much further.


I asked Frank Young (my frequent collaborator who does colors) to give the right-hand character colored streaks in her hair, and I really love what he did with that.


TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON

This cartoon has four panels, all featuring the same two characters, who are chatting on a suburban looking sidewalk.  The character on the left is a blonde woman with neat, shoulder-length hair, a white shirt with a black collar, and a purple skirt.  The character on the right is a woman with straight hair on top, dyed in streaks of orange and greenish-yellow, while the hair on the sides is orange and buzz-cut.  She’s wearing below-the-knee shorts and a tank top, and one of her arms is covered with tattoos.

For the purpose of this transcript, I’ll call these characters SKIRT and TATTOO.

PANEL 1

Skirt is talking animatedly to Tattoo, smiling and stretching her arms it to make her point. Tattoo listens with her arms crossed and a neutral expression.

SKIRT: Bathroom bans aren’t about screwing over trans people. They’re about protecting women from cis men. Otherwise, cis men would pretend to be trans to get into women’s bathrooms.

PANEL 2

A slightly different angle, so we’re now seeing Tattoo from the back. Skirt continues to smile as she explains; we can’t see Tattoo’s face, but from her body language she’s disturbed by what she’s hearing.

SKIRT: That’s why we need a law saying people can only used bathrooms that match their sex at birth. And if it just happens to harm trans people… that’s only an unfortunate side effect.

PANEL 3

A close up of Tattoo shows her frowning as she thinks, one hand rubbing her forehead.

TATTOO: Even if that were a real problem, with your law couldn’t cis men just say they’re trans men to get into women’s bathrooms? Wouldn’t it make it easier for them, since they wouldn’t need dresses or makeup?

PANEL 4

Skirt takes a step back, looking a little irritated and holding up a hand in a negating gesture. Tattoo, looking angry, is holding up her hands and yelling.

SKIRT: But if we look at it that way, there’s no reason to screw over trans people.

TATTOO: WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM FOR YOU?


This cartoon on Patreon

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30 Responses to Cartoon: Regarding Those Largely Imaginary Cis Men Pretending To Be Trans Women

  1. 1
    Joe in Australia says:

    Threatening people that they may be subject to an undie inspection is a crazily counterproductive way to make them feel safe. Also, it’s weird how uncontroversial it is that bathrooms are useful and appropriate refuges for women. Women (cis and trans) should feel safe everywhere! It would be crazy to provide little rooms for people seeking refuge from racism or antisemitism instead of acknowledging, as a society, that that behaviour is unacceptable and potentially has consequences. I wonder what would happen if the energy directed at this mostly hypothetical problem of scary men invading women’s spaces with impunity was redirected towards the fundamental problem of scary men behaving with impunity generally.

  2. 2
    Lauren says:

    I wonder what would happen if the energy directed at this mostly hypothetical problem of scary men invading women’s spaces with impunity was redirected towards the fundamental problem of scary men behaving with impunity generally.

    Funny how “change the culture so men don’t rape, insead of limiting where women are supposed to exist” is not a hard concept to grasp and embrace, but suddenly flies out the window when looking at the culture would force the TERFS to admit that there isn’t actually a wide spread issue of trans*women attacking cis*womenn (or cis*men doing so disguised as women).

  3. 3
    Lauren says:

    There are just so many issues with the bathroom-panic-excuse
    – when used as an argument against letting trans*people get legal id matching their real gender: are there going to be id-checks in front of bathroom entries now?
    – when used in the “they are men who will attack women” way: exactly how many cases of trans*women attacking cis’*women in bathrooms have there been?
    – when used in the “cis*men will use it as a way to sneak into womens’ restrooms” way: again, are we going to establich ID-checks? Why do we think that a cis*man so intend on attacking women in public restrooms that he will dress up as a woman will not simply force his way in?
    -why are we acting like all women are victims and all men (and trans*women they are misgendering) are perps? Because cis*women can sexually assault other women as well. In fact, based purely on population percentages, I am pretty sure there are a lot more women who have been sexually assaultet by cis*women than by trans*women.
    – why are these people acting like sexual assault is the only kind that women need to worry about? Because there are other kinds of physical assault, and I am once again sure, based on the general make up of the population, that a lot more women have been hurt by violent cis women than by trans*women.

    The whole thing is just so…weird.

  4. 4
    Eytan Zweig says:

    The whole thing is just so…weird.

    It’s not weird, it’s just irrational, but unfortunately irrationality in risk assessment is normal. That’s why people are far more afraid of shark attacks than car accidents.

    TERFs and other transphobes aren’t actually afraid of cis men pretending to be trans men to gain access to bathrooms. They’re afraid of threats to their view of gender essentialism. But few people are comfortable admitting they are afraid of threats to their minset, so they – either deliberately or unconciously – make up stories that transform that fear into something more concrete. And bathrooms, as one of the few spaces in modern society that can be strictly gendered become good proxies for the concept of gender essentialism. The details just get filled in over time, evolving as any myth does.

  5. 5
    RonF says:

    I thought these laws state that you cannot use the bathroom of the opposite sex regardless of what claims you may make regarding being trans.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    It would be crazy to provide little rooms for people seeking refuge from racism or antisemitism instead of acknowledging, as a society, that that behaviour is unacceptable and potentially has consequences.

    Our society DOES acknowledge that racism, anti-semitism, rape/sexual assault, etc. is unacceptable and has consequences. That’s not the issue. The issue is that there are – and will always be, no matter what you do – individuals who think that they are above the law or otherwise refuse to learn.

  7. 7
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I thought these laws state that you cannot use the bathroom of the opposite sex regardless of what claims you may make regarding being trans.

    And who gets to decide what the opposite sex is for any individual?

    (Setting aside the fact that the very formulation you gave denies the existance of non-binary and intersex people)

  8. 8
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    I thought these laws state that you cannot use the bathroom of the opposite sex regardless of what claims you may make regarding being trans.

    So which bathroom may I use?

    I have never, not even a single time, had someone have a problem with me being in a public restroom. Well, not since I transitioned…

  9. 9
    Lauren says:

    TERFs and other transphobes aren’t actually afraid of cis men pretending to be trans men to gain access to bathrooms. They’re afraid of threats to their view of gender essentialism.

    Oh, I know. That’s why I called it an excuse. But far too many people who are not as aware of the fight for trans rights take Terfs at their word. I just think that if terfs and other transphobes get to pretend that cis*men taking advantage of trans*women’s recognition to attack women in bathrooms is their main issue, they should at least be forced to defend the “logic” of that supposed argument.

  10. 10
    Corso says:

    I get to disagree with Ron!

    There are very few places where sex or gender actually matter anymore. Some exist… I think sport is an example, and we’ve discussed that before. But generally, I feel like everyone’s lives would be so much better if we did a better job of determining where sex or gender really matter and found ways to accommodate where they don’t. And specifically on the topic of bathrooms: Sex does not matter.

    We would not need to have discussions about “individuals who think that they are above the law or otherwise refuse to learn” in this context if stupid laws were not passed in the first place.

    When Alabama was floating the bathroom bill I thought, perhaps naively, that the issue was public showers… Because frankly, safety issues aside (I don’t give that argument much credit), I can understand not wanting to be in an open space naked among people with the opposite set of genitals, and I think accommodations should be available. This might be a personal hangup. Public showers for a teenage, hormonal, gay boy are torture, and I avoided them like the plague…. But where the bills lost me, utterly and completely, was when I realized that the bills were explicitly and purposefully including closed-stall water closets. That’s so unnecessary. Cruelty might not be the point, but it certainly ends up there… Life is already so fucking fraught, I can’t imagine having to stress out over where to pee. And hiding behind the fig leaf of safety is just dishonest.

  11. 11
    JaneDoh says:

    I thought these laws state that you cannot use the bathroom of the opposite sex regardless of what claims you may make regarding being trans.

    Yes and they are clearly written with the TERF panic about being near trans women in mind. None of these laws really consider the existence of trans men, who would definitely provide better cover for a cis man wanting to be in the women’s room, since said cis man would not even need women’s clothing to pretend to be a trans man following the law.

    Meanwhile, those laws are used to harass gender non-conforming women and androgynous or masculine appearing non-binary people who use the women’s bathroom. My sister (who is a cis woman, not that this should be relevant) had the airport police called on her and had to show them her driver’s license while changing planes in a red state (which she has requested that her company avoid for future business travel after this incident).

  12. 12
    Lauren says:

    I can understand not wanting to be in an open space naked among people with the opposite set of genitals, and I think accommodations should be available. This might be a personal hangup. Public showers for a teenage, hormonal, gay boy are torture, and I avoided them like the plague….

    Getting rid of group showers and locker rooms in school in favor of individual stalls for everybody would be great for so many reasons
    – less fear of increased body shaming due to nudity/ everyone getting abetter look at “flaws”
    – less stress for people dealing with all different kinds of body-disphoria
    – less anxiety for people nervous about any kinds of nudity – their own or others
    – less potential of retraumatisation for victims of abuse by forcing them to expose their bodies
    – less excuses for homophobes to harrass out queer kids because “i don’t want them looking at me!!!”
    – less anxiety about having to hide involuntary body-reactions
    – less excuses for people to claim religious exemptions for modesty rules to keep their children out of class
    – less risk of others knowing when someone is on their period and spreading the info to use for bullying (also other things that might normally be hidden by clothing, like body hair, private tattoos, skin infections, scars, stretch marks etc.)
    – less worry about someone taking pictures and spreading them on WhatsApp/ Facebook/ revenge porn sites (seriously soooo glad I finished school before the rise of social media an smart phones)

    and the most important:
    – less risk of everybody getting doused in somebody’s AXE body-spray

    Seriously though, I live in a country where people of all sizes and genders walk around naked at the sauna (though being cis, I have no idea what that is like for trans- and nonbinary people), but even there we have individual changing stalls for the people who want them. And while our public swimming pools / swimming halls have group changing options for men and women (and families, so parents can help their younger kids – which somehow doesn’t cause society to collapse just because people of different genders are changing in the same room, since everybody who choses them does so knowing that will be the case), there are also individual stalls for changing and showering. Same at the gym some of the time, though there is always room for improvement. Why not offer the same for students?

    I know the anwer is an annoying combination of bigotry, ignorance and lack of funds/ space (possibly mixed with some “I had to do it so they should, too”), but still. It would be so much better!

  13. 13
    RonF says:

    Eytan Zweig @ 7:

    And who gets to decide what the opposite sex is for any individual?

    It’s not particular hard to tell. It’s one thing to talk about gender; people seem to think that there’s a great many of them these days. But with a finite but very small number of exceptions someone’s sex is determined at conception. It’s not something that is a function of someone’s feelings.

  14. 14
    Ampersand says:

    It’s not particular hard to tell.

    Ron, putting aside your definition of the word “sex” – which is simplistic – we’re talking about people using public restrooms. Are you suggesting that people should have to show their junk at the entrances before walking into restroom? Or does everyone have to carry around a birth certificate in order to use a public restroom?

    How, EXACTLY, do you foresee these rules being enforced?

  15. 15
    Jacqueline Onassis Squid says:

    How, EXACTLY, do you foresee these rules being enforced?

    I, for one, hope it involves visual inspection of genitals and chests, just as long as there are no exceptions to the examinations.

  16. 16
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Genital/Chest inspections won’t work, because there are medical treatments and surgeries that can alter those, and Ron was very clear that bathrooms are assigned at conception.

  17. 17
    Dianne says:

    Karyotyping prior to entering the facilities? Only if it’s enforced without exception in all bathrooms that aren’t gender neutral.

  18. 18
    Ampersand says:

    We need a gigantic set of scales at the entrance to every public restroom, and also a duck. Since trans people are, as everyone knows, made of wood, and since both wood and ducks float, it follows that trans people weigh the same as ducks.

  19. 19
    Grace Annam says:

    Dianne:

    Karyotyping prior to entering the facilities?

    Wouldn’t work for people with androgen insensitivity, some instances of chimerism, and a number of other variations in human development. In a population of hundreds of millions, there are plenty of people with XY chromosomes who get assigned female at birth and are raised as female, including some who never find out that they have a Y chromosome.

    (I suspect that Dianne knows this, but I’m putting it out there for others who might not.)

    I’ve used plenty of single-use bathrooms, some of which were created from previously multi-use bathrooms. Even in the United States, but also elsewhere, I’ve used bathrooms with unsegregated single-use stalls and a common washing-up area. Other than the cost of gradually, over time, retrofitting outmoded designs, as we do with buildings which were built without elevators and ramps, this non-problem can be completely solved with appropriate design.

    Grace

  20. 20
    Grace Annam says:

    RonF:

    It’s not particular hard to tell.

    Confirmation bias is a sneaky bastard, isn’t it?

    You’re a man of the world, Ron, and you’ve been around for many decades. It is a virtual certainty that you have peed in a bathroom standing right next to men who are trans. It is a virtual certainty that you have watched women who are trans walk into the women’s room and that it never occurred to you to give them a second glance.

    Grace

  21. 21
    Fibi says:

    The last several comments strike me as a bit off. We have a great many laws that are lightly enforced, and lightly enforced by design. Examples:

    1. While there may be some people here who think noncitizens should be allowed to vote, I think there are also many who agree the law should forbid it, but think enforcement approaches should be limited and are okay if that means a few improper votes are cast.

    2. In a recent thread, Amp (I believe) dug up that there were 11 states that legally mandated smallpox vaccines, but most laws weren’t enforced, and the case that led to the Supreme Court was a $5 fine.

    3. A lot of environmental laws are under enforced because it would require incredibly intrusive surveillance to completely eliminate “shoot, shovel, and shut up.” Does that mean we just give up and repeal the Endangered Species Act?

    4. Under the original Obama Care rules, not having insurance would be against the law, but the consequence would be just a small(ish) fine. Now, it’s illegal but there is literally no enforcement mechanism.

    5. Speaking of insurance, in my home State the law requires me to have car insurance. But I can register my car so long as I check a box saying I have insurance – they don’t check, and you don’t get in trouble unless you are pulled over for something else.

    6. Came back after writing the rest of this post to add the most relevant one – biologically segregated restrooms were the norm, and often legally required for about a century. But restroom agents conducting visual inspections somehow just weren’t a thing and the Republic survived.

    In fairness, there should be discussion of the inevitability of sporadic overenforcement, whether by the police (Eric Garner selling loosies) or by vigilantes. But the position that something should be illegal but the normal enforcement regime should be constrained is not unusual nor worthy of ridicule.

  22. 22
    Eytan Zweig says:

    biologically segregated restrooms were the norm, and often legally required for about a century.

    Are you referring to racial segregation here? Because race is no more a biological notion than gender is.

  23. 23
    Fibi says:

    I was obviously referring to biological sex. Pretty sure you knew that. Feel free to mentally translate to “sex assigned at birth.”

  24. 24
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I genuinely did not know what you were referring to. In the US there were laws which segregated bathrooms by race, which was why I thought that was what you were referring to in the historical sense (as a precedent to how sexual segregation laws could work).

    Note that one difference between the historical bathroom laws passed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on the one hand, and the current bathroom laws and racial segregation laws on the other hand, is that the earlier laws were laws on the people who built and maintained public bathrooms – they had to provide male and female bathrooms – and did not dictate how people shoul choose which bathroom to use. Certainly, there was a cultural assumption that people would go by their biological sex. But – at least according to the sources I could find – that was not part of the laws at the time. So this is irrelevant to your point about enforcement.

  25. 25
    Fibi says:

    Sorry for that Eytan. As far as I know there has never been a Federal law of general applicability that requires restrooms be separated by sex. But it was certainly the norm. And these laws are common at the State level and until recently universally understood to mean biological sex or sex assigned at birth. For instance, here is one such (current) law in Virginia.

  26. 26
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Yes, but note that that is a law positing reqirements for restrooms in public buildings. It does:

    1. State that bathrooms with more than one stall must be designated as “for men or for women”.

    It does not:

    1. State that people have to be either men or women to use a bathroom (for example, I doubt anyone thinks the law was meant to bar children from using a bathroom)
    2. State that a man is actually prohibited from using the bathroom designated for women, or vice versa.

    (All of the above is independent of the question of how you decide whether someone is a man or woman)

    Therefore, the enforcement of this law would be limited to the people running and building public buildings, not the people using bathrooms. If I were in Virginia and decided to use a woman’s bathroom, I would not be breaking that law (though depending on whether there are other people in the bathroom and how they react, I may be breaking laws on disturbing the peace or maybe harassment, etc.)

  27. 27
    Fibi says:

    That’s sort of the point Eytan. Public toilets were put into buildings about 100 years ago and this is probably typical of the average law on the subject – either a small fine or one that only holds the proprietor responsible. It’s not totally toothless. Presumably a business could lose its license for not complying with the law. And if the business had a pattern and practice of unofficially designating the restrooms as a free for all, this could happen. I am pretty sure it never did, but the possibility probably changed behavior. But that doesn’t mean businesses have to challenge everyone. Any more than the Department of Motor Vehicles challenges me when I tell them my car is insured.

    Again, I think the original cartoon is a good one! Because we have too many laws! And we should think about how they apply to edge cases, how we are going to enforce them, and whether there might be (even sporadic) overly zealous enforcement. But while it brings up a point to consider my sense of the comment thread (which could be wrong) is that some people seem to think it’s a devastating, turn off the lights, lock the door behind you there’s nothing else to talk about point. And I don’t agree with that.

  28. 28
    Eytan Zweig says:

    As one of the people quipping about enforcement, I don’t think any of us think that it’s a particularly strong argument against the laws. In fact, for me it’s not really an argument against the law at all – it’s a counter to Ron’s confident statement that it’s easy to determine who is a (“biological”) man and who is a (“biological”) woman.

    If a state passed a law that said that only people who read The Lord of the Rings are allowed to drive over 50 mph, then I might joke on how hard it will be to enforce this, given that so many people saw the movies. That doesn’t mean that I’d think that’s the worst thing about that law (or even close to it).

  29. 29
    Lauren says:

    biologically segregated restrooms were the norm, and often legally required for about a century

    Where they really though? Eytan has already adressed the question of who those laws were directed at, but I would like to get back to the idea that designated bathrooms were based on biology.

    Certainly, depending on how far back you go, more people back then didn’t know about all the possible genetic variations that could lead someone to be assigned male or female at birth. And the differences between sex assigned at birth and gender, pheno- and genotype etc. were not as widely known. It is probably fair to assume that a majority of people believed that a person’s sex could be determined by looking at them, and if they had a notion of gender as a different concept from sex, they would have probably still thought that it could be determined by looks – unless they had contact with the queer comunity and knew actual trans*people, or other reasons to be more aware of the complexities. Bathrooms were segregated by “biological sex” only as far as people thought they could tell a person’s biological sex simply by looking at them. (Since I am pretty sure we would know if regular genital checks before admittance to public restrooms had been a thing)

    So really, it would be more accurate to say that seperation based on outward gender representation used to be the norm. People judged “who belonged where” based on looks.

    Now, before the medical advancements of hormone therapy, surgeries etc, I would assume it was a lot harder for many trans*people to “pass”. But that doesn’t mean that none of them did. Leaving aside variations in looks even in cis populations, shaving has been a thing for a long time. So has make up. Cutting and styling hair in ways that were in line with the actual gender, not the sex assigned at birth. Padding and binding to adjust the silhouette (which, btw, cis*women also did to fit the fashionable look). There were options for trans*people back then. And some of them “passed”.

    No, I do not know enough queer history to give specific examples. But today, medical options are still not accessible for all trans*people. And some of those who theoretically could access them choose not to. And yet, some of those people still “pass”.

    Now, the issue of passing privilege is not one I as a cis*woman am qualified to comment on. But I do think it is very important not to buy into the idea that bathroom bills would simply uphold the status quo. Because scrutinizing people to check if they fit some kind of “real woman” / “real man” archetype enough to be allowed into a bathroom, always with the assumption that somebody might be trying to “sneak in”, did not use to be the norm. Passing laws to forbid certain men/ certain women from entering the bathroom used by people of their gender did not use to be the norm. I will never claim that everything was better “back then”, but the current panic-propaganda built on baseless fears and transphobia does not get to hide behind the lie that they are fighting back against “wokes” trying to force the world to adapt to their ideas. In this case, the TERFs and thransphobes are the ones demanding the world be adjusted to better fit theirs, encoding into law distincions that were not made before.

    Maybe they are just shocked to realize, thanks to growing visibility of trans*people, that they might have had contact with them without knowing? It might explain the current trend of TERFs trying to identify trans*women basen on pictures – which leads not only to paranoia based on a wide overestimation of how many trans*women there are, but also to harressment of cis- and trans*women, since both can fit those supposedly “objective” criteria. I must admit, the occasional stories of some of those “detectives” realizing that according to their own criteria, they themselves “look trans” does give me a bit of schadenfreude.

  30. 30
    Dianne says:

    Grace @19: Ron said that sex was determined at conception, so he must be defining sex by what X and Y chromosomes someone has. I agree that this is an extremely unreliable way to determine sex or gender, but can’t think of any other definition that would be determined at conception* and the only way to determine that is looking at the chromosomes. You certainly won’t know by looking at the phenotype, as you pointed out.

    Also, I think the idea of a line of people in front of the WC doing the potty dance while someone at the door says, “Hang on, looking for a metaphase” is funny. In theory. It would, of course, be horrifying for any number of reasons in reality.

    *Sort of. The Y-chromosome can get lost in the early divisions, chimerism can occur, etc. So even using the unreliable “XX or XY” definition, sex isn’t completely determined at conception.

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