Unisex bathrooms are unifying, not wrong

By Tom Kozlowski
Opinions Editor

Some of you may have seen Matthew Hernberg’s recent article denouncing PRISM’S transgender awareness week. It was written on the “Young Americans Foundation” site, a paleoconservative sauna for frightened right-wing hotheads, and further plastered on Facebook. I encourage you to read it; then I encourage you to comment on why Mr. Hernberg is wrong. The majority of you will be disgusted by his logic and angered that such beliefs still exist, for his veiled attack on theLGBTQ movement is, sadly, internet bigotry.

PRISM helps to spread transgender awareness by giving students a shared experience of discomfort. (Tom Kozlowski / Opinions Editor)

Here’s Mr. Hernberg’s target: PRISM, the College’s sexual rights and awareness group on campus, promoted an annual week of transgender awareness by converting several bathrooms in the Brower Student Center and Library Café into gender-neutral facilities, clearly designated by signs. Many people who identify as a different gender than their sex are judged when using the unconventional bathroom. Because they feel uncomfortable, for no fault of their own, they desire an equal and fair social haven in the bathroom, our most private of public places. How does Mr. Hernberg respond?

“(PRISM’s) campaign for equality is nothing more than a social experiment right out of the cultural Marxist playbook … ironically, (it) actually infringes on the liberty and equality of the rest of the student body,” Hernberg said.

Now, Mr. Hernberg is a College attendee with strong conservative opinions. He was even the chairman of the College Republicans in his prime. His opinion, though, is almost fanatical, especially for a changing Republican base. All opinions from either side of the spectrum may be valued for their voice, but it just so happens that some of them are wrong.

Mr. Hernberg is one of those trembling conservatives frightened by the “multiculturalism” movement. Conservatives themselves have been deriding it as “cultural Marxism” since the 1990s, but its definition is hardly concerned with global overthrow of the bourgeoisie. What both of these words describe is the contestation of dominant cultural trends. These types of cultural studies attempt to expose power structures in our traditional society and, if they’re oppressive, challenge them. Consequently, cultural Marxists would likely have opposed slavery, segregation and indentured servitude of the 1950s nuclear housewife. Why? Because these were all powerful cultural ideals in our society that were hard to shake, but that does not justify their existence. They are, or should be, considered despicable, and no different than our culture’s rejection of LGBTQ rights.

But, in Mr. Hernberg’s mind, these changes are an attack on “the very foundation of our great nation.” If this is what defines us a great nation, then I’d rather be a godless heathen listening to the loud rap music and supporting my transgendered peers. These foundations are prejudicial, and they reflect the mentality of aging Republicans and close minded bigots.

If Mr. Hernberg reads, I suggest he examine Judith Halberstam’s study of what she calls “the bathroom problem.” Halberstam, who now identifies as a man, recounts the social stigma against transgendered men and women when using “the wrong bathroom.” The cardinal rule of gender, he says: “one must be readable at glance.” And for those who aren’t easily identified, they face scrutiny, anxiety, fear and sometimes even physical violence. This is not just a specific case study, this occurs regularly. And as our culture becomes more aware of how we constrain the body’s ability to navigate in a binary culture, where traditional gender defenders cry “one or the other,” we must change. We must accommodate these people who face unnecessary obstacles to sharing a normal existence, and we can do that by changing culture.

This, partially, is what PRISM’s unisex bathroom demonstration helps to highlight. Gender, just like our culture, is socially constructed — just as our culture progressed from endorsing racist structures to legislating civil rights, it deserves to progress for the LGBTQ community. But Mr. Hernberg is not convinced.

He believes that your right to use the bathroom is disrupted by letting others feel comfortable in that presence. He believes that dominant culture must be right by the fact that it holds some loose standard. And he believes that accommodating others will divide us into chaos.

“Organizing the community and using what we do in the bedroom to further divide us as a nation, in actuality only divides us more,” he spits. He even dares to quote Abraham Lincoln, who remarked that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Let’s recount what Lincoln did now: he fought against dominant slave culture to help emancipate oppressed people. Now consider what we should do in Lincoln’s legacy: dismantle our malleable culture to erect a fairer, more considerate environment for those with different sexual orientations, even if it means adding a gender neutral bathroom. Mr. Hernberg would do well to remember that just because Lincoln was a white, Republican male did not make him a narrow-minded human being.

Anything termed “Marxist” is a monster to Mr. Hernberg. But that should not conflate the gay civil rights movement with a cataclysmic destruction of capitalist America. This is not a deconstruction of society. Nor is it an opportunity for Mr. Hernberg to cloak real America under the patriotism of his conservative fantasies. Instead, PRISM has rightly turned our heads toward a cultural trend that is unnoticed yet unjust. It has even made straight students feel the discomfort of their transgender peers. If Mr. Hernberg would prefer his two-bathroom model, fine. But I hope he flushes down the shit he’s spewing about a culture long past his understanding.