Bathroom Boogeymen and Feel Good Legislation

One of the favorite pastimes of legislators and other public officials is making up problems and offering expensive solutions to them on the taxpayer’s dime. It’s not a bad racket. It certainly gets them out of doing an honest day’s work for a little longer.

I can relate to that. When I was six years old, I had to write a fictional essay on a topic of my choosing, and I went into my first-grade classroom absolutely not feeling it that morning. Maybe I was nursing a bad milk hangover from the night before or maybe I balked at the three paragraph minimum requirement.

Those details are lost to history. What I do remember is spending an hour “scouring” encyclopedias and surfing the nascent internet for the correct spelling of the word “gnome”. I knew how to spell “gnome”, but more importantly, I figured there were alternate spellings, and as soon as I hit an article that listed ‘knome’ as a possible variant, I knew I struck pay dirt. By the end of the writing period, I hadn’t strung together more than two words: “Gnomes are”.

They certainly are. I got out of my assignment clean as a whistle without doing a scrap of work. Politicians operate much the same way, and much like me as an asshole first grader, they invoke fictional creations to get their legislation passed. Take the demonization of welfare recipients. Even as recently as today, I ran across a meme from someone on my social media complaining that the poor are lazy (the concept of the working poor evidently long lost on them). It’s a pervasive stereotype, even amongst people who would fit the technical definition of being poor themselves.

That’s bad, but it wasn’t enough for the country’s lawmakers. Desperate to look like they do something besides subsist off of a very top-dollar brand of public assistance, the lawmakers of several states in the country decided to act. People on welfare weren’t just bad people because they accepted assistance, they were also on drugs! That was the line, repeated by an endless chain of numbskulls whose life experience seems to reach as far as Facebook.

Of course, the numbers didn’t add up. The most recent example came from the good old state of North Carolina. They began testing recipients in August, only to discover that the percentage of applicants using drugs, out of a total of 7600, was 0.3%. 0.17% tested positive in Tennessee. And so on. A lot of these states reimburse the cost of a passed drug test, so the weeding out of the people who didn’t pass is ultimately not producing the kind of high numbers expected from how hard everyone screamed about it. There were many applicants who did not take the test, but whether this was indicative of potential drug use or prohibitive test cost was not determined.

But everybody felt good. For some reason. The low, low, low numbers don’t support the cost, not to mention the demonization of people who have the misfortune of risking shame to get help. Working at Walmart for several years, I endured plenty of loud, fat, obnoxious folks who lived up to every poor stereotype you can invent, and a few you can’t. I can also report for every one of these awful families, there were nine more who quietly swiped their blue EBT cards, eyes darting back and forth to make sure nobody noticed. People you would never expect.

Speaking of public shame, the so-called “bathroom bill” is a new measure that has invented and eliminated the latest fake boogeyman in one fell swoop, at a nice cost to the state legislature and at a wonderful cost to our country’s dignity. People who are trans are experiencing a cultural tipping point of acceptance and conversation, but it wouldn’t be a moment without some classic American stupidity attached to it.

Public officials love to legislate in the face of fact and tact. It feels good if you’re an asshole, and it eliminates a problem that didn’t exist before the legislation “took care of the problem”. The supposed problem was men and women using the restroom of the gender they identify as. It was never an issue before. If it ever was an issue, it was not widespread enough to be an epidemic or even noteworthy.

It’s certainly an issue now, only because policy makers and loudmouth religious wingnuts have described the perfect ways for hypothetical criminals and perverts to carry out their crimes. I suppose that’s why stupid entitled men are throwing open women’s restroom doors and screaming at frightened shoppers trying to take a piss, or why the eternally droopy jowls of noisy church marms are flapping louder and longer than usual at your local Target. Something could potentially happen to disrupt the average shopper’s day. Something like a crybaby who finally got told “no” making a scene at Target over nothing. For every one asshole yelling at Target janitors, there are nine trans men and women darting their eyes back and forth, bladders full.

It’s frustrating. A lot of the articles I write are about nothing. Kim Davis throwing a hissy fit because she couldn’t break the law and wasting everybody’s time was essentially nothing. Similarly, a lot of the articles I write are about people trying to prevent “problems” which in turn becomes a problem. Like those idiots who think they have enough good intentions to warn parents that strangers will comment on their children violating gender norms. These people aren’t in traffic, they are traffic. And they come together to make a giant, ignorant mess. And they expect legislation based on their ignorance. The existence of both sex and gender, I’m sure, is just as baffling to them as the existence of the working poor, but they sure as shit want those laws passed.

And behind it all is some idiot politician getting pats on the back from his or her illiterate constituents when they can manage to string together a misspelled “thank you” for taking care of business on the Facebook pages that they live on. And nothing gets done because little to nothing was actually wrong. And it costs us money. And it’s embarrassing.

I have to part ways with another memory. There was an amazing newspaper article in my hometown, written about the assistant principal of my high school and his role in preventing prescription drug abuse in schools. A noble cause, and necessary, until he and the reporter decided to enter into the realm of speculative fiction by describing something called “Skittle Parties”. A Skittle party is supposedly where kids steal their grandmother’s pain pills, mix them in a bowl with skittles, and fuckin’ party.

The assistant principal admitted in the article that he had never personally heard of any local Skittle parties but added that you can “never say never”. I assume, to this day, that no skittle parties occurred locally, but our public official still took a courageous stand against them. And it felt good, to someone. Nobody I knew had ever even considered the concept of a skittle party, but after reading that article, it sure sounded interesting. This is how stupid legislation is born.


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