Before discussing the core issues of this module there is some vocabulary that needs to be outlined in the pursuit of clarity. All of these words can and will be used in the module, so these definitions are written in an attempt to make it easier to follow this discussion.

First, trans, short for the full term transgender, in context of this module, means someone who identifies with a gender identity that does not coincide with the sex marker/gender marker that is assigned to them at birth. Gender is a spectrum, so being trans does not only include individuals who have fully transitioned from female to male, or vice versa, but captures the entire range of genders between male, female, no gender, and other mixes of these genders, such as genderqueer or genderfluid. The term transwomen refers to people who consider themselves female identities, regardless of how they were labeled at birth due to their biological circumstances. If there is any confusion about trans or transgender identities or you want more information on the terms, feel free to visit TransWhat?, a helpful website that has a full introduction to trans topics as well as a glossary of terms related to trans issues and identities.[1]

Another key term is cis, short for cisgender or cissexual, which refers to someone who does identify with the sex/gender marker they were assigned at birth. As an example, if someone was declared Female, or F on their birth certificate/id at birth, and they identify as exclusively female using female pronouns than that would be a cis-woman.

Neither of these definitions includes sexual orientation as an attribute. Being trans or cis has nothing to do with sexual orientation or sexual identity, inherently, but is exclusively about gender and self-identity as separate from sexual activity, sexual orientation, or sexual preference. If you’re confused about this aspect of trans identities, or are interested in learning more about the subject, the TransWhat? website is again an invaluable resource, as it details extensively the difference between gender and sexual identity.[2]

Bathroom bills refers to the current bills being drafted as a way to protect transgender rights to safe public spaces that match the identity they prefer/their real identity. The “original” bathroom bills were made with the opposite effect in mind, to restrict transgender access to only the bathrooms/public spaces that matches their assigned sex/gender from birth. If you have confusion about this distinction or want to learn more about bathroom bill terminology, Paul Heroux, a state representative from Massachusetts, wrote an article titled “Fear and loathing in the bathroom bills,” that provides arguments made on both sides of the bathroom bill debate .[3]

This module will discuss demonization as an aspect of propaganda, which will also be briefly defined here for ease of understanding the module topic. Propaganda is the systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party in order to encourage or instill a particular attitude or response. Propaganda is not as neatly restricted as other forms of media advertisement; propagandists can and will use any tactics that can be used and bring results. Demonization falls in the umbrella of one of the tools used in propaganda. Demonization, specifically, defines a clear enemy, attributing qualities to said enemy in order to pull the attitude of disapproval or hatred from viewers. These attributes are then repeated in different forms and circulated as propaganda generally is.

With these definitions in mind this module will discuss how transgender identities, especially transwomen, are demonized in relation to the recent bathroom bills through projected perversion/criminalization, and atrocity predictions using women and children as the foreseeable “victims.” Transgender individuals are categorized as criminals through association to past criminals who were labeled “male gender deviants.” The perceived “aggression” from transgender identities is then portrayed as targeting women and children in an attempt to draw shock and sympathy from viewers.

Core Concepts

If you haven’t seen any of the news pertaining to the infamous bathroom bills here is a brief summary of issues from within the last couple of years pertaining to trans rights to public restrooms: in 2012-13 a bunch of universities and high schools make gender neutral bathrooms on campus. This caused places like Austin to require single occupancy bathrooms to be gender neutral, sparking states such as Texas to make “bathroom surveillance bills” (original bathroom bills) that outlaw transgender people to use the bathroom that matches anything but their assigned sex/gender at birth. Now, in 2016, there is a back and forth between states like California and North Carolina to protect or deny transgender rights to safe public restrooms that match their preferred/real identity, respectively. If you had trouble following that, don’t worry, this is complicated stuff and it’s been going back and forth for a couple of years. If you need more information on the history of the bathroom bill controversy here is an article from Mother Jones, a left-leaning news website funded by a non-profit organization named Foundation for National Progress, that summarizes the bathroom bill discourse in a little more detail.[4] This is another article from Time magazine, the largest New York City magazine publication, that generally describes civil rights related to bathrooms until May of 2016, which may help in placing how bathroom has been involved with politics before.[5]

Keep in mind that this issue doesn’t stop with 2016. This article is being written in 2016, so the issues and examples will be those prevalent in that year or in years prior. It’s likely that in 2017 and beyond bathroom bill controversy will continue to evolve and change, in positive and negative ways. The demonization of trans identities is likely to evolve with the issue, continuing as the issue remains prevalent, though the specific arguments and figures taking the lead on bathroom bill discussion may change. This module is written so that you may recognize the strategies used against trans identities to label them as evil, something that will likely continue as the bathroom bill controversy evolves. If you are reading from several years past 2016, it may be beneficial to Google search bathroom bills and your city or state area if you want more current news on how your area handles trans rights to public spaces, or more generally search for bathroom bills in the news for national level news on how trans rights are being supported or restricted.

The availability of safe bathrooms for transgender identities isn’t as large of an issue for all spaces, however. Many cities and states were ahead of the game on making laws and gender neutral spaces for trans identities, such as San Francisco, Washington, or Philadelphia. Regardless of the current state of trans rights in a specific state, the imagery used and perpetuated by parties against trans’ rights to public spaces that match their identity poses a serious problem of circulating negative stereotypes of trans identities, especially transwomen. The key attributes used to demonize trans people who will be discussed are projected perversion/criminalization and preconceived atrocity crimes against women and children.

Perversion and Criminalization

One of the most common tools used to demonize transgender identities is relating them to some form of perversion or criminal activity, proclaiming that protecting trans rights is putting public safety at risk. A website called No Bathroom Bill, a website made to show the threats bathroom bills and trans equality have on public spaces, has an entire page that is dedicated to criminal activities they deem to relate to transgender rights and bathroom bills.[6]

These crimes and criminals are all described as being “men using gender confusion” to enter women’s spaces and commit crimes. Examples of criminal stories cited are a cross dressing man arrested for indecent exposure at Walmart[7], a man dressed as a woman video taping other women in a Macy’s bathroom[8], a man wearing women’s panties assaulting a girl[9], and several other crimes of varying dates and crime types. None of these crimes are committed by what the website deems as “women,” and many do not include individuals who claim to be trans at all. One of the crimes that does include an outspoken transwoman, labeled as a transsexual male incorrectly, does not even include a crime rather than a social debate over how a pool is attempting to help transgender individuals and other members of the community peacefully coexist[10].

However, regardless of the severity of the crime or the actual fact that many of these crimes are not committed by identified trans people but by people simply abusing social spaces for their gain, all of the articles are cited as examples of what will potentially happen more if transgender individuals are allowed to have equal access to public spaces. The criminal stereotype of a man dressing as a woman to take advantage of women and children is perpetuated time and time again in order to encourage fear and repulsion in audiences, backed up by the “evidence” of past crimes that are labeled as gender deviancy or transgender/transexual crimes.
Attacking Women and Children

Speaking of crimes against women and children, the second attribute common in the demonization of transgender individuals is the use of women and children as victims. The targets of transgender invasion on private spaces are always women[11] and children.[12] Again, the existence of transmen entering male spaces is entirely ignored in way of the public safety of women and children, a tactic commonly used in propaganda such as in anti-German propaganda from World War I.[13]

The use of women and children as victims further raises the stakes, as it calls communities to action in order to protect the helpless young women and girls that are being attacked by male invaders into their space. It connects the criminal with potential victim, one that could be your sister or mother, someone you love, as an attempt to raise the fear of invasion and violence already created in the first attribute.[14] Transgender individuals, almost always transwomen, are then equated not only to public threats but public threats to loved ones and personal connections, in an attempt to make the potential for personal harm seem even greater and the crimes even more severe due to who is hurt.



Figure 1. Screenshot of No Bathroom Bill website Banner depicting examples of “male gender deviants”. (2015). Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://nobathroombill.com/#home


This example comes from the No Bathroom Bill website, as one of their banner ads leading to their criminal documentation of gender deviant men. No Bathroom Bill is a website made from the partnership of the Massachusetts Family Coalition and the Renew MA Coalition, two conservative Massachusetts-based news organizations. They work together to provide easy ways to sign petitions against rights for abortions, trans rights to public restrooms, and stop sexual education classes in public school in Massachusetts. They have interests in Massachusetts legislation as well as national recognition of what they view as important and harmful patterns in the US. The organizations have obvious bias towards conservative and right-wing ideology which should already raise some red flags.

This is one of the examples of the attempt to build a criminal/predator appearance for transgender people, especially transwomen. All of the depicted people do not identify as transwomen, or they do not in the articles about their criminal activities, and are framed as if they are inherently negative in their appearance. The fact that all the examples are the stereotypical “male who is trying to look a little feminine” is a trend seen in anti-trans propaganda in order to make transgender women and other identities seem more menacing and deviant, as explained in the above section.

Figure 2. Anti-Transgender Ad published by the Minnesota Child Protection League for the Star Tribune. (2014, September 29). For a full length image look here: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2112724/thumbs/o-TRANS-570.jpg?6

This ad shows the trend of focusing on men committing crimes, as well as women/children being the victim. Daughters are used as a personal connection between the viewer and the potential crime. Transgender isn’t even used, simply “male” is used, assuming that all transgender women are actually deviant men who want to be in shower rooms or changing rooms with girls or women. The questioning “are YOU ok with that?” insinuates there is no reason you should be okay with transgender access to their preferred bathroom, especially with the criminalizing statement that is the introduction to the ad. Furthermore, the isolation of “you” in reference to the viewer is done to establish guilt, insinuating that allowing trans identities equal rights to bathrooms that match their identities is allowing for your loved ones to be in danger from aggressive and sexually coded predators. Not only does this example continue to focus on only transwomen, reducing them to men using the title woman as a cover to commit sexual acts, but uses fear tactics and individually coded guilt to try to encourage a response from the viewer. Said response would be, of course, trying in some way to stop the bills allowing trans identities rights to public spaces.

Figure 3. Glenn McCoy’s Fundamentally Transforming America political cartoon mocking a phrase Obama used in describing how America is reacting to his presidency. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://townhall.com/political-cartoons/glennmccoy/

This is a Glen McCoy editorial cartoon, which picked up a lot of views and social recognition through Sarah Palin.[16] Glenn McCoy is a political cartoonist who is often known for creating pieces aimed at provoking thought on current issues. While he does draw comics that elaborate on both left and right wing ideology, a large majority of his comics tend to portray conservative opinions, such as this example. This example shows a child as a victim to the proposed changes in society. Despite the child saying there is a man in the girl’s restroom, a statement that would commonly be cause for concern, she is labeled as a bigot, showing that speaking out in favor of bathroom bills is equated to allowing children to be at threat. Meanwhile, this also brings in another aspect that advocating for personal safety is somehow pathetic and childish, labeling the young man on the left as a victim for proclaiming a long and “outrageously” coded concern.The fact that this cartoon was so widely spread by Sarah Palin is also a level of concern, because it shows the mass appeal and convincing nature that this type of media can have in dehumanizing trans identities seeking equal public rights.

Figure 4.The End of Girls’ Sports anti-trans ad published in the Star Tribune, Duluth News Tribune, and St. Cloud Times by the Minnesota Child Protection League. (2014, November 30). For the full image look here.

This ad, again, brings up the fact that women and children are the real victims, with a “man” being the criminal in stealing public inclusion from a daughter or family member. The end of girls’ sports proclaims that trans rights are the beginning of some form of male takeover of all public spaces and inclusions, and the specific crime against the young women of America isn’t just the taking of public safety but also of public status and career. Young women are losing their spots in society as well as being threatened in their own spaces, according to the ad, hitting the victim and criminology attributes in multiple ways to portray trans identities as invasive and evil.The “you” in the ad is again used to isolate the viewer, making the ad personal and guilt-fueled to try and persuade viewer to react negatively to pro-trans policy. The fact that this ad was published by several organizations is disconcerning since it shows that Minnesota, much like Massachusetts through the No Bathroom Bills website and associated publishers, has a dedicated group that is committed to circulating demonizations of trans identities in order to persuade audiences against pursuing equal public rights for trans people. The online publications can reach even further than the state boundaries, leading to national projection of trans identities as harmful and viewers as responsible for not allowing trans identities to commit “crimes” against their loved ones.

Figure 5. No Bathroom Bill advertisement made by the Massachusetts Family Institute for radio originally (2011, July 11). You can listen to the ad here on Youtube. (retrieved September 27, 2016)

This is a radio ad made by the MFI, Massachusetts Family Institute, which warns mothers and other family members of the Massachusetts area that their safety is at risk because of the new bathroom bills. This organization shows up again, previously showing up as an associated partner of the No Bathroom Bill website and petition. This organization is again providing conservatively biased content about trans identities by portraying them as a local threat. The ad insinuates that these bills and transgender rights will open the flood gates to crimes against women and children in public spaces, that transgender individuals using their preferred bathroom is putting women and children at risk in all public spheres. The ad goes so far as to insinuate that no bathrooms will be perceived as safe if the bill passes, due to the immediate violence and crime the bills and transgender equality are sure to invite.


Demonization of transgender identities in reference to bathroom bills not only minimizes who transgender people are, but labels transgender people as deviants, criminals, and invasive dangerous entities around America’s women and children. The propaganda circulating negative views of transgender individuals labels all trans people under a tight stereotype as male sexual deviant, ignoring the diversity of the community and the reality that the bills will not drastically increase crime against women in women spaces. The transgender community is made up of men, women, and plenty of other identities that only want equal rights to public spaces they feel comfortable in. While the idea of a man targeting women and children in public spaces is scary it’s also not a reflection on transgender people at all, but a reflection on a man who would want to commit a crime against women and children.

As this Huffington Post[15] article states, there’s nothing this bill will be doing that will suddenly incite more crime. Criminals will commit crimes regardless of what the laws exist. It’s important to keep in mind that this issue isn’t about whether or not criminals are going to be let into bathrooms and locker rooms, but if children, men, and women everywhere will be allowed to take a minute of their day to do their business in a place they feel safe. This issue is keeping them from feeling safe and welcome in a space they identify with and is something that needs much more serious attention and support as the issue continues to be debated on both sides.

More generally the techniques of fear, guilt, and projected criminalization are used for several groups outside of trans identities. Demonization is not exclusive to trans identities, and these same patterns of focusing on aggression, “predicted” attrocity crimes against women and children, and subjecting the viewer of propaganda to guilt and personal fear could be used against any group. Any media content creator could use these tools to demonize a group they wish to portray badly, depending on what actions they wanted to promote in the societies they are targeting.It’s important to be aware of the intent behind media production, and if the techniques of fear, guilt, and criminalization are used, always ask yourself what the intent of the media is, if it has bias, and what action it is trying to promote. Never absorb media that is targeting a specific group without asking why the group is being targeted, by what people, and with what reasonable and valid evidence the group is being attacked. Largely, guilt and fear appeals are used to make people afraid of groups of people who are otherwise not scary, so being aware of that fact can help you be aware of demonization in media against any and all minorities as well as trans identities.

Discussion Questions

Would anti-trans and anti-bathroom bill campaigns be as powerful if they discussed transmen as well as “transwomen”?

Where is the discussion about trans-youth who want to use the bathroom they prefer? Why is their narrative ignored in anti-trans propaganda?

Are there any biases with the publication that you can tell? Are they connected to any other organizations that would create bias in the publication or formation of the media you are viewing?

How long are you in a restroom? What is your awareness of those around you? Would it bother you immensely to see someone you might question to be of a different assigned sex if they did not interact with you at all? How deeply would it disrupt you in the moment and later on, especially considering if they do not interact with you at all?

Why are transmen ignored in this propaganda? Could their narrative be used to portray transgender people as negative and criminals like transwomen/”male deviants” are used?

Is there specific evidence of a trans identity comitting a crime in your area in a public restroom? Is the criminal in question actually trans or are they just being labeled or grouped in with trans identities? Is there evidence of crimes against trans identities in your community, and if so, how many?

Why are aggressions against trans individuals in public restrooms ignored by media? Does this create a bias in the media you are consuming?

Does the media you are consuming seem to have an accurate and fair perception of trans identities or is it portraying exclusively “male sexual deviants” as trans?

For more information visit any of the following websites or articles:
Transgender education:

Adam, Trans • What? Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://transwhat.org/
TransWhat? is the website I’ve mentioned several times already, but I can’t recommend it enough as a resource for information on trans definitions and related glossary terms, as well as a basic overview of rights and allyship.

Trans Ally: Do’s and Don’ts, University of Southern California. (2005). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from https://lgbtrc.usc.edu/allies/transgender/tips/
This is an ally do’s and dont’s list for trans allies from the University of Southern California’s LGBT Resource Center. I would recommend browsing this site outside of this page for more information on any LGBTQA+ questions.

Trans Ally Tips,University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. (2016). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/allies/trans-ally-tips/
This is another Trans Allyship guide from the University of Wisconsin’s LGBT Resource center. It adds to the previous example and is another valuable resource for any LGBTQA+ questions.

Heroux, P. (2015, October 27). On Being the Parent of a Transgender Child [Web log post]. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/on-being-the-parent-of-a_b_8395518.html
Paul Heroux talks in detail with the mother of a transgirl about what it’s like to be trans, and how transchildren fit into our world. This article is great for understanding not only trans lives but the lives of trans supporters around them.

Pro-Bathroom Bill:

Heroux, P. (2016, April 30). Bathroom Bill Myths & Facts [Web log post]. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/bathroom-bill-myths–fact_b_9814092.html
This is a fact/fiction breakdown of common stereotypes and rumors spread in the Bathroom Bill discourse discussed by State Representative Paul Heroux, who has been trying to educate himself and others about Trans lives. It doesn’t provide statistics but it does bring up good counter arguments to the demonization shown here that are good to keep in mind when thinking about this issue.

Heroux, P. (2015, October 15). Transgender Rights and Public Bathrooms [Web log post]. Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/transgendered-rights–pub_b_8282114.html
Another article from Paul Heroux who discusses more rebuttals to the opposition of trans access to public services. Again, this is helpful when trying to pick apart the issues and understand all sides of the Bathroom Bill discourse.

Anti-Bathroom Bill:

Frequently Asked Questions – No Bathroom Bill. (2015). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://nobathroombill.com/frequently-asked-questions/
If you were curious about No Bathroom Bill or the anti-bathroom bill angle of the issue, this webpage is from the No Bathroom Bill website and discusses the issues they see with Bathroom Bills and Trans equality in public spaces. Even if you are in support of bathroom bills reading this can help you better understand trans opposition and the issues many feel haven’t been dealt with in preparation for trans equality.

Transgender – Liberty. (1995). Retrieved September 28, 2016, from http://www.lc.org/transgender
Finally, here is another webpage that has a list of recorded crimes that are labeled as “transgender crimes” or otherwise related to transgender use of public spaces. Many of the sourced articles are heavily anti-trans and propagate the stereotypes discussed in this module, but it’s still a valid resource for understanding all sides of the bathroom bill discussion.


[1] A homemade guide to Trans terminology and information: A. (n.d.). Confused? Start here. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://transwhat.org/confused/


[2] A homemade guide to Trans terminology and information: A. (n.d.). Confused? Start here. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://transwhat.org/confused/


[3] Heroux, P. (2016, April 27). Fear and Loathing in Bathroom Bills. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/fear–loathing-in-bathroo_b_9791272.html


[4] Drum, K. (2016, May 14). A very brief timeline of the bathroom wars. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2016/05/timeline-bathroom-wars


[5] Rhodan, M., & Rothman, L. (2016). Stall Tactics. Time, 187(20), 34-35.


[6] Transgender Bathroom Abuse – No Bathroom Bill. (2015). Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://nobathroombill.com/examples/


[7] Hartstein, L. (2010, March 25). Cross-dressing man arrested for exposure at Walmart. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/cross-dressing-man-arrested-for-exposure-at-walmar/nQddG/


[8] Klemack, J. C., & Llyod, J. (2015, May 15). Charges for Man Disguised as Woman in Bathroom Filming. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Secret-Recording-Store-Mall-Antelope-Valley-Palmdale-Restroom-207541101.html


[9] Stein, D. (2013, September 16). Homeless Man Wearing Women’s Panties Accused Of Assaulting Young Girl In OKC. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.news9.com/story/23443942/homeless-man-arrested-wearing-womens-panties-accused-of-assaulting-young-girl-in-okc-gas-station-bathroom


[10] The Christian Institute (2012, November 09). Trans man uses female changing room at US college. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PMVj62plRI


[11] Breitbart is known for being a heavily conservative UK news channel, so this article is particularly hostile towards the idea of trans equality and access to public spaces: Hudson, W. T. (2016, April 21). Man accused of filming women in Smyrna park’s bathroom. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://wkrn.com/2016/04/07/man-charged-after-allegedly-filming-in-smyrna-womens-restrooms/


[12] Clearwater, F. (2016, April 30). Police: Man attacks 6-year-old girl in women’s bathroom. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://klfy.com/2016/04/30/police-man-attacks-6-year-old-girl-in-womens-bathroom/


[13] The birth of totalitarian democracy. (2015, August 1). Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201508/13316/birth-totalitarian-democracy


[14] Massachusetts Family Institute (2011, July 11). MFI Action – No Bathroom Bill – Radio Ad :30. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7dBdZJAS7c


[15] Heroux, P. (2016, April 27). Fear and Loathing in Bathroom Bills. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-heroux/fear–loathing-in-bathroo_b_9791272.html

[16] Dillion, M. (2016, April 21). ‘ESPN continues to screw up’: Sarah Palin rides to the defense of Curt Schilling with bizarre Facebook cartoon after he’s fired by network for unacceptable conduct. Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://www.capitalbay.news/news/1024178-espn-continues-to-screw-up-sarah-palin-rides-to-the-defense-of-curt-schilling-with-bizarre-facebook-cartoon-after-he-s-fired-by-network-for-unacceptable-conduct.html


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