Fun with pictures: CNN’s dubious ‘proof’ that we need a ‘restroom revolution’

Fun with pictures: CNN’s dubious ‘proof’ that we need a ‘restroom revolution’
Image: John Arehart/Shutterstock

“Before I launch into the argument for making all restrooms in the United States gender neutral — that is, removing ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ labels — I want to show you a photo.”

So begins an article by John D. Sutter, an opinion columnist for CNN Digital. The piece argues not only that Americans should be permitted to use whichever bathroom they choose when they feel the urge to relieve themselves but that all bathrooms should be unisex.

His argument rests with a single photograph, reproduced below:

Image via Twitter

“This,” Sutter announces seemingly with a coy smirk, “is James Parker Sheffield.”

Then he lowers the boom on the unsuspecting reader:

Now a truly ridiculous question: Which restroom do you think he should use?

Men’s or women’s?

In the United States at the moment, the legal answer depends on location. If Sheffield is in North Carolina, it’s illegal for him to use a public men’s restroom. Since he’s a transgender man — his birth certificate has an “F” on it — he has to use the women’s.

Game, set, match! Unfortunately for Sutter and cheerleaders of this sort of journalistic manipulation, the question is both more and less ridiculous than Sutter imagines it to be.

It is less ridiculous because James Parker Sheffield is the exception, not the rule. To illustrate, let’s repeat the question about which bathroom a person should use, but this time in re the person pictured below:

Shakina Nayfack (Image: YouTube screen grab via Shakina Nayfack)
Shakina Nayfack (Image: YouTube screen grab via Shakina Nayfack)

This is Shakina Nayfack, who is a strapping 6 feet 2. Because Nayfack, who was born Jared Alan Nayfack, has an “M” on “her” birth certificate, the North Carolina bathroom law (which has become the national litmus test over the rights of transgenders vs. the rights of non-transgenders) dictates that “she” use must the men’s room. Which has prompted Nayfack to release this photo:


Granted Nayfack, who underwent sex reassignment surgery, is something of a crusader, if not an out-and-out exhibitionist. So let’s forget about “her” and examine pictures of other more or less normal transgenders:




Obviously John Sutter was selective in his choice of poster child. My point, however, is that one isolated photo does not an argument make. In fact, Sutter might have chosen the photo of James Parker Sheffield below, but this somewhat cherubic face sans viral facial hair doesn’t deliver the same dramatic impact.

Image: The Georgia Voice

But as I noted earlier, Sutter’s argument is also more ridiculous than he appreciates because the entire debate over HB2 and similar laws does not turn on how a person looks fully clothed. Rather, it is how a person looks with his sex organs exposed.

Sometimes more than just that. Take HB2, which applies to the use of changing facilities and locker rooms as well as public restrooms. The potential problem of making these facilities gender-neutral was brought to light in February when a biologically intact male entered a women’s locker room in Seattle and began stripping.

Which brings up the part of the debate liberals are eager to gloss over. That’s the right to privacy of members of the population who are not transgender. CNN’s Sutter tries to equate the bathroom debate with the civil rights struggle that up through the 196os faced blacks, who were genuine targets of bigotry and ignorance. But it’s a false equivalence. Sharing a bathroom with someone who looks different from you should pose no problem to anyone — unless the person looks different by dint of his (or her) junk.

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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