Transphobic Urban Myths

avon lady advertisement to accompany a transphobic urban myth

Do urban legends seem unanimously ridiculous to you? Good. Because there’s a new transphobic myth doing the rounds.

My @NBCNews colleagues and I spent the last month finding the root of America’s hottest, dumbest urban legend: Schools are leaving out litterboxes for kids who identify as furries. Despite what Joe Rogan says, it’s not true. But its origins are grimmer than you’d ever imagine.

You have probably heard dozens of variations on the “litter boxes are in schools” lie. You might have heard it from Joe Rogan, talking to Tulsi Gabbard, from his “friend’s wife who works at a school.” Or maybe Lauren Boebert. Or maybe Marjorie Taylor Greene. It’s everywhere.

If you didn’t hear about the “litter boxes in school” rumor from a GOP politician, you probably heard it about your OWN town. Facebook is filled with these lies, relocalizing the rumor to your town. There are examples on Facebook posts from almost every state in the the country.

So how did this happen? What’s the first real instance of people talking about cat litter in schools? Here’s where it gets dark.

NBC News found one example of a school district keeping cat litter on campus. The Jefferson County School District has had classrooms with cat litter since 2017, in case students are locked in a classroom during a shooting. Jefferson County is where Columbine is located.

Cat litter was handed out in Columbine’s school district for active shooter situations five years ago. Since then, the “litter boxes in schools” rumor has evolved into a way to mock LGBTQ youth. It’s now being used as a culture war ammo by over 20 GOP politicians nationwide.

The data shows how the “litter boxes in schools” rumor that cannot die, mostly due to the incredulity of adults.

According to @graphika‘s Cristina Lopez G, kids on TikTok are creating videos mocking adults who believe in it wind up providing fodder for the oblivious on Facebook.

Here’s the reality: We reached out to every school rumored to have a litter box. We found one: in a “go bucket” for a possible mass shooting. The rumor is a way to marginalize LGBTQ youth.

Ben Collins on Twitter, Senior Reporter, NBC News

Ben Collins then links to the article:

At least 20 Republican politicians have claimed that schools are making accommodations for students who identify as cats. The school districts say these claims are untrue.

How an urban myth about litter boxes in schools became a GOP talking point

Transphobic urban legends are as old as transphobia itself. Here are a couple of older examples — every bit as ridiculous as the stories being told by people like Joe Rogan to gullible masses today.

“AVON CALLING”

A woman was at home alone one day, cleaning the house, when there was a knock at the door. She opened it to find a tall, large woman smiling on the doorstep.

‘Avon calling!’ the visitor said. Having been asked inside, the Avon Lady went through the rigmarole of explaining the properties of her products, but she didn’t make a sale.

Before leaving, the visitor asked to use the toilet, and the woman directed her down the hall. Minutes passed and still the Avon Lady hadn’t emerged from the toilet when the woman heard her calling out for more toilet paper. Having just topped up the toilet paper she immediately became suspicious and called the police. Terrified, she then locked herself in a cupboard. When the police arrived they ran into the bathroom and found a man waiting there, totally naked.

Great Australian Urban Myths by Graham Bell (1995)

Avon ladies were the first conglomeration of American women to be financially independent with a respectable profession, selling cosmetics and toiletries door-to-door, or among her network of friends and acquaintances. I remember in the 1990s Avon Ladies would drop magazines off in the letterbox. She would then knock on your door and ask if you’d had time to read it. By then, the work world has opened up for women, and cold-calling Avon Ladies were considered an imposition.

The idea that a predatory man would go to the trouble of dressing as a woman to gain access to women’s spaces is as ridiculous as it is untrue.

“A HAIRY HITCHHIKER”

This version is from Belgium, but I found an almost identical version in my book of Australian Urban Myths.

I must warn you of a great danger, and ask you to watch out very carefully in the coming weeks for your girlfriends, wives and daughters!

Last week a friend of one of my colleagues wanted to see movie at the Kinepolis in Brussels. After the showing she had to cross the lonely and dark parking lot at Heysel to reach her car. Suddenly she noticed a little old lady was sitting in the back seat. That was really odd, because she was certain she had locked the doors.

Angry, she confronted the old lady and demanded to know what she was doing there. The old lady explained that she had also gone to see a film and her grandson was supposed to pick her up, but that he had not showed up. And because she didn’t want to wait alone in the deserted parking lot, she had decided to get into a car and ask its owner for help when he came. She looked as if she was about to cry and asked whether she couldn’t ride along.

More out of courtesy than pity, the girlfriend of my colleague decided to take the old lady with her, on the condition she would show her the way. Everything was going well until the old lady suddenly asked her to turn left and stretched out her hand to point to the right street. From the corner of her eye, my colleague’s girlfriend saw that the hand wasn’t the blotchy and wrinkled hand of an old person, but the rough, hairy hand of a man!

She caught on immediately that her passenger wasn’t an old lady at all. She panicked, saw a bus, decided to crash into it, jumped from the car and ran to the bus driver, begging him for help. They rang the police, who inspected the site. When the girlfriend of my colleague returned to her car, the little old lady had vanished. They opened the trunk and found garbage bags, chloroform and a chainsaw.

The police pointed out that the Butcher of Mons was just in these days prowling about Brussels.

Goethe Institute “The Hitchhiker with the Hairy Hands”

You may see correlation between this story and “Little Red Riding Hood” as told by the Grimm Brothers. Significantly, the Grimm Brothers took a feminist tale told by spinning women, meant for other women, and inserted a wood cutter at the end who came to the rescue of Little Red Riding Hood, who had, in previous versions, saved herself.

These stories exist to retain a straight gender binary with men above women, which entails Good Men TM looking after women, because Other, Hairy, wolf-like Bad Men TM cannot possibly be stopped.