The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.
The first time I ever used the ladies’ room was absolutely nervewracking. I had just started presenting myself in public as a woman, and I was slowly becoming more confident in where I would go. Starting transition in the American south does not leave a trans girl with a lot of confidence about her right to exist, let alone using the pisser without being hassled. I was at a bar in downtown Dallas, and as one might imagine after drinking a few gin and tonics I really had to go, like really really had to go. There were only two options: the men’s room or the women’s room; there was no “unisex” option.
I knew that if I went into the men’s room I’d be gawked at, insulted, and possibly even harmed. I had been on hormones for so long that using the men’s room would look downright silly anyway. And so I answered the call of my bladder and plunged into the unknown space of the women’s restroom. I spared no time. I did my business, washed my hands, and left as soon as I could. My heart was pounding the whole time, my hands were practically numb, and I was deathly afraid of accidentally making eye contact with anyone for fear of being found out.
But then I realized something as I returned to my friends: I got no weird stares, no derogatory remarks, and certainly no one pointing at me and screaming “PERVERT.” I was able to blend in, and so I was able to use this space without any issues. As time went on, I was able to use women’s restrooms in areas that I knew were even more hostile to transgender folk, and certainly didn’t have legal protections for me: a barbecue joint in Alabama, a Walmart in central Florida, and a Mississippi rest stop bustling with conservative families. I was becoming more confident in my ability to blend in, and I loved it.
So when I hear rhetoric that people use against transgender women using restrooms, I can only assume that they are in a fantasy land. There seems to be a trend in mainstream society where people attribute a group that they don’t understand to fears that they do understand, which is why the ill-understood transgender minority often gets lumped in with the likes of child molesters, rapists, and perverts. This is what happened to gays in the 1970s and it’s happening to transgender individuals now. So it comes as no surprise when politicians turn around and use these irrational, baseless fears about transgender people as part of their political rhetoric and eventually hurtful public policy, all in the name of “protecting human rights.”
We can see a direct example of this occurring in the Colorado public school system, in which reported parental and student concern about a transgender girl using the changing room was spun by the media as actual harassment. This has in turn led to proposed policies to solve a “problem” that was shilled into existence from the perpetuation of baseless fears and accusations. The end result is fear of the unknown being used to drive public policy. It’s a fantasy solution to a fantasy problem that negatively impacts real people in real ways .
Well here’s the reality: transgender people are getting access to medical means to transition at earlier and earlier ages. This means that more and more transgender people are able to pass way more easily, and thus can use their preferred restrooms without any issue because no one has any idea that they are transgender in the first place. I guarantee you that you have shared a public restroom with a transgender individual at least once in your lifetime, you just probably didn’t notice. No one is really taking the time to really scrutinize each other in public restrooms anyway, partly because most American restrooms use stalls with tall walls that block vision of people while they do their business, and partly because the bathroom is not some sort of hangout space. It’s a facility and an amenity, not a “girls’ club,” and certainly not some sort of rape dungeon.
That’s what I mean when I say it’s already happening. For transgender women, the ladies’ room is the most logical and safest place for them to go, and so they’re going to do it whether it’s legal or not. Furthermore, when they use this amenity, they do exactly what the rest of the population does: go in, do their business, hopefully wash their hands, and leave. The societal image of what transgender women look like is so disjointed from their actual appearance that the majority of transgender restroom users go unnoticed. So unless you’re planning to don your detective’s hat and start pulling down pants and looking up skirts, there is absolutely nothing that you can do about these people going in and answering nature’s call like the rest of the human race.
So since this is already happening, it’s only fair to seek legal protection for this completely sensible act. And yes, transgender people who are unable to pass deserve just the same treatment too. Protection ordinances are even more important for those without passing privilege, because they do not have the luxury of flying under the radar sometimes. I’ve heard arguments stating that those who don’t have passing privileges shouldn’t use their preferred restrooms because they might make cisgender people “feel uncomfortable,” but is that really a reason to deny someone’s identity and make her life that much more dangerous? No, the only real reason that argument has any traction is because of the subconscious privileging of nebulous cisgender “comfort” over real concerns about transgender safety. Public policy should never be formed from baseless, irrational and bigoted fears concerning minorities, and the will of the many should never decide the rights of the few.
Local ordinances are only a start, however. There are many transgender people in very rural areas of the country that need these basic protections way more than those in more accepting urban areas. Pushing towards a federal anti-discrimination law is the only way to help those who need it most. It’s already become a reality in the UK and is at least making progress in Canada, but if the international track record of marriage equality is of any indication, the United States will most likely be one of the last western nations to federally put transgender equality into law.
Transgender people have to pee just as much as their cisgender counterparts, and they deserve to do so with safety. Does this mean that they’ll be safe from heckling and mistreatment entirely? No, but it will be a good start. It is this writer’s hope that once cisgender people share these spaces with their transgender brothers and sisters equally, they’ll realize that what they were fed by the media was nothing but lies and hate. Some might call it social engineering, and I would have to agree there, because only through engineering a society of equal individual rights can we build a foundation for tolerance, respect and safety for all. We’re not looking to peep at your lady bits, we just need to pee and want to feel safe doing so, is that so much to ask?