Why we must take bathroom questions seriously

Most, if not all, of us are closely acquainted with the “bathroom” issue.

I know, you’re rolling your eyes and saying, “How can anyone asking such questions can be taken seriously? Really!

Here’s the rub. Transgender people are saying to cisgender people, “Understand me by walking in my shoes.” Well, trans* friend, if the shoe fits, wear it.

While there are some outside transgender communities who use the “bathroom” as a ruse to discriminate in the law, there are many who find the idea that someone with male genitals should be allowed in women’s rooms unsettling or even scary. It is serious for them for the toilet is supposed to be a “safe” place.

So instead of just accusing all people who worry about bathrooms of being bigots or ignoramuses, transgender people need to step into their shoes and work from what is likely their knowledge base about transgenderism. My experience says, “Not much knowledge there.” They don’t understand gender identity, they don’t understand gender presentation, they don’t understand that gender comes from the brain and genitals from chromosomes. And why should they? Would you, if you weren’t trans* or involved in trans* advocacy?

So, when a bathroom issue comes up, the issue should be treated as a serious concern of many people.  We at NYCTR treated the concern as the real concern that is was when the issue arose when dealing with the Albany County legislature. By doing so, we were able to alleviate the concern.

How?

Step one: engage and be certain to understand the underlying concerns of the person with whom the question is being discussed. We have found that the issue takes a couple of twists. First, concern of their young children being in a public restroom where someone with male genitals might also be. The word child predator comes immediately to mind.  The other major concern is safety and comfort level. Here the underlying assumption is that if you have male genitals, no matter how you look, you don’t belong in the women’s room.  In both cases, genitals drive the worries.

Note that this is a women’s room issue only. And an issue raised mainly by men. But women too have concerns, just fewer of them.

Step two: After being sure of the underlying concern, address it head on. Start with the fact that transgender bathroom choice is driven by where the person is comfortable.  Explain why, by introducing gender identity into the conversation. You know, “I feel I am a women. I behave like a female. In fact my gender is female and that controls my behavior.”  This is an area that is least understood by CIS people. Listen to what is said and respond to it calmly, clearly, concisely. Explain that a transwoman is a woman; her brain is female; what’s under her clothing is irrelevant. Don’t Get Angry.

Often the argument shifts from transgender people using the bathroom to men who try to present themselves as women and go into women’s rooms. These men pretending to be women do this with evil intentions. Here a little homework is necessary. We searched for such incidents in New York, Albany, and Rochester, NY court records. No hits. Also the police Chiefs of Albany and Rochester say they have never encountered such cases. In any event, the response runs, “Is it right to discriminate against transgender people based on what non-transgender men might do?” When framed this way, most agree that it is not.

Step three: This might not be necessary, but an explanation of hormone treatment and its effects on libido just might clinch the deal. Most non-transgender people have no clue about this aspect.

Step four: The question might finally revolve around “gender presentation.” Here there is some discord between parts of the transgender community and the cisgender folks. Presentation of a gender will have to meet gender societal perceptions. Those who want to claim female identity but sport a beard or other obvious masculine attributes do not have to have access to women’s’ rooms. This is the primary concern of women themselves.

The take away? Most cisgender folks are ignorant about gender identity and presentation. That is not a reason to ignore them or scorn them. Rather some education goes a very long way.

Trace ellis
3/18/2016 10:25:10

As a Trans man, I find often the bathroom issue does not address my particular concerns. The truth is, I have sometimes wished I could use the womens room for safety reasons. While I have never actually had a problem using the men's room, in certain instances I have felt scared that I might be confronted. This concern sometimes causes me to " hold it ", and that practice is not fun, as we all know. The obvious solution, in my mind, is to require access to gender neutral bathrooms. Fortunately, I live in a hip town where single occupancy gender neutral facilities are common. I have noticed also that when such facilities are offered in addition to the traditional male/female options, they are often used preferably by cis gendered people. It is sad that our society is so hung up on genitalia. I know from first hand experience. Early in my transition, I made the mistake a couple of times of using the womans room and the reacton of women was clear. They looked frightened and walked out. Clearly, in my mind anyway, gender neutral bathrooms are the answer.

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