There has been a lot in the media – both local and overseas – about transgender persons and the bathrooms they (must?) use. The current increase in attention to this issue was, I believe, caused by a bill (now dubbed “Bathroom Bill”), which the Governor of North Carolina signed on March 23 of this year.
The new law requires individuals to use the bathroom corresponding with the sex assigned at birth. Such a stance places transgender persons and every one else quite honestly, in a particularly uncomfortable position. For instead of being afforded the dignity to use the bathroom corresponding with one’s gender identity – which more oft than not matches one’s gender expression (clothes, mannerisms etc) – one must now use the facility corresponding with the sex one was assigned at birth. This would be problematic for me as a trans person for several reasons.
Firstly, by mandating that I use the restroom corresponding with the sex I was assigned at birth and not my gender identity, you are telling me that you don’t perceive me to be a real man. This tells me that you don’t respect me or my gender identity. It says that you claim to know me better than I do myself, which is condescending to say the least. It also tells me you believe that only those born in possession of male genitalia can identify as men (If this doesn’t reek of cissexual male privilege I don’t know what does). This kind of logic is neolithic at best.
Secondly, you are now forcing me to put myself and others, in a situation which is beyond awkward and could possibly escalate into something more. I am a masculine-presenting man; imagine the horror on some unsuspecting lady’s face when she encounters me in a private space designated for persons like herself. I cannot even begin to count the number of times this has happened to me; even while using a gender neutral restroom.
The truth is, when we use spaces such as the restroom, spaces designated for a particular gender, we expect to see persons who resemble ourselves. Men expect to see individuals they can characterize as men, and women, individuals they can identify as women. By forcing my lovely transgender self to use the women’s restroom, the other occupants see nothing with which they identify; expectedly causing a surge of panic. Ironically, a mandate such as this guarantees the very situation it seeks to prevent: men in the women’s restroom. Sheer brilliance if you ask me.
And it’s not as if cissexual men were ever deterred from entering the women’s restroom before. This law will not prevent violence against women. In fact, forcing a trans woman to use the men’s room could incite violence against her. This law does not protect anyone. It only harms the transgender and gender non-conforming community. The biggest threat here is not transgender people, it is, and has been transphobic cissexuals, especially misogynistic transphobic cissexual men.
There was a cartoon in the Jamaica Observer last week which I horribly misinterpreted.
I mistook the man “masquerading as a woman”, to be a piss poor representation of a trans woman (I honestly didn’t expect the Observer to accurately portray a trans individual). The notion that a cis man would pretend to be a trans woman simply to gain access to the women’s room was the farthest thing from my mind; possibly because it is so far-fetched. The majority (if any) of cis men would not go through such lengths to pull off such a deception. They would simply walk in (much like they do now) with their “manly”, entitled selves and do whatever they want (again, much like they do now).
The cartoon above reinforces the negative and completely false stereotype that transgender individuals are merely “pretenders”. If that were the case, ask yourself, why would one, undergo the transition process, put themselves at such medical risk, for a fleeting notion they concocted one night? Why would one choose such a life of hardship, filled with endless discrimination of all sorts? Would it not be easier to blend in with the masses and be just another sheep in the fold?
The journey to making peace with my gender identity was not an easy one, but it also did not happen overnight. I did not simply wake up one morning and say “Hey, I’m going to pretend to be a man. They seem to have all the great privileges in life”; because trust me, in comparison to cissexual men, the privileges of trans men are few, but at least we get to define our manhood on our own terms.
All we trans people want is to be ourselves. For society to stop policing us, to stop telling us what we should wear, how we should behave, how we should exist. We simply want the respect and dignity we are entitled to as humans, not least among them, the dignity to pee in the way we desire, the manner befitting our identities.
When I walk into the men’s room I’m not thinking “I wonder if I can get away with this”. However, I do wonder if I’ll have the misfortune of encountering a transphobic cissexual man and end up being the victim of a horrendous restroom hate crime (Damn. What a place to die). But the foremost thought on my mind is “Damn. I’ve really got to pee”.