I have been thinking a lot about my gender this week.
For the first time in 15 years, I have been surfing. Last time I surfed was before I medically transitioned. I grew up surfing in the early '90s, when I was one of the only girls out on the waves. It was not easy being a 14-year-old girl surfing; a lot of guys didn't think women belonged on the waves. I was determined, and catching a wave is the best body feeling I have ever experienced. I was never great, but it was one of my few joys as a teenager.
This week I have been in Costa Rica, and the waves are packed with young women surfers. It is inspiring to see them empowered to enjoy a sport I love so much. It has been empowering for me to remember how much I love the feeling of catching waves. I have been sitting on the beach reminiscing about the many years in between then and now. The years when my body didn't look male, the years before I had the privilege of getting top surgery, the years I didn't feel comfortable enough in my body to go out on the waves.
From Costa Rica, I have been watching the news about North Carolina. I flew through Charlotte, a public airport, on my way here. I will fly back through Charlotte later this week. Reading about what is happening there has reminded me of the many years I was chased out of bathrooms and questioned about why I was there.
The North Carolina law is mostly aimed at trans women. It is rooted in the fear that trans women exist. Trans women, especially trans women of color, are being killed in the US and around the world, at alarming rates. There is an epidemic. We all need to focus on protecting trans women, not just in restrooms, but in the workplace, in housing, etc.
On social media there have been some trans guys with conditional passing privilege posting images of themselves in front of "women's restroom" signs saying things like, "coming to a restroom near you". The point is to call out the ridiculousness of the new North Carolina law which says that people are supposed to pee in the bathroom aligned with their birth certificate. Within the trans community there is a backlash against these guys and their social media posts.
People seem to think that these images are using fear as a tactic and ignoring the issues effecting trans women and gender non-conforming people.
Passing is conditional. What I mean by that is that passing, being seen for the gender with which you identify, for trans people, is never a forever guarantee. Passing can be taken away as soon as someone finds out that you are trans. They might find out because you drop your pants. They might find out because someone else discloses your trans status. People might find out because of a "tell", something that gives away the fact that you were not raised as the gender with which you identify.
The idea of "passing" is bullshit. It is bull because it implies that you are being something other than yourself. It is bull because it implies that you might be hiding something. For many of us it is also not a goal.
I didn't start medically transitioning with the goal of "passing". I am happy being seen and known as a trans guy. My goal was to align my body with my mind. When you start hormones, and other medical procedures, it is a crap shoot of what you might get. I didn't know that I would sprout a beard like a chia pet, but I did. I wasn't ready to be seen as male. Within a year I was seen as male most places. Now, 9 years into this process, I am constantly seen as male, with my clothes on, and sometimes with my shirt off.
Being seen as male has given me privileges that I knew I might gain, but I didn't understand how they worked. This week in Costa Rica, I have been seen as male, and no one knows my trans status. Guys have been sharing their thoughts about women with me because they see me as one of their own. The sexism that they espouse is horrifying; and I am now in a position to interrupt this behavior in ways that I couldn't when I was seen as female. People also expect me to be a better surfer than I am because I am perceived as male. Though there are some aspects of being seen as my gender that are relaxing, I also find this experience stressful. I find it stressful because I identify as a trans guy, yet here no one sees me as a trans guy.
For years before I began my medical transition, I was discriminated against in the restroom. Before I even knew that transitioning was a possibility, my gender was questioned in the restroom. These experiences are part of my life experience. These experiences traumatized and shaped me. The years I struggled to find if life was worth living were wrought with questions about who I was. I was questioning my sexuality and my gender. I didn't have a language for it, but I knew that something about me didn't fit into the societal norm.
While this new law is targeting the lives of trans women, and the fear of trans women's bodies in the bathroom with the little skirt on the door, trans men and gender non-conforming folks are impacted as well.
Often cis people don't even realize that we exist. Because of the wonders of testosterone, many of us experience conditional passing privileges very quickly. Many guys of trans experience identify as male. Those of us who identify as trans guys are still often able to blend in with men in the restrooms with the little pants on the door. However, even for those of us with conditional passing privilege, the bathroom can be a stressful place. What if there are no stalls available? What if the stalls don't have doors? What if there is no toilet paper? These are all very common experiences that raise questions, questions that might disclose our trans experience.
The guys who are posting images of themselves in front of doors with skirts are not trying to incite fear, or to minimize the experiences of trans women. They are pointing out that we exist. They are also pointing out that, as much as they experience conditional privileges, they fear for their personal safety. They are reminded of the years when they were being run out of the restroom, the years they were wondering if life was worth living. They are speaking to young trans guys who are wondering what door to choose.
This law, the many like it in the works, and all of the states that do not include public accommodations in their non-discrimination laws, (including Massachusetts, the state I currently live in), allow for the discrimination of people who do not conform to the societal norms of gender expression. Many people are discriminated against with these laws. Butch women are often run out of "women's restrooms", gender non-conforming people lack safe space to pee, trans women who do not experience passing privileges on a routine basis are discriminated against. And let's be real, they often are not just yelled at and told to leave, they often face physical violence, sometimes they even face death.
We need to create safe places for all of us to pee. It is not that difficult. We could create bathrooms with actual doors on the stalls that everyone could use, regardless of gender. We do not need to create more of the segregation that we have now.
If you are a trans person who is questioning ending your life, there is a future for you! And there are also a couple of amazing resources you can call. Trans-lifeline in the US: (877) 565-8860 and in Canada: (877) 330-6366 and the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386 are available 24/7 and are there to chat with you. Please reach out!