Back In The Toilet

Timothy Neesam (GumshoePhotos) via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Less than two days after being sworn in, Jeff Sessions’ DOJ was already on the march to rollback protections for transgender school kids.

How we got into it again over who gets to use what bathrooms in the nation’s schools is interesting and deserving of further attention, but suffice it to say that before all the North Carolina media hysteria last year, the transgender bathroom controversy traces its origins to Houston, Texas, in 2014, among conservative opponents of gay rights.

Truthfully, this bathroom business has always really been about scaring people. Are there any court cases in this country of transgender men or women attacking—or even spying on—anyone in the bathroom? No, actually, regardless of what you might be reading on those weird websites out there.

But for transgender kids in school, toilet rights are now a big deal and an uncomfortable issue in the literal sense. (Imagine having to “hold it” all day because your bathroom choice has become a legal battle.)

Last year then-President Barak Obama invoked Title IX as a way to protect transgender kids against discrimination. This year, on Friday, February 10, the DOJ, now under Sessions, filed a brief indicating that the Obama protections under Title IX would no longer prevail.

It’s hard to understand the motivation for such vindictiveness. These are the very kids who do not need this senseless meddling. National surveys and studies cite an alarmingly high rate of attempted suicide among young transgender adults—many of these before the age of 25—and many as teenagers. The acknowledged mitigating factors against depression and self-harm are safe and supportive school environments and loving, accepting homes.

Given the situation and the needs of transgender young people, one cannot but wonder why such punitive and harsh attitudes exist.

Let’s look at a real person, a young woman named Julie.

Julie is not her real name. She would not talk to me until she had assurances that her identity would be kept secret. She also requested that I not use names of family members and that I not divulge the state or city in which she lives. Her caution is two-fold: she works in the legal system in a conservative state, in a conservative town; and she is very worried about the new political climate, about what it may mean to her, her friends, and to other marginalized groups.

Julie began her life 27 years ago as John. She has overcome many obstacles to get where she is today—accepted as a woman, working toward her goal of becoming an attorney.

She is on the other side now of all it took for her to transition successfully. She began her quest while still in her teens, going through each required step along the way: counseling, early changes in clothing and hairstyle; then on to hormone therapy, and finally genital surgery in Canada a little more than one year ago. Not every trans person undergoes surgery, but for Julie it was the right decision.

Believe me, no one goes through gender confirming surgery frivolously. I’ve watched Julie over the years; I know what she has endured to claim her true identity. Julie’s mother is a good friend. I was her birth partner during her pregnancy, so I was certain to be there for Julie’s surgery, which was successful but not without complications once Julie returned home.

When Julie began to have post-operative issues, she had a harrowing time finding a gynecologist who knew what Julie needed and was willing to provide it. “I was blatantly told by one doctor that he was perfectly capable of treating me but would not because I was trans,” she told me. Julie and her mother traveled the country before finding proper care. Today Julie’s medical issues are behind her, and she has found a new competent and caring gynecologist in her hometown.

She is not out as trans at work. “I am generally able to pass for ‘normal,’ if eccentric, in a conservative environment,” she says. Her fear of being outed is in part due to her experience. Since the election, she says, many co-workers “have outwardly and verbally expressed their glee at what they see as the coming of a more ‘traditional’ society.’” And she has witnessed sitting judges who “humiliate trans people in open court for no other reason than amusement.”

But these behaviors are not shocking, she says. Rather, they are a reflection of our society in general. Violence against trans and queer people is nothing new, she says, pointing out that in nearly every state, "trans panic" is still a valid legal defense to battery and murder. In case you’re wondering, a trans panic defense enables a defendant to plead temporary insanity (thereby claiming their actions to be justifiable) brought on by their perceptions of the offensive and frightening behavior of a transgender person. According to Julie, the American Bar Association has urged states to ban such a convoluted defense, which in effect, blames the victim for the erroneous perceptions of the perpetrator of violence.

Understandably, fear among LGBT people dialed up after the election, and this comes just as many were allowing themselves to, as Julie puts it, “feel hope in our progress and safety.” But now, “With “the stroke of a pen,” she says, Trump can repeal Obama-era “protections trans people and the wider LGTBQIA+ community currently enjoy.” It does not take long for Julie’s thoughts to turn to the Supreme Court, one she longs to see, “that favors human rights and liberty for all.” Upon reflection, she adds, “Justices Ginsburg and Kennedy cannot retire.”

When last we spoke, Julie was preparing for the LSAT exam. I asked her what area of the law she wanted to pursue. Not surprisingly, she told me, “LGTBQIA+ rights are issues near and dear to my heart….Ultimately, all forms of human rights would be my preferred practice. I would also point out that one of the deepest issues affecting trans individuals is poverty and employment law. Work in that area would allow me to help change present negative attitudes about trans applicants.”

When I think about the future, with young people like Julie about to enter professions like the law, I have hope, so I am looking forward to the day when Julie gets her degree. I’ve been there for other milestones in her life; I don’t intend to miss that one.

I cannot imagine why anyone would want to stop Julie from using the restroom of her choice. And once she passes the Bar, which she will, I hope no one using the law as an excuse ever tries to stop her.

Note: Julie uses the designation, LGTBQIA+ to include: lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, intersex, asexual, and other.