How do you know which bathroom to use?
For cisgender people this is a simple question to answer: You use the men's room if you're a man, and you use the women's room if you're a woman. ("Cisgender" refers to people who identify with their birth sex.) But for transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals, just going into a public bathroom can be a challenging and even dangerous experience.
There are many people who want to legislate which bathrooms people get to use. These bathroom police want laws that say a person's gender as recorded on their original birth certificate is the only basis for determining whether a person uses the men's room or the women's room. Such laws are discriminatory against transgender and gender non-conforming people. They also are a violation of privacy -- who's going to be checking?!
I am a mom to a transgender child. He is almost 18. His birth sex was female. (To be clear, I will use male pronouns for Amaya throughout this blog. Our family and community used female pronouns for Amaya until he asked us to switch at age 14.) His transition from female to male was gradual, starting when he was 3. He says his transition is "complete for now."
When he was very young, bathroom trips with our little tomboy were easy. Either my husband or I could go into any bathroom with him. But as he got older, he began to look out of place in the women's room.
In our culture it is acceptable for a parent to take a child of opposite gender into the restroom when they are very young. Tolerances shift around age 5 or 6, and certainly by age 9 children are expected to use the facilities that match their birth gender. Things can get tricky for children whose outward appearance or inner gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth, and for their parents as well.
Very early on, our "girl" looked out of place in the women's room. When I took Amaya to a restroom, it was clear many people were concerned. Some stared and whispered. I often noticed surprise and even shock on people's faces. I know they were thinking: there's a boy in the girls' room. I would even call out to my child, "Hey girl, you can wash your hands over here," to subtly assure these people that everything was okay. I felt uncomfortable, to say the least. My child was well aware of the commotion and would hold my hand very tightly.
My husband and I discussed our problem. Our kid looked like he belonged in the men's room, but it is not okay in our society to take one's daughter into a men's room after a certain age. We were confused and so was our child.
Using the restroom at school caused anxiety that only increased as the years went by. Amaya would frequently have stomachaches. We realized he was not using the bathroom at school. When we spoke to the school about it, he was offered use of the office bathroom as an option. He didn't like doing that, as it made him "different." When he got older, he figured out that going during class made it less likely that there would be others in the bathroom.
I remember the day Amaya took matters into his own hands. He was about 14, just beginning his transition, and we were on a family trip to New York. We were at a Broadway show and the bathroom lines at intermission were incredibly long. While standing in the line for the women's room, I looked over at the men's line and saw my husband -- and to my surprise, Amaya was in line just a few people ahead of him. Gabriel and I looked at each other in acknowledgment of what we were witnessing. This was our child affirming his gender as male. Amaya was looking forward and didn't notice us noticing him.
No one else seemed to notice either.
He had made a conscious decision to stand in that line. It was clear he felt more comfortable in the men's line. It was also clear that everybody else was also comfortable with him being in the men's line. Had my child been waiting in the women's line with me he would have only received confused looks and stares. Not one person in the men's line that day batted an eye.
Most individuals know instinctively which bathroom they feel is right for them, and they will choose the one that most closely corresponds to their gender identity. Denying a trans person the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity is an act of discrimination, one that can have devastating consequences. Social movements such as #wejustneedtopee and #Illgowithyou have brought internet attention to the absurdity of laws that would force trans men into the women's room and vice versa. For photos click here.
Everyone goes. Everyone should feel safe when they do.
It is a huge misconception that cisgender people are in danger from transgender, intersex, gender fluid, non-binary or other gender non-conforming people in public bathrooms. There is not one substantiated incidence of a trans person committing any type of crime against anyone in a public bathroom. In contrast, there are many documented incidents of violence against transgender people, especially trans women. Click here for the most recent statistics.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, only 17 states have laws that specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in public accommodations. Some cities and towns have similar municipal laws. It's a start but it is not enough.
The Equality Act of 2015 is currently in Congress and supported by President Obama. This sweeping act would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination nationwide based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Please read about The Equality Act and consider contacting your local Congresspeople to encourage them to vote for it. Click here to view the document. For more information about the act from the Human Rights Campaign click here.
Until there is full protection under the law, if you are transgender or gender non-conforming and you feel unsafe using a public restroom I'll go with you.
For a list of terms and a greater understanding of gender go to Gender Spectrum: https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/
For legal guidance and to find out about the laws in your state contact;
Transgender Law Center: http://transgenderlawcenter.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality: http://www.transequality.org/