It's Not About Bathrooms

And it’s not about reasonable concerns -- it's about irrational fears.

This isn’t really about bathrooms. It may come as a surprise to some folks, but trans people have been peeing all along. We were always changing into gym clothes. We’ve always been in your bathrooms and locker rooms, whether or not you recognized us or thought to scapegoat us. We were using restrooms long before Laverne Cox was on a hit cable show or the cover of Time. We were using restrooms back when Caitlyn Jenner took the American flag on a victory lap. We haven’t been waiting for people to learn the definitions of “social construction” or “gender normativity” before we started using or avoiding public lavatories (thank goodness, or we’d all have UTIs and bladder perforation), but, now that folks know we’re the people in your neighborhood, suddenly people are acting like toilets are a national treasure. Toilets are not a national treasure.

People who want to keep us out of your bathrooms act like we’re pretending, but they are the ones pretending. They’re pretending to be reasonable people. They’re pretending that they don’t have anything against us, per se. They’re pretending that their only concerns are for privacy and safety and to protect girls from Mike Huckabee and the others who would pretend to be trans.

But locker room privacy rests on some nostalgic myth of gender harmony. It presumes that, before trans folks got involved, no school student ever felt surveilled or exposed or under threat in the locker room. We know better from the first five minutes of Carrie! And we know from any five minutes of our own high school PE experience that trans kids aren’t what’s wrong with U.S. locker rooms.

And locker room safety never seems to center on the safety of the trans student and never seems to acknowledge that trans people are among society’s most vulnerable populations, evidenced by the disproportionate suicide rate or the record number of trans people murdered each year for well on our way to three years running. If safety is the primary concern, why don’t discussions of restroom safety include the safety of those most at risk, in and out of the restroom?

There is so much wrong with Mike Huckabee pretending to be transgender in order to “shower with the girls today, Coach.” First, it overestimates the great benefits of pretending to be trans. I don’t mean to say that we don’t freaking love being trans; trans is beautiful. And being trans in the world, with or without public bathrooms, is hard. Our days are litanies of microaggressions and misgendering and overt discrimination and violence. Mike Huckabee pretending to be trans, second, makes trans people into joke props for yet another politician’s socially-sanctioned sexual harassment of the girls and women he purports to protect! (And if protecting girls and women is the primary concern, why aren’t we funding domestic violence and sexual assault education and services?) But, perhaps worst of all, Mike Huckabee and others who joke about pretending to be trans treats trans identity and self-determination as fake, or a phase, or a fiction.

We aren’t making it up. We aren’t the only people who believe we have a gender. Everyone has gender identities, trans and genderqueer folks aren’t unique in this way. Everyone understands themselves to be male, or female, or something else. We all have pronouns that we prefer or are comfortable hearing. No woman is a woman because of biology. No man is a man because of cultural norms. We all get to and do decide who we are, not society and not the lump of tissue that rests at the base of our pelvis. And just because you assumed we are someone else, just because you don’t take our word for it, just because you guessed wrong doesn’t mean we aren’t real or that we don’t get to decide for ourselves.

And that’s what I suspect most of this boils down to, in the end. Not to protect privacy, and not to protect safety, and not even to protect girls or the sanctity of female-designated spaces. But to protect the sanctity of gender, to keep gender inviolable, to glorify biology and to enshrine the binary. It’s not about reasonable concerns but about irrational fears. Irrational fears of trans bodies, irrational fears of human beings and human experiences that they don’t understand and that won’t fit neatly into their categories, irrational fears of difference. People who fear us hope to eliminate us from public space, to deny our existence, to decimate our spirits, to destroy our bodies.

It’s not about restrooms. It’s about people and our lives and dignity and affirmation. It’s not just about civil rights and safety, but also about pleasure and well-being. We want to go beyond receiving the bare minimum of life and liberty and also demand the pursuit of happiness, go beyond ending discrimination and violence to expect and also lay claim to enjoyment and peace and good fortune.

And all of us who are on the side of gender self-determination and public accommodation, even as we fight for bathroom access and gender autonomy, we must recognize that access to one of two bathrooms will still be inadequate, and access to one of two wrestling athletic teams will be insufficient. We must remember that some folks are genderqueer and nonbinary and agender, hairy transfeminine and femme transmasculine and fluid. We must continue to fight for all of us to find ourselves reflected and mirrored back in the world around us, in how we are addressed when we are present and when we are not. We must encourage authenticity and learn to expect to find difference rather than looking always to find what we expect. And we must continue to imagine and achieve a world where it is safe for all of us to name ourselves, safe for all of us to express ourselves, and, sure, of course, where it is safe for all of us to pee.