A Trans Woman's Analysis of Judith Shulevitz's 'Is It Time To Desegregate The Sexes'


In an article titled “Is It Time To Desegregate The Sexes?,” published in the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz approached the issue of the inclusion of transgender students in the protections offered under Title IX, the federal statute against sex discrimination in publicly funded schools, through a discussion of the issue of trans girls using women’s locker rooms.

This article’s attempt at an illusion of impartiality is itself an insult. Even the title is misleading and transphobic. The article does not discuss desegregating the sexes. It advocates shunning certain girls from public facilities. This wording sets the reader up for a mindset that trans girls aren’t “real girls,” a theme which will continue throughout the article.

The article’s first major point is that locker rooms are open spaces, whereas bathrooms have stalls ―”Built on the assumptions that students of the same sex would un-self-consciously disrobe. Why should we assume that students of the same sex won’t be self-conscious about exposing themselves in front of other people? Why is it okay to force minors to undress in front of anyone, and indeed punish them through their grade if they refuse? When I was in school, I stoically accepted a failing grade in my physical education class because I refused to do so.”

Soon after, the author begins her first direct slight against transgender students. We have “girl-born-a-girl” and a girl born “with a boy’s [body].” The inclusion of the correct term (cisgender girl) in parenthesis is almost an afterthought. The transgender student wasn’t “born with a boy’s body.” She is a transgender girl. It’s her body, so it’s a girl’s body. She may have been born with a configuration of genitalia which our society does not traditionally associate with being a girl, but people should not be defined by their genitals.

Ms. Shulevitz has evoked a cis-girl who doesn’t want to undress in front of a trans girl, and a trans girl with the audacity (or perhaps the expectation of being treated like a human being?) to want not to be “othered” and excluded from the common area.

The new interpretation of Title IX suggests that the cis-girl (the one who is uncomfortable) is entitled to choose to use the provided private changing area if she wishes, rather than violating anyone’s bodily autonomy by forcing the trans girl to do so. Moreover, if everyone had private space in which to change, and we did away with the insensitive and frankly absurd notion that anyone should be expected to be comfortable disrobing in public, both girls would be accommodated without singling anyone out. I consider this a perfectly serviceable solution. Apparently, Ms. Shulevitz isn’t happy unless the trans girl is being violated.

The article suggests it is difficult to prevent sex discrimination, when “sex” has become so difficult to define. Sex isn’t difficult to define, and the concept of equality is quite simple. Children who have told us they are girls, are girls. Treat everyone like human beings, treat them all the same, and ensure that every individual’s needs are met. If anyone is uncomfortable, they have the option of using private changing rooms. It seems to me they should simply do so.

Next, we see a suggestion that the interpretation of Title IX has been changed to protect trans students, without public debate. Anyone who has watched the news in the last year or so, or even looked at social media, has certainly seen the debate over the subject of transgender rights (and public facility use), a debate largely conducted by people who do not have the experience of being transgender, or even speak to the real human beings who’s human rights they are treating as an academic discourse.

Ms. Shulevitz continues with an evocation of Donald Trump as some sort of boogeyman to produce an emotional reaction, a boogeyman who has absolutely nothing to do with the topic. The reference was included for the sole purpose of making the reader think about sexual harassment in the locker room. While this claim is often used as justification for discrimination and downright assault of trans people, it is done without a shred of reality. It’s a subtle, clever way of reminding us of mysterious (and fictional) men trying to sneak into women’s spaces who have been used to scare the uninformed since this debate began, while still maintaining that illusion of impartiality.

The very next paragraph features yet another clever linguistic twist to subtly guide the reader toward an impression of trans women as ‘men trying to get into women’s locker rooms’ by talking about how our society has decided that no one should have to unwillingly undress in front of a member of the opposite sex. This immediately after Ms. Shulevitz evokes Trump as an example of the kind of predatory men we’re meant to imagine. We are not talking about the “opposite sex.” We are talking about girls undressing in front of other girls. Once again, I wonder why we think it’s okay to make anyone undress unwillingly in front of anyone at all, especially children. Shouldn’t we be offering privacy to the person undressing, rather than forcing one person into privacy, so that another can undress publicly?

After that nonsense, the article next invokes Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement. I don’t understand why Ms. Shulevitz suddenly tries to compare oppressions, but this is another clear attempt to create a negative emotional response.

She appears to be trying to invalidate one form of discrimination by suggesting that it’s less horrible than another, and therefore should be permitted. Again, we’re not talking about a cis girl’s modesty, we’re talking about her ability to undress in front of a room full of other girls, but only the girls in front of whom she wants to undress.

Her next point is the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” obstacle of new rulings creating a scenario where a trans student may sue a school for violating their human rights, while cis students may sue the school for a perceived violation of their privacy by allowing the wrong sort of girl into the locker room.

The article itself, in explaining what happened, sets an example of my solution being implemented. The school installed enough private changing stalls to accommodate everyone. No one is excluded, and no one feels uncomfortable. A group of parents are still suing the school. Obviously their motivations no longer have anything to do with their own children’s wellbeing; they are just making an excuse to hurt someone who’s different. This is a problem which could be solved by simply throwing out any lawsuit which is based on the assertion that some girls should be allowed to use public facilities, and others should not.

From here the article goes on to tell another story about a lawsuit over what the article admits is simply a case of teenage girls acting like teenage girls ― dancing to explicit music and talking about clothes. The only problem is people also see a trans girl just being a teenage girl too and become upset. It seems me the problem we should focus on here is the parents’ obsession with their children’s sexuality.

The article then states, “But you can’t dismiss the plaintiffs’ concerns as mere intolerance, either.” Of course you can, because that’s what it is, though I take umbrage at the term ‘intolerance’ here. This is bigotry ― nothing more, nothing less. Call it what it is. Spare us the gentle language.

In the same breath, the article evokes the situation in France where various municipalities attempted to ban the burkini. I can see the similarity, but it’s not the one the article would have us believe. I see a Muslim woman in France and a trans woman in America both being discriminated against. Both cases are about the violation of the bodily autonomy of women who in any way differ from the reigning social norm.

The rest of the article suggests that change is happening too fast, and that efforts to protect the rights, and physical safety, of trans students should be subjected to years of legal battles through the legislative system. The problem with this stance should be obvious. We’re talking about the lives of real people, and in this case children, who continue to be discriminated against, denied basic dignity, and even murdered at an alarming rate. While law makers and the writers of editorials debate these issues, people are dying. We don’t have time to wait any longer.

Immediate solutions are available which harm no one. They must be implemented now, before anyone else is assaulted, denied the right to an equal education, or murdered, simply for who they are. No other course of action is acceptable, and the assertion that we should “wait our turn” is frankly abhorrent.