In March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order granting all individuals access to public facilities that correspond with their particular gender identity.
"We want people to know they can go about their lives and not be excluded," de Blasio said to the press. "That's why this is so important. This is about affirming the right of someone to follow through on their own identity."
On the flip side, North Carolina recently passed one of the most discriminatory anti-LGBT bills in history. HB2, and similar mandates like it in other cities and states, are now infamously known as "bathroom bills."
I'm not transgender. I would never claim to know what it feels like to be transgender, or what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my gender identity. But there is one, small part of the transgender struggle for equal rights that I feel comfortable saying I can relate to pretty well -- the use of public restrooms.
I'm a tomboy by nature. I dress like a guy. I have very short hair and on most occasions, I'm usually wearing a baseball cap. I tend to carry myself like a guy. I don't know why. It's just something I've always done. I have a strong masculine sense of self, but gender-wise, I feel perfectly comfortable being female. So I have no problem using the ladies' room. But that doesn't mean that I'm comfortable with it.
Whenever I'm out at a public place and I have to use the restroom, I always head there cautiously. I take note of the people I pass along the way, and sometimes I feel their eyes upon me as I push open the door with the skirted stick figure on front.
As soon I enter, I pause. If the bathroom is empty, I feel a huge sense of relief. If it's not empty, I offer an affirming smile to whoever is there, as if to say, it's OK -- I'm a woman. I belong here. Then I go about my business. If there are women at the sink when I come out to wash my hands, I do the same thing.
It's OK -- I'm a female. I belong here.
I do this because I've been told before that I'm in the wrong place, and that I don't belong in the ladies' room. I've been mistaken for a man more times than I care to count. And once the realization sets in, when they finally get that I am in fact a female, I see the disapproval in their eyes hidden behind a fake smile. It's such a condescending feeling, as if I deserve the mistaken identity because I'm the one who chooses to dress and carry myself a certain way.
For a split second, during those moments, I've wanted to rip off my shirt and say, "See these? They're breasts. I'm a female. Get over yourself."
Until the issue of bathrooms popped up in the conversation about transgender equality, I hadn't given much thought to my own bathroom experiences. Once I left the bathroom and returned to life, I tended to push it out of my mind. But this whole conversation has reignited something within me.
I'm not transgender. But I get it. I understand it. And I fully support legislation that allows all individuals the right to use public facilities without fear, anxiety, stress or shame.