Note: This week’s post steers away from dating and the comical mishaps that make up my life in order to focus on an important issue that has landed on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States. #IStandWithGavin
I was just ten years old the first time I was stopped and questioned in a public restroom about whether or not I belonged there. I was ten and an adult woman who I did not know, aggressively approached me while I quietly waited in line for a stall to open up. She pointed at me, her finger just inches from my face, “Young man, do you really think you should be in here!? Where is your mother?” What made this woman feel it was her right or even appropriate for her to approach a child she did not know in line in a public restroom? Her own unchecked bias and prejudice. She saw a child with short hair, wearing a baggy blue shirt and baggy jeans, and decided on the spot, that child was a boy and therefore did not belong in the women’s restroom. I squeaked “I’m not a boy, this is where I have to go.” My dad and brother were in the men’s room (actually at this point they were probably outside waiting for me—they were always done before me when we made these quick rest stops on the way to grandma’s house) on the other side of the building. The woman huffed, her face turning red as she scanned me up and down, as if to check that fact out for herself, searching for any indicator of the anatomy that stayed hidden under my loose-fitting clothing. That body eye scan happened anytime a stranger was corrected when they called me “he” or “boy”. And it always felt like a violation to my body, to me as a human being.
At ten, I had not yet figured out who I was/am, as most ten year olds have not. (spoiler alert: I still haven’t figured out parts of who I am, like what I want to be when I grow up.)
I was using she/her pronouns AND simultaneously attempting to express myself as authentically as I could. I rejected ruffles and pink. I loved basketball, baggy jeans, and baseball caps. I played sports at recess with the boys in my class. I was often at a glance called “he/him” by strangers. Because we live in a world where we expect to be able to correctly assume someone’s gender from a quick outward glance. #awkward
Fast forward to me today. I’m an out and proud thirty-one-year old transman with a whole lot of passing privilege (and white privilege, and male privilege and…just a lot of privilege) who is often seen at first glance as a younger-than-my-real-age cisgender man. Even though my gender is rarely questioned, I still face anxiety and fear when it comes to using a public restroom. I’m afraid that someone will discover I’m trans and that someone will react violently to this news. I’m afraid there will not be a stall with a locking door, which means I can’t use the restroom safely. I’m afraid for my trans friends when they use public restrooms. Trans people are like spiders, (powerful, mighty, beautiful, fierce spiders) we are much more afraid of you, than you are of us. In fact, you are more of a threat to our safety than we are to yours.
There’s a big difference between safety and comfort. It’s important we identify the stark difference. My right to be safe is not overridden by someone’s discomfort with me. My existence or the existence of any trans person is not threatening to or impeding on your existence as a cisgender person. Flashback to ten-year old me. Was my quiet line waiting threatening the woman who questioned me? No. My presence challenged her understanding of gender, it may have stretched her beyond her comfort zone, but I was no threat to her.
I’ve heard from several people (trying to defend their anti-trans stance) “Jay, I have no problem with using a restroom with a transwoman or a transman as long as there are stalls. And I’m really not worried about transpeople in bathrooms. But if we let trans people use the restrooms they want, then pedophiles will pretend to be trans to harm women and children.” Let me stop you right there, Cynthia. If you are worried about pedophiles or people sexually assaulting women and children in restrooms, then why are we even talking about trans people? Let’s focus on laws and holding the justice system accountable to charge criminals who break laws to assault women and children. Criminals are going to break laws, so we need an actual working, fair, unbiased, justice system (but that’s another post). Banning public access to trans people is not a solution for your fear. So try again, Cynthia 2 because I’m calling BS on that.
The truth is, this is not about restrooms and locker rooms, it never has been. This is not about protecting children and women (let me count the ways in which, those claiming this rhetoric have actually voted and passed bills that harm women and children). This is about the right to exist and live and thrive. As Chase Strangio of ACLU has eloquently said, this is about whether or not we believe trans people have the right to exist in public spaces. Think about a day in the life of a transperson. How often do you use a restroom during a normal work or school day, a normal day or night out with friends, a road trip across the state(s), or during a meal out? What if you didn’t feel safe using the restroom, or you were told you couldn’t use the restroom? How would that change your ability to go to work/school, go out with friends, or visit public spaces?
This is about whether we are able to see the humanity in trans people and lift it up and support the right of people regardless of gender identity to be a part of this world. Trans people are people and have the inalienable right to exist.
Important Additional Note: These bathroom bills are anti-trans, obviously. It’s important to also understand these anti-trans attacks are also misogynistic and racist. Without going on a long explanation that no one will read, let me make this quick and simple. Transwomen of color are targeted, assaulted, harassed, and murdered at an alarming and disproportionate rate. This is because our misogynistic standard of beauty is rooted in the white male gaze of the white female body. And if you are not feminine enough or not “beautiful” enough or not white enough, you immediately become a threat to the fragile male ego.
If you are able to empathize with 10-year old me or 31-year old me and think, “of course Jay should use the men’s restroom.” But the thought of a transwoman using a woman’s restroom gives you pause or discomfort, then it’s time for some self-evaluation and bias check. And it’s not a bad thing to check your bias and your comfort zone, it’s actually something we should all do. Whenever something makes me uncomfortable, I try to pause and ask “Why am I uncomfortable right now? What would make me more comfortable? What information or action do I need to take to know more and do better?” We’ve grown up in a very strict gender-binary based culture and none of us have made it to adulthood unscathed from that. How do we do better now for trans kids today?
 Cisgender is a term that refers to someone whose assigned sex aligns with their gender identity.
 Not all people making this argument are named Cynthia, and not all people named Cynthia are making this problematic argument. In fact, no Cynthia has ever said this to me. I digress.