I’ll never forget that most awkward day in the women’s bathroom at Nordstrom. At the time, I was not yet on hormones but very masculine presenting. I avoided public bathrooms at all costs, opting to hold it even if it caused me an infection. As I squeamishly pushed open the door to walk in, a woman who was drying her hands caught my gaze. She looked horrified.
“This is the women’s restroom!”
Completely caught off guard by being called out, and feeling full of feminist fire, I shouted back at her while lifting up my shirt to reveal my busty chest.
“I AM A WOMAN!”
I scurried into the stall and began to sob. I sat in there long enough to ensure I could escape without being noticed. But I couldn’t escape my feelings of alienation or distress with how this woman (and society) viewed my gender, and ultimately, how I viewed it myself.
The bathroom has long been a battleground for equal rights. People of color, people with disabilities, and women have long been fighting wars in this supposedly personal and private space. Because our culture is still hell-bent on sex and body shaming, these spaces are seen as needing to be protected. The issue of who is most vulnerable in these sacred spaces is currently in the hands of politicians in our state.
In a landmark decision on December 26, 2015, a policy was enacted by the Washington State Human Rights Commission that added gender identity and expression to the list of protections under the Washington Law Against Discrimination. This affects public and private buildings, including schools, restaurants, stores, and most places of employment.
The law guarantees the right for trans* and gender non-conforming individuals to use the facility of the sex they identify with. It is assurance that should we be victims of assault or harassment in said spaces, we have the legal protections to back us up. While I may not need a law to validate my identity, it sends a powerful message that our identities are real and that we are the men, women (or otherwise) we say we are.
Not everyone is happy about this decision though. Republican State Representative Graham Hunt (Orting, WA) has proposed HB 2589, a bill which would amend this law to say a public or private entity can prohibit people from using a bathroom if they believe the person to be of the ‘wrong’ gender. It also states the person has no right to use a specific bathroom according to the gender they are.
While some facilities have taken to adopting gender-neutral restrooms, they are overwhelmingly designated for either men or women. Choosing which one to use is one of the most frightening situations trans* people encounter. This can be especially difficult and traumatic when it comes to people who don’t fit neatly within the binary or do not pursue any kind of medical sex changing procedures. Children who are in school are particularly vulnerable, as are trans* women.
As a trans* person who now appears male and identifies as such, the choice is easy. Not being able to use urinals and having to tell men I need to wait for a stall is about as uncomfortable as it gets for me. But the fear of being outed and assaulted is always in the back of my mind.
According to a 2013 report from the Williams Institute, roughly 70% of trans* people have said they’d be denied entrance, assaulted, or harassed while trying to use a restroom. They believe allowing trans* individuals to use the bathroom of their choice violates their right to safety and privacy. Their fears of violation are based on nothing but an unwillingness to understand and see our needs for safety and privacy as well.
“I’ll use the men’s room rather than deal with the awkwardness that is bound to happen if I use the ‘appropriate’ restroom,” said Cole Mine, who was assigned female at birth, but identifies and presents as gender queer.
Zane Lazer, trans and non-binary, expressed frustrations over the way they were treated for using the men’s room at a well-known gay club during Trans Pride two years ago. They were followed into the men’s restroom by a staff member and told they would be kicked out if they used the men’s restroom again.
“I knew someone who worked there and messaged her about it, but was too pissed and hurt to go back to the venue and talk to the owner,” they said.
The absolute absurdity of such bathroom bills was put into perspective by local comedian Andy Iwancio in a recent status update of hers:
Whenever I have to use a urinal in
the dudes’ room, I think about taking
my shirt off, let my boobs hang out,
and then confess to the guy next to
me, “You won’t BELIEVE the night i’m [sic]
Conservatives like Hunt are using this bill is a vehicle for instilling fear of trans* and gender non-conforming people, being framed as a protective measure against sexual predators. The “bathroom issue” is getting at the crux of what it means to be a man or a woman. It is a question that makes some people so uncomfortable they are going as far as claiming trans* people are really just sexual predators, and that others will use this as an opportunity to sexually violate women and children.
We cannot stand idly by while our government legislates hate.
What trans* people need right now is a clear sign that their identities are valid, especially in public spheres. This means being allowed to use public restrooms, locker rooms, and other facilities that are designated by sex. The enforcement of this bill would require public accommodation owners and staff to conduct genital checks on anyone who doesn’t fit their opinion of what a man or woman is supposed to look like. As ridiculous as this sounds, it is the reality we are now facing.
I highly encourage you to comment on the bill, which will be sent to legislators to hopefully die in committee and never see the light of the House floor. We need to send a strong message to our politicians that we will not be discriminated against by a system that continues deny us our right to exist as we are. To use the facility of one’s choosing, and not be made to feel unwelcome, let alone harassed, is a monumental step in one’s gender transition. The personal has never been more political.