When It Comes To Transgender People & Civil Rights, It Really Is Always About The Bathroom
“They are few in number, but sometimes it is the few in number who need the most protection.”
— Craig Lowe, a Gainesville, Fla., city commissioner, arguing in favor of a measure to protect transgender residents there from discrimination, while other commissioners argued the bill amounted to “special rights” before the standing-room-only public hearing Jan. 28, which saw one member of the audience yelling that trans advocates have “blood on [their] hands.”
A new civil rights ordinance that mostly addresses housing and employment discrimination against transgender people in Gainesville Florida has become controversial, because it allows transgender people to use public restrooms appropriate to gender identity vice restricting rest room usage based on genitalia. Critics are saying the ordinance that passed this week on a 4 to 3 vote isn’t written clearly enough to explain how this law will effect transgender people’s public bathroom usage, or how it will impact businesses that must comply with the ordinance. At least, that’s how the public argument goes.
Writing an ordinance that addresses transgender civil rights, especially addressing transgender bathroom use, always boils down to Christian faith, the charge that transgender people are mentally ill (in a similar way to LGB people were considered mentally ill by the American Psychological Association prior to 1973), and that sexual predators dressed in women’s clothing will invade women’s restrooms.
“When you boil it down the issue is that because of some people who have some sort of emotional or psychological issue, others have to change,” [Commissioner Ed] Braddy said.
Amid comments claiming religious damnation for the commissioners who voted yes on the ordinance, two transgender women stood up to talk about the struggles of daily life.
“I disagree with us being diagnosed as ‘mental cases,'” said Michelle Phillips who is a women’s studies major at the University of Florida. “I just wish that people would understand that we are not predators.”
I wish people would understand that too.
[Discussing restrooms in terms of “male predator” and “perpetrator” after the fold]My female-to-male transgender friend Travis and I have discussed “perpetrator” and “potential victim” perceptions in the general public, and how these perceptions have changed our lives. Since I began living as a woman in 2003, I have become much more aware of my surroundings at night — I no longer walk in poorly lit areas, and I no longer watch waves crash on the beach alone at night while lost in my thoughts. Overall, I’ve become much more sensitive to my surroundings as I’ve lost the safe feeling that comes from what’s often described as “male privilege.”
In contrast, Travis describes walking on sidewalks after dark as a man, and having women walk on the other side of the street just to avoid him. He notices that since transitioning, women who don’t know him well no longer trust him to be alone around young children, whereas when he was presenting as female his women acquaintances were relaxed when he was around their children. He lost his “female privilege” of not always being considered a perpetrator.
In our society, it seems to me that we tend to perceive most men as potential perpetrators. Transgender women, far more often than not, aren’t perpetrators…they aren’t predators of other women or of children. But, because transgender women are perceived as men by conservative Christians and others, transgender women are perceived as perpetrators…predators. This is especially true in the public restroom.
So what constitutes discrimination against transgender people? Is it not giving a transgender person a job, or firing him, her, or hir because of gender identity or gender expression? Is it not renting an apartment to transgender people because of gender identity or gender expression? In the LGBT community, we can pretty much all agree that’s discrimination that should be outlawed.
Which public restroom transgender people who don’t have “passing privilege” should be legally allowed to use usually comes down to this: Is a visibly transgender woman automatically assumed to be a man, and therefore a potential perpetrator in the women’s public restroom? If one considers the transgender woman to be a woman, then public restroom usage by transgender people is considered in terms of a transgender woman’s safety, or in terms of discrimination. If one considers a transgender woman really to be a man — a potential perpetrator — then restroom usage becomes an safety issue for the natal women who use the women’s restroom.
For transgender men and women, as well as for transgender civil rights, everything –and I do mean everything— seems to revolve around women’s public restrooms.