Friday, May 25, 2012

Restless Over RESTROOMS

There are so many issues facing the transgender community today.  Unemployment. Underemployment.  Gay marriage.  Social acceptance. Not to mention all of the everyday garden-variety prejudices and insults we face.

And yet, there are days when I’m checking up on tg news reports, and all I see are toilets.  Public restrooms.  And the rising furor over the use of them.

I was listening to a story about homeless transgender people on National Public Radio (NPR), and it was pretty heartbreaking.  I can’t imagine being homeless.  It has to be difficult for anyone. But, as the story reported, it seems to be even tougher for transgender people.  Unfortunately, even in the best shelters, transgender people face insults, prejudice, humiliation, hate, brutality, and violence.  Or – in brief – they face everything they came to the shelter to escape.

Everyone who enters a shelter must indicate their gender, and in most shelters, that has nothing to do with how a person identifies.  It has to do with their physique.  And anyone in question is usually physically examined.

Why?  Because most homeless women and girls – many of whom have resorted to homelessness to escape rape, sexual battery or domestic violence -- don’t want to find themselves in the bathroom or shower with someone who has a penis.  And it’s hard to argue with them.  They don’t feel safe around men. 

But here’s the thing. Neither do the tgirls.  But because they have penises, they are grouped with the men.

As one of the shelter directors told the NPR reporter, it all comes down to the bathroom situation.  So while tv/tg girls may feel humiliated at having their gender questioned and challenged.  And while they may feel unsafe when they are grouped with the men.  Shelter directors feel that they have no choice but to place these girls with the group that uses the men’s restrooms.

It sounds crazy, but little by little, the bathroom is becoming a flashpoint for the transgender movement.  There was the famous episode of the Baltimore tgirl violently beaten for trying to use a women’s bathroom in 2011.  And there was the recent case in a Dallas hospital where a tgirl was cited for disorderly conduct after using the ladies’ room.  Activists protested when a tgirl was kicked out of the hip new Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas for the same reason.  In television discussions of transgender rights, I’ve heard supposed “experts” question one another about this same issue. “But if they (that’s us, the tgirls) are granted full rights, what bathrooms will they use?”

One thing to keep in mind with all of this is that… public restrooms as we now know them are a fairly new development.  Plumbing itself is actually a new development.  The flush toilet has been in widespread use for less than two hundred years.  So how crazy would it be that voters and judges weighing the rights of tg people (both m2f and f2m) might be prejudiced by the use of a public service that is itself still being refined and reworked.

Here’s a bit of history – thanks to a book published by two New York University sociologists:  “Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing.”  The Romans were the first to offer public restrooms.  Ironically, considering all that we are going through now, those communal restrooms weren’t segregated by gender, but by class.  Only the wealthy were allowed to use them.  It was in the Victorian era, that reformers began to see public toilets as not only unsanitary, but “bad morally” – and they called for the segregation of men’s and women’s facilities.

That apparently worked for years, but as always, the world changes.  Adults with young children of the opposite sex had to decide which restroom to use.  As did the caregivers of adults in need of assistance.  And of course, the emergence of the trans population added to the confusion.

From some of the talk you’d think that these problems are insurmountable.  Unsolvable.  But solutions are all around us.

Have you ever flown in a plane?  Boarded a train or bus?  If so, you’ve used a gender-neutral restroom.  Have you gone to a concert?  A large sporting event?  If you’ve used the ever-popular Porta-Potties, then you’ve used a gender-neutral restroom.  

Many airports and hospitals now have “family” restrooms in addition to men’s rooms and ladies’ rooms.  This is ostensibly for parents with children of the opposite sex.  But anyone can use them.  I used one once in an airport and I was in boy mode. I’d flown all night and I wanted a private place to give myself a quick sponge bath before meeting my friends.  The privacy of the family restroom met my needs.

Recently when I was in a Las Vegas casino – New York, New York, I believe, my tgirl friends and I used the ladies room – just as we usually do when we’re out.  But to our surprise, we found that each toilet stall was a separate little room with a locking door.  This is obviously much more private than the half-wall dividers you find in most public restrooms.  I couldn’t help but think that this concept would work well in a completely gender-neutral situation. 

Of course, there are some people who will never be comfortable with anything less than completely segregated bathrooms.  And I understand that. That’s the way our generation was raised.  That’s what we’re used to.  And anything different is weird. 

And certainly, if laws required family restrooms or a gender-neutral restroom, businesses will cry foul.  They’ll protest the costs associated with having to build more facilities.

But… and this is an important point… it’s been done before. If you’re old enough then you remember the launch of handicapped restrooms.  Along with handicapped parking spots and access ramps.  People protested. I’m embarrassed to remember how my friends and I used to whine about the lack of parking spots while all those handicapped spots – right up close to the venue entrance – were always empty. 

But we got used to it.  We’ve also gotten used to bathrooms that are no longer segregated by race – something that was once quite common.  And sadly, not all that long ago.

My point is … we as a society evolve. Sometimes reluctantly.  Sometimes begrudgingly.  Sometimes in outright protestation.  But generations change.  Today’s younger generation don’t see non-segregated restrooms with handicapped facilities as something strange, they see it as normal.

And we, who have lived through these changes, will hopefully learn to see new developments as a small inconvenience or price to pay to make sure that everyone feels as comfortable as possible.

I once attended a panel discussion of transgender teens at a Southern California university.  The students all agreed that public restrooms were one of the most difficult challenges they face.  Remember, these are young people still struggling to come to terms with their own gender identity.  Many are confused. Lonely.  Depressed.  Isolated.  And every insult and inconvenience is another slap in the face to them.  They were talking about bathrooms, but it was heartbreaking.

I wish everyone could have experienced that discussion among those kids.  If you had, you’d all vote for gender-neutral bathrooms in a heartbeat. And if you had to, you’d gladly pay extra to provide this simple service.  And the simple human dignity that comes along with it.

Take care out there.

Be safe. Be smart. Be sexy.



Read most of your blog and agree with you that gender neutral would be the natural answer to this problem.

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy but I seem to remember a small group of wheel chair bound vets that got together and started a class action suit (and won) because they were not able to access public restrooms or for that matter wheel into some "public store's" due to the entrances being raised by a few steps even the street corners due to the curb height were a direct safety issue for them in their chairs

I believe that if "the politico’s who profess equality for all got off their wide bums and actually listened to "a growing by leaps and bounds" political entity their jobs might still be their for them in the next election

When our president recognizer’s "gay right's" in the military they should have been "all over" those business’s who have not "got real and woke up to the fact that they have more to loose when they trample on individuals rights one after another until they have to explain in court why they are still living in the stone age and not progressing with the changing times after all I work hard for my money and I refuse to spend it at stores managed by "@$#%" in the end the store will loose it is just a matter of time

I am by no means a writer so please excuse the type-o's

I think it is better to have your voice heard by someone who may feel the same way then to keep your words in and let the silence speak out loud and clear

NOTE: If you don't tell someone there standing on your foot you will always have sore feet

Anonymous said...

We should have restrooms for every one.tgirls are people too.the sooner we come to understand this the better we all will be

Anonymous said...

I'm in the US military and these are the same things people have been discussing after the repeal of DADT (since they have never legally differentiated between homosexual and transgender, it was all illegal before and now "acceptable"). They say things like 'if we let "them" in, which bathroom would they use?' For every closed mind I've encountered, I've heard a new idea for what to do with "those people" to show just how well we are practicing "equality".

Meanwhile, a Swedish officer pointed out how their military doesn't even segregate their showers, let alone the toilets, it's all gender-neutral to them. America has a long way to go to catch up with the world.

Anonymous said...

I am also in the US military and constantly hear negative remarks about transgendered people. Even with the repeal of DADT not many changes are visible to the transgendered community and many of us are still afraid to be who we really are. Change is hard on everyone, but the military progresses by rules and once set in motion, individuals must comply with set policies or seek me employment elsewhere. Out in the civilian world, things are no where that easy to make people bend to another way of thinking. Other countries, such as Australia have come to realize that being transgendered does not mean that we are any less of a person than anyone else. We still hold our heads high with dignity and choose to be accepted for who we are. It will take time for people in the US to finally come to terms with the fact that we are already an enormous community and we are all around. Unfortunately, to many of us still hide in the shadows in fear of the humiliation and ridicule. I am no different. I get out as me, but am very careful about the company I keep and the places I go. The bathroom is one of those places, that I always question before walking in. It is easy to walk into the woman's bathroom when within the confines of a more accepting community, such as when in a gay establishment, because it is understood who I really am. When out in public though, and especially when in unfamiliar territory, one should always understand the laws of that state and obide by them. If that means to locate a family restroom, unfortunately for now, that is what should be done. Until laws change and people become more understanding it is important that we listen to those opinions and not try and force a hand. In many cases, that only leads to a negative reaction and hinders a movement. All I am really trying to say, is just be careful girls. I hate to hear about any violence towards anyone, but it is out there and we must always look out for one another. I pray for the day that I will finally be able to be myself openly, but being in the military and preparing for retirement after so many years, I finally feel as though there is a light at the end of that proverbial tunnel. Hugz n Love to everyone...

marcela1176 said...

Hi cici,
I live across the world, far from the U.S., I'm with you on all the comments, unfortunately, not only in your country there are these public issues for transgender people in my country (Chile), also there are, does not least 2 months a poor boy murdered trans blows of all kinds, (seeketh the horrible news in the newspapers of chile and I'll send it), change the mentality of a people, it would take at least 200 years, we have to keep fighting, my friend cici, when politicians are removed masks and appear that more than 50% of them are also transsexual or crossdresser, then began the change in our societies.
affection and kisses for you

Anonymous said...

I really don't understant the problem with the restroom issue. I believe that most restrooms(rr) have stalls, at least the womens, with doors that lock somewhat. Who knows if you have a penis or not? As long as you act right in the rr. Don't stand and pee, do it like a lady. As for the showers, I believe that can be overcome by talking to management and telling your circumstance and that you would like to have a shower with privacy. I know most gyms have privacy shower stalls. As for homeless shelters, well, they for the most part are run by right wing churches and if you can find one that isn't run by the right wing you can only ask if they can make it possible for privacy showers. A great many women like to shower in private and it would do a great service for the shelter to make privacy showers. It doesn't cost that much money for most.
Sheila Coats

Anonymous said...

Dear Cici,
Thank you for the topic. I hope we get more feedback on this subject from all over the country. I live in Montana and took my first trip last fall enfem. I used out of the way reststops and was so nervious. Nothing happened. hugs, Joni

Anonymous said...

"Many airports and hospitals now have “family” restrooms in addition to men’s rooms and ladies’ rooms. This is ostensibly for parents with children of the opposite sex."

I've seen these newer "family" restrooms come out in many stores in the last few years but I've never understood their need based on this reason. For someone with a disability they are great to use, I'm sure, yes. But are there people who really get upset at seeing a small child in the opposite restroom? They are just children.

Anonymous said...

Hey Cici,

As a fully transitioned woman and dealing with restrooms, if your not passing then don't use the woman's restrooms. I have had one friend almost get arrested because she felt she passed but in truth she did not. Please use common sense before thinking about using the woman's restrooms.

John Healy said...

Hi Cici, Your comments are well thought out and to the point. The rest room problem is as you say the flash point.

FLSunShine said...

People will use any excuse to segregate with 'our own kind' and to damn bad for them what ain't (ok, I'm born and raised in the south so leave my grammar alone-giggles!). What a bathrooms are on the frontline. Next year/month/week, it'll be something else. Just try to act with grace, but demand your rights and reasonable solution. Thanks, CiCi, for reminding us that the mundane can become a serious matter to 'them' (them meaning vanilla folks with an axe to grind).

Anonymous said...

To anonymous et al.
If you are dressed enfem, but "don't pass", is using a men's restroom any safer than using a woman's restroom? It might actually be more dangerous. I think that is a BIG problem. I was once challenged for using the tryon dressing room in a clothing store and was told it was only for women. I very simply told that person that I WAS a woman and was accepted at that. Many genetic women don't look very feminine either, except for external items such as earrings and lipstick, etc. When challengers are confronted with determination by Tgirls, they usually back down. What are they going to do? Check us out? We have real boobs, as real as genetic women. It helps if we have learned to use a "female" voice. That is as much or more convincing than any other feature. And that is something that we can actually do something about with a bit of effort.

Anonymous said...

At the University I work at in Texas there are like two restrooms on the main campus identified as "gender-neutral" and only one at the downtown campus. Now imagine having to plan your day based on when you think you will have to use a restroom so you do not find yourself having to sprint across campus ( has anyone tried to sprint with a full bladder)to use one. Now imagine your surprise to find the restroom locked.

Anonymous said...

I'm a crossdresser and I use the ladies room every place I go. I have never encountered any problems. But, I go in do my business and get out. I don,t stand around looking at myself in the mirror. Be yourself, act natural and you should be OK. It's great to be able to live as 2 different people. Be proud of who you are.


LaurieJean Becker said...

Ever since I identified with being a girl, around 6, my mom and sister supported me in everyway. Even going to the public restrooms. My mother always stressed about being a "lady" and when I was old enough she and my sister made sure I always had a tampon and a pad for those "emergencies". And us girls do, I do not know how often I've been asked if I had one and could hand it under the wall.

Brent Emery Pieczynski said...

People that are gambling such as on River Boats assume people are so intoxicated as to not see straight. So when I walked into the restrooms those where just restrooms. Then people wanted to purchase my extra ticket for gambling to the limit. Because the friend had a gambling problem.

As a man I have gotten in trouble with law enforcement for using the men's room before. With the city of my birth assuming lack of machismo meaning lacking manhood. So law enforcement learned about my being a natural nuisance. Now out of Iowa I am in a more culturally open environment known as Alaska.