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.
Posted by CiCi Kitten at 9:38 PM