Wednesday, May 4, 2011

We're still dying over segregated bathrooms

At the beginning of class, someone (I think it was Bob) mentioned that kids today find it hard to believe in the intensity of the civil rights movement, where people were killed for using the "white" bathroom.

But it's easy for me to believe. Less than two weeks ago, news hit that Chrissy Lee Polis was beaten for several minutes then lay convulsing on the ground before police showed up. A bystander took video of the incident and posted it on Facebook, claiming the violence was justified because she was anatomically male and tried to enter a women's bathroom in women's clothes. She survived, but other women are murdered for being trans at a bewildering rate; I can't keep up with the headlines.

Very few people believe that gender segregation is an issue: the segregated bathrooms are supposedly keeping us safe and moral. Remember the "unisex bathroom" hysteria over the Equal Rights Amendment?

Sex segregation in homeless shelters and other services, plus forced identification of one's legal sex in other contexts like education and sometimes even bus passes bites into transgendered people's access to these services. This spring in Salt Lake City a woman was humiliated and forced to scrub off her make-up at the DMV Department of Public Safety Driver License Division [Edit 4:09 5/4/2011] because the driver's license she was renewing had an 'M' on it. But those issues are off almost everyone's radar; the invisibility of an ideology often reflects its strength.

My best friend is a working class transgendered woman who lives back east. I am genderqueer, and while I don't face my MTF sisters' daily fear of violence, I do face daily awareness of a society that harshly and almost universally rejects an important part of my experience and imposes an alien identity upon me. We will not be free until we win a violent struggle in a society that currently can't comprehend or empathize with us.

Sometimes I feel guilty for being so emotionally invested in an issue that seems much smaller-scale than, say, the oppression of the working-class, exploitation of poor countries, climate change, or factory-farming. Yet how many more people would transgress gender lines if they weren't patrolled by vigilantes and overseen by psychiatric gatekeepers? How many people suffer from misplaced ideas of masculinity and femininity; how much is lost when "boys" are separated from "girls"--and by someone else's choice?

But all of that aside, it's a fight I can't choose not to fight, for all I might rather pick another battle.

(Is this too off-topic? I prepared another post about how my father helped bust a union as a warehouse manager who worked directly with the laborers who were trying to unionize; he'd listen to "Which Side Are You On?" every day as he drove into work. The post wasn't working out, though, so I went with this instead.)


  1. This isn't at all too off-topic; exactly the kind of thing we're hoping for. But I'd like to hear the other story, too.


  2. My 5yo MtF child is in Kindergarten, and the amount of STRESS they place on gender rolls has been pushed into our faces this year. The biggest one being bathroom usage, and them not knowing exactly what to do with her.

    Schools don't know what to do with these poor children who are very innocently living fairly gender neutral lives . . . until school starts.

    Stupid archaic laws force us into gender specific bathrooms and I couldn't even tell someone WHY we do that. It seems so outdated now that we have family bathrooms and unisex bathrooms but still right next to them are the gender specific.

    The only argument I could acknowledge are the perverted ones and then that goes back to the individual and surly not the whole of society. Are we segregating because some men can't control themselves around women? Some men can't control themselves around children?! I don't know!

    I need a lot more information to base my opinion, but with a transgender child I'm very open to unisex bathrooms and more gender neutrality!