I stand with my young child and face two doors, knowing what I need can be found behind both, aware that choosing one over the other is to publicly declare my deepest political allegiances. I casually make my way through Door #1, hoping nobody will notice. “Sir” I look up, and realize she’s looking directly at me. I’ve been found out. “Sir, you want to be over there,” she commands as she points directly toward Door #2, valiantly defending the innocence of the flock of preschool girls we’re both surrounded by. We go into the other room without a fuss. My child peers into a nearby urinal with suspicion at its contents, then up at me. “Mommy, what-” I swiftly brush him into the nearest stall before he can utter any more incriminating words, not knowing how to explain to a preschooler that there is no Door #3 for people like me.
There is a chance that any time you or your loved ones enters a public restroom, that they could be sharing it with a sex offender. Child molesters, voyeurs/exhibitionists, date rapists - these are all people who buy the same groceries as us, eat at the same restaurants as us, and fill up at the same gas stations as us. If you were the type to be concerned about safety in public restrooms, and believed that legislation were an effective tool to protect restroom patrons, what could you do about this situation? If your proposed response is to outlaw transgender people, you just might be Indiana Republican state Senator Jim Tomes. Bear with me, I’m quoting him verbatim: “What about the other sector of society of people that who have all through the decades women been using women’s restrooms and men been using men’s restrooms and kind of like that and kind of expect that level of privacy?”
Don’t worry about people who are actually predators and convicted sex offenders; the real danger has been me all along! Nevermind that if there really were an epidemic of cross-dressing voyeurs peeping under bathroom stalls, Fox News would be plastering their mug shots all over scare pieces in a never-ending parade of shame. Meanwhile, the true stories of abuse and violence against transgender folks in public spaces get pushed to the back pages of the news.
I don't like the men's restrooms because I'm not a man, I’m nonbinary. I am familiar with the women's restrooms, but I'm not a woman, and I raise far too many suspicions in there now for my comfort anyway. I have gotten very skilled at finding single-user restrooms wherever I go, but I will use the men's room now if it's urgent, and carry myself with the confidence of a mediocre white man in a generally successful attempt to blend in.
I’m disturbed by a trend lately, where some men gleefully plot for (or at least dream about) pushing themselves into women's restrooms in an attempt to get kicked out. Sometimes it’s cis men [“cisgender” means someone who is not transgender]. These cis men are attempting to “prove” that anyone can “fake” being trans simply by throwing on a dress. Sometimes it’s trans men posting selfies, and then "surprise! I have a vagina!" It's supposed to “prove” that they don't belong in women’s restrooms because they "look like a man". The problem is that all of this harms women. Many trans women are suspected of “faking” their genders and that's why these laws are being passed in the first place. They are enforced by targeting women who “look like men”, which hurts all women, trans and cis alike. Plus, at its most basic this trend an example of cis and trans men forcing their way past women’s stated boundaries in an attempt to intimidate them to get their own way. What if masculinity were used for justice instead of violence?
In many states, there has never been a law explicitly against using the "wrong" restroom. So why after over 100 years of trans people in multi-user public restrooms - yes, we've always been using them, even if you didn't notice - why now do we suddenly have this deep and urgent need for laws to segregate and outlaw us? Honestly, it's for the money. This is a great way to scare people into donating money to the political campaign or advocacy organization of their choice. I'm including pro-LGBT orgs here: many of them use fear tactics to profit from our situation too.
Even if laws were passed explicitly to protect people like me, we still wouldn't be safe. Laws can only provide recourse against harms already caused, for those of us who can even afford legal action, but they don’t change the hearts and minds of those who act against us. The fact is, we cannot be safe in a society that demands segregation. I mean that in the fullest sense. We cannot be safe in a society that demands “separate yet equal” restrooms.
Racial segregation dates back to 1849; the first separate gendered restroom ordinances came 40 years later, in 1887. When you dig into the arguments presented when proposing these gendered restrictions over the past century, you will find that it wasn’t about protecting women from men, it especially wasn’t about protecting black women from white men, it was always about protecting white women from black men by demonizing blackness. Segregated restrooms have always been racist as well as sexist, and as such will always be unsafe.
I again want to make it very clear that the root of the violence against my people isn’t the laws, it’s the prevailing mentality of a society that accepts a certain order of things as “normal”, and anyone who deviates is deemed in need of correction. In a society where all genders were valid and deserving of equal recognition and protection, it would be unthinkable to demand some of us to hide ourselves while others flaunt your “normal” genders every chance you get. You accept gender segregation because you don’t see us as real people.
For example: a friend of mine on Facebook recently posted that she defended the right of trans women to use the women’s restroom alongside herself, but she wanted to ask all trans women to please place the seat down after they were finished. Several of her friends chimed in their complaints in the comments. I think they thought they were being cute, but the message was clear: normal women keep the seat down, fake women leave it up. It never occurred to them that if a trans woman leaves the seat up, then leaving the seat up is a normal way for women to use the toilet, because trans women are women, not objects for your scrutiny.
Separating us out as not normal, not like you, not fully people leaves us vulnerable even in places that aren’t segregated by gender, even in places designated specifically for us. Stonewall Inn, site of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, is famed as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. In March of last year, a transgender woman went into the single-user restroom of Stonewall Inn, and video surveillance shows a man following her in there, where he then attacked and raped her. There are no safe spaces for people who are deemed less than human.
Two years ago, I spent the weekend traveling the beautiful Ozarks of Missouri with my child and my transgender wife. We stopped at a gas station to fill up, and we needed a bathroom break. It was a tiny place with a single-user restroom on the exterior of the building, so we sat on the nearby bench to wait our turn. The man standing next in line before us refused to budge. Soon he was joined by another man, forming a barricade. A woman came out and begged him not to start anything, to just let us go. We quickly realized they were targeting us, refusing to let us access the single-user restroom, willing to escalate to violence if necessary. They didn’t see a family with a child. They didn’t see people. They just saw some deviants with fake genders. We will never be safe until we are real.