THE BLOG

Bathrooms - Our Space, Their Space

24/05/2016 17:05 | Updated 24 May 2016


'House Bill 2 declares that state law overrides all local ordinances concerning wages, employment and public accommodations.

Thus, the law now bars local municipalities from creating their own rules prohibiting discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Though North Carolina does have a state wide non-discrimination law, it does not include specific protections for LGBTQ people.

The law also directs all public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their "biological sex" stated on their birth certificate. Transgender people can use the bathrooms and changing facilities that correspond to their gender identity only if they get the biological sex on their birth certificate changed'

The wording above succinctly lays out the absurd, spiteful and regressive mess parts of America are plunging themselves into.

Make no mistake these pieces of legislation are wrong and history will very quickly show them as wrong. They are borne out of a desperate need by some right wing factions to gain control where they are losing historical control and seats of power, even where they are losing them to even more right wing madness. Mr Trump is an example of the right wing's madness finally exposed as hateful, nonsensical and an utter waste of tax dollars.

These pieces of legislation set out to regain control by attacking the most marginalised of groups. Trans people wanting to use a bathroom which they feel is 'right' for them.
Not 'right' on a whim as has been portrayed; today the women's' tomorrow the men's.
No using a facility that makes them feel safe, that keeps them safe.

As a trans woman I had many years of having to use the 'wrong' toilet facility and it was terrifying. I always felt exposed, vulnerable, like something dangerous could happen. I didn't want to see men peeing or hear men's' conversations, my friends went into the women's and I prayed for an empty men's bathroom.

Since transitioning I have used the toilet which is mine to use, I feel safe, secure and at home.
The women's toilet is my toilet.

The men's toilet was wrong for me on every level.

What is happening in parts of America is repugnant and state bullying of the worse kind. Bullying hiding as a measure to ensure 'family safety'. It is passive aggressive bullying.
As far as I know there are no recorded cases of a trans man or woman seeking access to a bathroom facility to commit a crime. If they were I'm sure that the evidence-empty dull headed legislators in parts the US of A would have amassed them by now in a big book labelled 'Sin in Action'.

No trans people using the correct facility is actually the best of society. It shows us in all our glory and honesty. It shows how we as a species are evolving, growing and learning more about our true human condition. It defines us as kind and good people.

But I'm not sure we can just look across the pond, throw stones and imagine that we here, even with drinks at Number 10, are doing a grand job and occupying an enlightened space.

Let me give you an example.

Earlier this year I was working with a cluster of head teachers in a particular catchment area where there were a handful of trans pupils emerging bravely at school. They were a really good bunch to work with, open, accepting of change and ready to do whatever it would take to ensure that their trans pupils' school experience would have little or no disruption. We collectively placed the pupils at the centre of our conversations and imagined the school through their eyes.

Pupils are the reason for schools.

We focused on one school in particular where there was a single trans pupil who wanted to return after the Easter break as with their 'truth' and 'authenticity' defining them at school.
The school was large, over 1500 pupils and a big site geographically. One of those schools which was fairly decently built in the 70s but expanded ever since with the occasional pot of funding. A new sports facility placed on the far side of the sports field, a science block a good five minutes' walk from the main hub. A big school in every sense of the word.

The headship team there were amazing, caring. We wrote policies that we needed, ones that would enact change and ones that would protect change. Policies are important because if written and implemented correctly they create safe space.

I see policies as great creative works.

I left that meeting feeling overjoyed that a small handful of pupils had great teams onside.
We arranged that we would reconvene in 4 weeks which would give us time to iron out any issues arising before the Easter break and the return of the pupil in the particular school we had focused on.

I had a whiff of slight concerns when the head rang me a few days later to say that one team member had said that in their sons school they were concerned it was becoming a 'fashion craze' and did I think this had any validity?

I said, trying to make light of something plainly-stupid, don't worry it will go out of fashion faster than flares.

I went on to say that I felt the true trauma of being authentic would never be worn as an item of fashion.

But still it did ring a concerning bell.

Scroll forward 4 weeks and I'm now in the school with the leadership team and associated change makers. Rather brilliantly, for this kind of meeting, the Head of Library Services. We looked at policies and statements and then they hit me with their own bathroom bill.
Proudly they told me that they had allocated a toilet, a single toilet that had been a disabled toilet, to become a 'Gender Neutral Toilet'. As always in meetings when I am blindsided by something I look into space and breath. A therapist once told me that if you are stressed you have to remember to breath.

On my out- breath I asked them for their rationale. I said,

'You have a pupil who has incredibly and bravely defined themselves as female, a single pupil in a school of 1500 and that single female pupil is going to be given their own non-gendered facility when in fact this is the point when you need to authenticate them by supporting their truth.'

Silence. Maybe a little too Oprah.

Now I am a pragmatist, there is no point in becoming an enemy here, there is a life at stake.
I looked into space and breathed hard, I wanted to cry, to shout, to swear.

I said, 'How many toilets are there for other students to use across the school and are they placed conveniently so that students can access them quickly if leaving lessons?'

Of course the answer was yes.

We broke into two smaller groups and tried to work out (time & motion study) how much time that this one pupil could be out of class for if they wanted to access the toilet three times during the school day, including lesson times. Not unreasonable, three times.

By our calculations the pupil in question could be out of class for approximately 20% more time than another pupil because they would/could have further to go to access their allocated toilet facility. This was in effect 'active discrimination' as they would/could be missing more lesson time than others through no fault of their own.

(Let alone the implications of marking out one pupil for one toilet)

The room was genuinely silent. The Gender Neutral Toilet was seen by them as a progressive measure, as an answer to their apparent issue of a young girl with a penis. We discussed it further and their fear of the unknown was palpable.

I expressed my deeply held view that they should be brave enough to support the young girls bravery and allow her access to the existing female toilets. They felt they couldn't occupy her bravery, they weren't quite fashionable enough.

But they did rather wonderfully and bravely (I felt) say they would look at converting facilities across the site into Gender Neutral Toilets and that they would have assemblies to explain to all pupils that these facilities were for all. This, true to their word, they did.

A solution.

It struck me then that the current (mainly) cis response to trans people in collective spaces is to create 'safe gender neutrality', a kind of 'nothingness' until we have resolved grey legal areas.
I'm afraid that this still comes from a place of not accepting our authenticity. And although you, they, might say 'we support trans issues and diversity in our schools and workplaces' the contemporary drive to create 'gender neutrality' is a response to trans self authentication.

Did you feel happier when the medical profession judged us mad, bad or just unstable and advised us that we went off and hid in society, in stealth mode, like an angry silent jet.
As the brilliant Paris Lees has said recently, 'we have always been here using the toilets'.

It seems that when we started to define ourselves even the well meaning in this country decided that yes, that was wonderful and how amazing it was that finally the T was talking, but that the T overall was best served up with a plate of neutrality.

I have yet to see a single non binary person well-supported in a school so the toilet was being provided incorrectly. In fact I would go as far to say that if a non binary person asked rightly and justly for a Gender Neutral Toilet they would be told, 'can't you make do?'

This is happening all over. I see countless numbers of people proudly saying how a toilet has been converted to become Gender Neutral and when I ask who asked for it, I'm told 'no its part of our Equality Policy'.

Is the trans person allowed to use their authentic space I ask?

I think that in time all facilities will become Gender Neutral, it makes sense. Single sex toilets don't really work in schools or work places. In fact they waste time and money.

But until all new buildings are built with Gender Neutral facilities I would ask that before you applaud your gain, for us, of an allocated toilet, ask us what we want and listen to us.

Don't decide that you know best otherwise you really shouldn't be so eager to throw stones across the pond.

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