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It's always about the restrooms

by Helen Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:18:16 PM EST

Sorry - a bit of a whinge I'm afraid

I was having a conversation with a lesbian friend yesterday about her inability to be honest with her girlfriends. She said she had problems talking to women and I (daftly, I know) said she didn't seem to have any problem talking to me. At which she said "but you aren't actually a woman".

Of course she was embarrassed, and I couldn't stop myself from making things worse by saying it was okay as it was a common sentiment in lesbian feminist (ie wimminist) circles. Of course, in mitigation she made the valid point that she's known me for 25 years, only the last five of which as a female (we didn't speak for the first year as she disagreed with my transition). Now I don't mention this in order to publicly embarrass her, but because it allows me to discuss the public acceptance of transgendered people. Because it is that very perception, that I and other transgendered mtfs are not, nor ever will be, really women that underlies almost all of the disussions on the subject, even when it's not explicitly mentioned.


Christians use it all the time, especially in the US, where it's always about the toilet restroom. About how men in drag will take advantage of the situation to abuse women in the ladies facility. Not that here has been a single recorded example of this happening, ever; although one Christian group did fake an incident in a sports club and get it on telly. Let's be honest here, if there had ever been any genuine documented examples of cross-dressed individuals attempting to use public accommodation laws in an attempt to cover unlawful predatory behavior, I'm absolutely sure we'd have heard about it -- it would be a very, very newsworthy story. Yet the absence of such an incident doesn't stop it being the number one off-the-shelf public panic story christians use against us.

And feminists as well. As I wrote in my diary about the ENDA legislation in the USA, there is a long history of hostility from feminists towards the transgendered, especially in the UK. Michigan Womyn's music Camp have operated a womyn-born-womyn policy for years (although they seem relaxed about men-born-womyn ftm). Again, there is an apocryphal incident of a "man" entering the communal showers there, even tho' there do not seem to be any primary witnesses of the event, a strange lack given the propaganda coup such would have.

I accept that there are issues about male privilege, especially in the USA where surgery is expensive and rarely covered by insurance so that many longtime mtfs may be taking hormones, but are still physically male. As Autumn Sadeen wrote in this essay;-

In our society, it seems to me that we tend to perceive most men as potential perpetrators. Transgender women, far more often than not, aren't perpetrators...they aren't predators of other women or of children. But, because transgender women are perceived as men by conservative Christians and others, transgender women are perceived as perpetrators...predators. This is especially true in the public restroom.

Which public restroom transgender people who don't have "passing privilege" should be legally allowed to use usually comes down to this: Is a visibly transgender woman automatically assumed to be a man, and therefore a potential perpetrator in the women's public restroom? If one considers the transgender woman to be a woman, then public restroom usage by transgender people is considered in terms of a transgender woman's safety, or in terms of discrimination. If one considers a transgender woman really to be a man -- a potential perpetrator -- then restroom usage becomes an safety issue for the natal women who use the women's restroom.

But frankly the objections are so starkly expressed that it is obvious that, for many wimminists, anybody born male can never be accepted as a woman.

The absurdity of this is revealed by instances where masculine looking women have been prevented from using their gender appropriate facilities.

This paranoia reached its height of absurdity just a fortnight ago when transgender women were prevented from using women's facilities at the London Pride LGBT event.

Official stewards who were running the toilets at Trafalgar Square announced that I, and any other transgender or transsexual woman, had to use the disabled toilets and was not allowed to use the regular women's toilets. I pointed out to the stewards that I transitioned and had surgery before they were born; I was more polite than a polite thing. No dice.

And the reason given  ? Our old favourite...;-

At one point it was claimed that they had instituted this policy a few minutes earlier because a man had attacked a woman;

So naturally you respond to an alleged (still no report on any such incident) heterosexual attack at a Pride event by keeping the trannies out. :-o

This has become a bit of an embarrasment for the Pride organisation, especially as most trans people point out that Pride Events are some of the few places where they feel genuinely safe. Sadly it is quite obvious that all involved; Pride, the Metropolitan Police and the stewards organisation are all involved in damage limitation and blame avoidance. It is unlikely that any resolution will be reached to the satisfaction of TransLondon.

I shouldn't moan as I'm lucky. I was able to transition painlessly at work and received considerable support both from colleagues and organisationally. I was only ever hassled on a couple of occasions about being transgendered and never experienced any genuine threat. I have never been challenged over using a female facility, even tho' I am aware I get quizzical glances from time to time due to my size (and I do get blokier looking body language when I'm tired or drunk).

But slightly different circumstances could have resulted in very different experiences. And I'm aware that, amongst those women who know my transgender status, I'm accepted wholly, except for some intangible half inch, I've rarely used shared facilities and never shared a hotel room at recreational events as I'm always carefully, tactfully, steered into a single room.

Because I'm transgendered. Because I'm not actually a woman. Because as far as anyone who believes that we aren't really women is concerned, it's always about the toilet restroom, about male privilege. Cos once a man, always a man and forever suspect.

And for those who live in less tolerant circumstances, these little, acceptable distastes are the difference between acceptance and being able to live "normally" and rejection and being cast into a twilight world of poverty or worse

Display:
Hm.  I suppose it varies radically from place to place.  Frankly, I'm shocked that there are actually rules, let alone enforced rules, about who can use which restrooms.  Though I can see it in Alabama.  Several years ago, LGBT groups lobbied to have gender-neutral restrooms made available on campus.  It was a very successful campaign, as they found allies in the droves of male faculty, staff and graduate students with young daughters.  You don't want to take your little girl into the men's room, you don't want to enter the women's room even if it is only in the role of dad, and you don't want the child to go alone.  What to do?  So no we have gender neutral restrooms, with amenities for both sexes and children too, with doors you can lock.  Frankly, everyone likes them, regardless their gender.  I think everyone just likes privacy.

I knew a high school administrator who worked in a school where one of the teachers decided to to have a sex change (I don't remember in which direction.)  They were not only allowed to keep their position; they were allowed to use the restroom they chose.  

I've never heard the sexual predator urban legend.  And I've heard A LOT of stories about sexual assault.  It doesn't really make sense.  If it is a public restroom without a lock on the door, it seems no different than assaulting someone in a public area.  Anyone could witness it.  Why bother dressing in drag?  If it is a single restroom with a lock, only one person uses it at a time, so who cares what their anatomy is?  Lock the door behind you.  I use men's restrooms when they are the individual locking kind, fwiw.  They never have a line.  :)  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:48:39 PM EST
Ah, but you're using evidence based assumptions. most of the fear and uncertainty spread around is down to imagined problems and difficulties. you don't need proof of such behaviour, you just have to assert it is possible and assume eternal malevolance on the part of the other.

If you feel that men will wear women's clothes in order to enter women's toilets for the purposes of sexual thrills and the assertion of male power, then no amount of proof or reason will shake that.  And, sadly, my experiences with wimminists, both as transgendered and as a male trying to learn to bellydance, suggests that there really is a significant minority of women who think on that level.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 04:59:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is sad. My toilet at home, like all other home toilets, is unisex. There are issues with raising and lowering the seat, but that is behaviour that can be altered - as I do when my girls are with me because, in the end, it is a simple gestural action of no consequence. It just has to be remembered.

As a father, when the girls were very young, I remember a few months when I was not sure whether to take the girls with me to the male toilets so I could help them, or let them go to the other side. Ultimately it was easy because one was older and more responsible.

Public toilets - where everyone is a stranger - have a statistical chance of containing a nutter who might be a threat to anyone - whatever gender, age or otherwise. I don't know what the answer is. Except perhaps better cultural education. It seems weird to me that after all of these centuries after Thomas Crapper, we haven't worked this one out. We all do it every day. There's no avoiding it. Why can't we be civilized?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 05:49:18 PM EST
I'll have to ask my gay daughter her thoughts on this, the Womyn's get-together in Michigan, I mean, but I know she has no problem with the restroom situation.  She and I have both been to GLBT clubs where everyone just goes to the same bathrooms with the usual type stalls, no problems.

Though I haven't met you, I've known since early on that you are transgendered, but I've never thought of you as anything but a woman, maybe since your name is Helen, and your photos looked like a woman, too.  And it makes me feel good when people are GLAD to be women.

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 06:33:10 PM EST
Thank you. I never really know how I am perceived, it's one of the issues that you never had to question your identity, and so don't. Wheras mine is carefully negotiatied and always subject to re-assessment and paranoia.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 06:08:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From a brief scan of the internet...

legal situations span juristictions, and there is an actual legal precedent in this matter. You actualy are meant to follow the legal "Principle of least astonishment". a person who presents as a woman will be less astonishing using the women's restroom than the men's  

In Human Resources its meant to run like this

Transgender / Transsexual Bathroom - Restroom References

In landmark case Cruzan vs Davis, a ruling was made in June 2002 by a federal appeals court in Minnesota that an employer is within its rights to instruct a transgendered employee to use the restroom matching their new presentation, and that if another employee complains, the company may offer the complaining employee an accomodation (such a the use of a different restroom by the complaining employee.) .


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Jul 22nd, 2008 at 07:30:43 PM EST
I can assure you that this principle doesn't appear to be widely accepted across the USA, let alone internationally.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 05:05:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure it probably isn't but the thin end of the wedge is there and a few years down the line it will happen, You're just amongst those for whom it all seems like you're constantly hammering your head against a brick wall.

Feminists really should know better though.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 05:22:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But you're assuming thes are feminists in a progressive transforming sense. They're not. They're essentialists/wimminists whose philosophy is a conservative idea taking its premise from patriarchal concepts of women's roles, as I explained here

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 05:34:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One has to wonder how all this is playing with the French participants where traditionally public facilities were shared (although I suspect that tradition has disappeared somewhat within recent years).

To me sharing facilities is not a big issue, even with being raised in Alabama. Maybe it was because I was from the region that was formerly French.

Anyway, one is what one happens to be in their head and all of society's rules and prohibitions can't do much to change that only make life miserable I suspect.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 03:59:31 PM EST
in Paris, hopefully during my upcoming visit:

    L�Existrans
    The Association Syndrome de Benjamin sponsors a march to benefit the trans-gendered community, commencing at place Denfert-Rochereau at square J Antoine, during the first week in October. Call (33) 43 57 21 25 for more information.

One of my girlfriends who will be on the trip sent me an email that there would be a Monmartre wine-tasting and "walk with Trans" while we were there, and suggested we do it.  I'm so excited!  And we'll also be there for Nuit Blanche.  Thank you Transgenders!  Thank you Paris!

Karen in Austin

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 06:06:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's a couple of articles about this situation in Colorado Springs that seems to support your diary. As usual, the local "Christian" organization is on the wrong side of the argument... http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4191/is_20070623/ai_n19321402
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4191/is_20080522/ai_n27513451

But I've noticed that there is a trend towards gender neutral bathrooms in a lot of places. My doctor's office, for example, has "restrooms" without gender markings. And many outdoor events in Colorado are supported by port-a-potties that are not differentiated by gender.

Also I suppose it matters whether people know that someone is transgendered. If you present as a woman, only those who know your history would have the idea of complaining...

by asdf on Wed Jul 23rd, 2008 at 08:35:01 PM EST
I was aware of the colorado situation but just thought it was typical.

A wonderful example of the warm embrace of Second wave feminists can be found here at Radical Feminist Carnival. It's really quite nasty, but is actually only a slightly more extreme version of what I've heard from feminists about the transgendered since forever.

I must admit that 3rd wave feminists (under 30) are much more accomodating, Feministing.copm are very much on our side, but feel that most UK feminists are still resolutely second wave. A UK lesbian online forum called Gingerbeer discussed transmen (ftm) last year and there was such an obvious hatred of all trans people from a significant and vocal minority that most trans people left the board as they were made to feel unwelcome.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 04:57:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow. That's a lot of work to justify a lot of biases. Gender isn't real? Right.

Anyway, it's the high-heels and falling into sexual stereotypes that you do that really disqualifies you as a proper woman. Or something.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 05:05:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That article is truly amazing. seeing the writer convinced that they have a logical argument, when in fact they just have a pile of hatreds, neuroses and assumptions is stunning. That argument is a desperate houss of cards on the point of collapse, held up by some really distasteful views in the comments.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 05:19:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're just a patriarchal misogynist.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 05:20:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
don't be ridiculous, some of my best friends are women ;-)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Jul 24th, 2008 at 06:12:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't pronounce it, let alone spell it ... I can't be nothing that I got to copy and paste.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 28th, 2008 at 12:42:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Cos once a man, always a man and forever suspect

Good point!

Being the restroom just an example, I know... Isn't in any case funny that there will be such a dicussion con "restroom" dangers, while in the past 3-4 years having mixed restrooms in fancy restaurants and pubs is becoming the rule? Maybe fancy people is less dangerous ;)

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none." (Fahrenheit 451)

by pereulok on Sun Jul 27th, 2008 at 05:44:26 AM EST
By the way, I'm feeling curious, did you watch the film "Transamerica"? I liked it a lot as a film, but I haven't given much thought on its treatment of transexuality issue...

"If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none." (Fahrenheit 451)
by pereulok on Sun Jul 27th, 2008 at 05:48:19 AM EST
No, i'm hopeless with films. I can't muster the interest to see them on my own, even on DVD, and don't know anyone who would go to see anything like that.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Jul 28th, 2008 at 11:16:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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