When I was a small child, I grew to be very afraid of a faceless presence that lived in my closet. I never knew exactly what this monster was, but I was sure that it existed. Many a night with the lights out, I could feel it lurking and waiting to come out of the tightly closed door and get me.
I really had no idea what the monster was going to do once it “got me,” but there was no doubt in my mind that it was in that closet and it was coming. I would cover my head with my quilts and pillow, but the fear of the monster in the closet didn’t go away. Every once and a while I would peek from out of the covers to see if it was standing over the bed, but it never was there. Nevertheless, I just knew in my heart that it was still in the dark closet, waiting for it’s moment.
Eventually, I would call Mom or Dad to come scare the Monster away. They would come and turn on the lights and open the closet door to show me that there was nothing to fear. Over time the fear would slip away, but there was a very important element to the easing of this irrational fear; the Monster never came out of the closet.
I tell this story as a comparison to the issue of the general public’s fear of trans women in the women’s restroom. Specifically, male bodied people in female bodied spaces. This is a fear of invasion, violation and bodily injury. These are not minor “oh, just get over it” fears. These are real and need to be accounted and considered.
There are real reasons for sex segregated facilities. There are cases after cases where male bodied offenders enter female bodied spaces for the purpose of committing assault, rape and violence. Start with a Google news search to find actual incidents. This can not and should not be ignored by the transsexual and transgender communities. Those of us who are female bodied are at just as much risk as any other woman in that space, and those of us who are male bodied need to understand and respect the need for safety.
Male on female violence is still at a very high rate and like it or not this does spill into the fear of public accommodations. As long as the fight for Gender Identity rights include all access to the spaces that accommodate the person’s targeted gender this will be a problem. Some call it the “Bathroom Problem.” So let’s stop kidding ourselves and start creating real solutions to a very real fear. We as the transgender and transsexual communities need to continue to fight for the end of irrational discrimination in public housing, employment and public spaces, but as far as sex segregated spaces, the time is not now. Since we are the ones asking for the general public to change it’s perception, we are the ones who must work with the general public to smooth away any issues.
I will offer three ways to work through this time until the private needs of transgender and transsexual individuals are understood and accepted by the general public. None of these require “panty police” or “show me your papers” patrols. These are all up to the person transitioning to do and show respect for the general public.
- Either don’t use public sex segregated spaces or only use the ones that match your current configuration
Remember what our parents advised us to do before driving on long trips? “Go to the bathroom before we leave because we aren’t stopping.” This is still great advice.
During my pre-op transition in the early eighties, I was told under no circumstance was I ever allowed to use the women’s restroom, showers or even the locker room. They were very clear and diligent about this rule. I was very much allowed to use the men’s facilities and believe me the men were laying in wait for me to enter their space. I learned, as most humans do, how to control my bodily functions so that the occasion would never arise that I would need to breach either space during work hours. I found other places to take care of my needs that were either friendly or private. I would wait until I could leave the premises for lunch times or even hold “it” for the entire shift. It is possible.
I know that there will be some that can present special cases or run on about Buck Angel in the women’s room. I can only say that if we really care about working this out then the onus is on us to remove any and all reasons to fear our presence.
- Use only Single occupancy public facilities
Single occupancy facilities are a great idea for the protection of female and male bodied individuals. When one is in a room alone, this removes almost all risk of attack from others in the same room. When a person is transitioning or if a person prefers to remain a non-op, the single occupancy facility removes any chance of the perceived need for a “panty check.” (Yes, I used the scare quotes because “panty checks” still scare me.) They also tend to allay any issues that a parent may have in helping their opposite sex child in restroom functions.
It was this type of facility I looked for during my days of transition because of the privacy they allowed. It is also my understanding that the idea of a common sex segregated area for restrooms is a relatively modern thing. Single occupancy was the norm until larger and larger buildings were constructed and space became a commodity. That being said, I don’t think there will ever be a single occupancy shower or locker room space available; so we must make arrangements to take care of those needs in the privacy of our own spaces.
I know that a single occupancy facility is not a guarantee of safety. There can be no complete guarantee of that. Ask Chrissy Polis, she was beaten outside of a single occupancy facility for many reasons that escalated into a hate crime because she was trans.
Once again I know that some will present special cases for the homeless and those without access to these. Again, I can only say that they are available and we must make the effort to find them. There are plenty out there and there are resources available to help your search… like the Refuge Restrooms website.
- Finish your transition
I know that this is hard for some and there are some who do not need to completely transition to a male or female body. Great, then own your body. If you wish to maintain a penis, then continue to use the facilities designed for people with penises. If you chose to maintain a vagina, then continue to use the facilities that are designed for vaginas. Once you finish your transition, no matter how difficult, arduous, satisfying or unsatisfying the outcome, you are by default a member of that sex, and are less of a risk to your companions in your sex segregated space.
Please notice that at no time do I state that the presence of a penis or a vagina determines your manhood or womanhood. I state this to be very clear that Gender Confirming Surgery (GCS) does not make one a man or a woman. The only thing GCS does is to make one male or female bodied, and it is that distinction that must be understood when it comes to relieving the fears of the general public.
Some would say that it is not anyone’s business to know about the state of their genital configuration, and I would agree for the most part, and in a perfect world that would be true. However, we do not live in a perfect world. We live here and now. Here and now, penises are used to rape vaginas. Here and now, female bodied people have a good reason to fear male bodied people. We, as transsexual and transgender people, are just as likely to be a victim of abuse and rape as the general public so it is in our interest to work for our protection also.
None of the options that I state involve anyone subjecting themselves to a “panty patrol” or a “paper search.” The perceived need is removed. As long as the fight for public accommodations for our communities includes sex segregated spaces, we will be hard pressed to achieve any progress. Between the scare tactics of the opposition and the very real acts of criminals, the battle is already lost. Many will claim that there are plenty of current laws on the books that prove me wrong, and to those I say that is a paper tiger. Laws can and do get rescinded and rewritten, and once a crime is committed under the protection of those laws, then everything is thrown out.
Fighting for public accommodations that do not include sex segregated spaces (yes, I used the term “sex segregated” a lot, because words have meaning) is necessary, needed and should be our priority. The problem that we face is that sometimes the monster does come out of the closet.
Transsexual and transgender people are just as likely to commit criminal acts as any other person on the planet, and when they do they should be tried by a jury; and, if found guilty, sentenced to a punishment that they deserve. Let’s make sure that there will never be a reason for ANYONE to claim Gender Dsyphoria as a reason to commit or lessen the impact or responsibility for their actions. One way to do this, and to give the general public confidence that the people they share public sex segregated spaces with belong there, just to do their business.
The best way to make sure that the monster never comes out of the closet is to make sure that there is no monster to begin with.