Though I’ve been sharing various articles and things, I have kept my own thoughts and words to myself on the whole bathroom bill trend that is horrifyingly sweeping the nation. I felt I should keep my mouth shut because as a trans man, though I am technically affected, these bills are clearly more directed towards trans women under the guise of protecting cisgender women, therefore, honestly not directed at me at all. Also, I am lucky to live in a very liberal area (Washington state) unlikely to catch Bathroombillmania.
Furthermore, I’m out-and-about working so I use public men’s rooms many times during the week and, besides being absolutely baffled by the fact that groups of men seem to want to hang out and chat in the Costco bathroom (which is also possibly the worst place on Earth), I never have any problems at all. But, here’s the thing – I USED to have problems ALL THE TIME, pre-transition — when I was still presenting “female” but was actually very androgynous.
I can’t count the number of times I heard “Wrong bathroom!” in women’s rooms. Once, while in college, I tried to push through the door to find that a woman was guarding it and had barricaded it up with trash cans from the hall, somehow, within the few minutes I was in there. Twice, I was met with security guards upon leaving the restroom — both security guards realized a mistake had been made on taking a closer look at me.
I’ve always hated conflict: I don’t want to hurt, scare, or upset anyone. These reasons (combined with the aforementioned humiliating experiences) led to me only using public restrooms when it was just on the verge of an emergency. By the way, holding your pee for hours until you can go at home just to avoid hassle is pretty painful…
My point of sharing these embarrassing personal stories and saying all this is this: the people who are affected by these bills are not present-day me or the other masculine-presenting trans men or even some feminine-presenting trans women (though they are technically targeted as many a meme has pointed out). No one is going to notice these individuals or wonder if they actually belong in this bathroom or that, because they blend in with the “general populace.” The people most affected are those transgender and cisgender persons whose appearance or presentation shows some perceived anomaly. And anomalies can be anything: mannerisms, build, facial structure, hair length (notice only the last one of those is a choice?). Anomalies such as these occur whether you are transgender or not, and often occur naturally.
These bills aren’t only an attack on transgender people, but on gender non-conforming people in general. Also, these bills aren’t even really about bathrooms so much, it just so happens that bathrooms are one of the last publicly gendered spaces left. This whole thing is a much bigger rally call for everybody to get in line and align with the strict gender conventions expected of them.
“[Anti-trans bathroom bills are a] bigger rally call for everybody to get in line and align with the strict gender conventions expected of them.”
But here’s the thing: gender does not exist as a binary in the real world — only in the imaginations of people invested in transphobia. There aren’t two boxes — Barbie or G.I. Joe — as we’re often raised to believe. If you open your eyes to the people around you, you’ll see that there are practically as many ways of expressing gender as there are people. The false dichotomy of gender being either 100 percent male or female is not progress.
Because we live in a patriarchal society, it’s more natural to immediately imagine the limitations that the strict gender binary places on women. Think of the things that used to be seen as exclusively male: independence, strength, control of one’s emotions, the right to vote, access to education, employment and earning one’s own money, wearing practical comfortable utilitarian clothing like pants, operating a motor vehicle, owning property… making one’s own decisions about one’s own life and body (ok, we are still working on some of these…).
Men are obviously affected by the patriarchy as well and its many impacts on men made it difficult for me to accept myself as transgender until I was in my 30s, even though I was an OBVIOUS textbook example of this condition all along. How could I be a man if I had no interest in cars and guns and football and violence and generally just wanted to paint all the time, collect cats and listen to Bryan Ferry?
Also, can we just take a second to acknowledge that David Bowie and Prince, two much beloved and celebrated celebrities whose deaths brought about a deluge of grief on an international scale, both presented the kind of gender non-conformity that, in everyday-life stripped of celebrity, causes male-assigned individuals to be endlessly harassed and bullied? “Oh my GOD! Makeup and thought going into one’s clothing? On a MAN?! IT CANNOT BE…!!!”
Do you see how limiting all of this is?
“David Bowie and Prince… both presented the kind of gender non-conformity that, in everyday-life stripped of celebrity, causes male-assigned individuals to be endlessly harassed and bullied.”
Anyway, to get back to the original point, it was hard enough for me to use the bathroom as a gender non-conforming person WITHOUT the government weighing on the matter, WITHOUT people feeling they need to be on high-alert because of some manufactured imaginary threat. I simply can’t imagine what it’s like for gender non-conforming persons in North Carolina, South Dakota or Mississippi or the other states that are proposing their own bills, especially for those male-assigned at birth.
These bathroom bills do not protect anyone, because no threat actually exists. There have been no reported incidents of trans people attacking anyone in bathrooms in the 200+ U.S. cities that have passed transgender public accommodations protections.
These bills actually put trans women — a group in need of protection rather than persecution — in a lot of danger. This is plainly just pure government-sanctioned hatred spewed in the direction of some of the most marginalized members of society. And what’s really scary is that when those in power reinforce this hate, it becomes acceptable.
Blake Chamberlain is a freelance artist who loves cats and glam rock.
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