How often do you think about going to the restroom? Other than the usual "Oh geeze, I have to go!" That's probably the extent of it, right?
Using the restroom is a basic human need. It doesn't matter if you're Justin Bieber or Oprah. We all use the restroom.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy for everyone to use a public restroom. For transgender, intersex or gender nonconforming individuals, the restroom or change room can be a place of anxiety and fear. Imagine being so anxious about entering the restroom that you prefer not to leave your house. That's terrible, right?
(Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
What does it mean to be transgender/intersex/gender nonconforming?
Transgender -- a person whose gender identity does not correspond with their birth sex.
Intersex -- a person born with reproductive anatomy that does not conform to what is understood as male or female.
Gender nonconforming -- person who does not follow society's ideas of how they should look or act based on the sex they were assigned at birth.
How many people are transgender in the U.S.? It's difficult to know. Discrimination and fear prevent many transgender people from coming forward. In 2016, the University of California-Los Angeles Williams Institute found that there are about 1.4 million transgender people in the U.S., which equates to roughly 0.6 per cent of the adult population. In 2014, of that 1.4 million, 41 per cent of transgender or gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide. That is a staggering rate.
During my transition, I was approached in both the male and female restrooms, even at LGBTQ establishments, and was told that I do not belong there.
Though you may see that many states have laws and ordinances that protect from discrimination based on sex, age, religion, disability or race, not many states include protection from discrimination based on gender identity. Gender identity is the central issue to transgender and gender nonconforming people. According to GLAAD, existing LGBTQ laws protect only 48 per cent of the U.S. population.
The Obama administration introduced Title IX to protects the right of transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
A few weeks ago, the Trump administration rescinded Title IX. Secretary Betsy DeVos stated that the issue is best solved at the state and local level, and that "[s]chools, communities, and families can find -- and in many cases have found -- solutions that protect all students."
The problem with the statement is that it implies other students need protection from transgender students. This is troubling when statistics demonstrate that transgender students are susceptible to bullying and are at an extremely high risk for self-harm.
Transgender, gender nonconforming and intersex people are not sexual deviants. The rest of the student population does not need protection from them. This line of thinking creates unnecessary fear at the thought of encountering a transgender or gender nonconforming person in a public restroom.
I went to the University of Toronto, University College in Ontario, Canada. I graduated in 2008. The restrooms at University College were gender neutral. At the time, I did not understand how progressive that was. I and do not recall a single person having any kind of issue in the restroom. In fact, as a result of the restrooms being gender neutral, I found that all genders regarded each other with heightened respect.
I moved from Toronto to California to attend law school, and settled in Long Beach. Though Long Beach is a very progressive city for LGBTQ people, I find that it's not as accessible and comfortable for transgender people. For example, many local bars and venues that I frequent have designated "male" and "female" restrooms. In the men's restroom, there are urinals, but only a toilet in the middle of the floor with no stall and virtually no privacy. I have found that the lack of stall in a men's restroom is common in establishments across North America.
Students walk past a protest sign on a bathroom which helped lobby for the first gender-neutral restroom in a Los Angeles high school, April 18, 2016. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
During my transition, I was approached in both the male and female restrooms, even at LGBTQ establishments, and was told that I do not belong there (and I am being polite -- the terms used were not). I know many other transgender people who have been approached or assaulted in the restroom. In fact, a paper by the Williams Institute found that in Washington, D.C., 70 per cent of transgender people surveyed reported being verbally harassed, physically assaulted or denied access entirely.
What are my options when I need to use the restroom in an establishment that designates a "male" and "female" space? I can use the women's restroom (which does not go over well, considering I have a full beard); use the men's restroom (with frequently no stall and risk being approached or assaulted because my genitalia is different); hold it and not go; or leave and patronize another establishment.
As history has shown us, "a separate but equal solution" is not equal.
And I'm a grown adult. I cannot imagine the range of emotions a child would go through in a similar situation at school.
The reversal of Title IX by the Trump administration is particularly despicable because Title IX was meant to protect CHILDREN of a marginalized group. The reversal creates a separation between transgender, intersex and nonconforming people and the rest of the population, and implies that they are not worthy of the very basic protection of being able to use the restroom or change room that aligns with their gender identity.
It's important to instill in children a general respect for others and to teach them that difference should be celebrated and not feared.
Some have suggested the creation of a third bathroom. A third "all-gender" bathroom is not an appropriate solution. As history has shown us, "a separate but equal solution" is not equal. Either eliminate the male/female designation or simply allow people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
HOW TO HELP:
Be a buddy to a trans person! Make sure that they exit the restroom safely.
Contact your local government and local establishments. If you own an establishment, put up an LGBTQ safe space sign:
Use the app Refuge Restrooms to mark safe bathrooms for transgender people:
Donate to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund:
Donate to the Transgender Crisis Hot Line:
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Munroe Bergdorf is a London DJ, designer, model and activist. She has spoken out about the difficulties and abuse she has faced as a transgender woman, shedding light on the issues facing the trans community, as well as bravely discussing her own experience as a victim of attempted rape. Bergdorf has encouraged transgender people not to be afraid of their identity, speaking out for Pride London’s #FreedomTo campaign earlier this year. After experiencing bullying as a teenager, Bergdorf said she had a lightbulb moment when she realised she had to “start being true to herself”. She has since described the decision to begin her transition as the “best decision I’ve ever made”. She told the Daily Mail: “I’m so much happier now than I was growing up. “I want people to know that it's okay to be different, and that you shouldn't be scared of being the person you are. “I talk quite openly now about what's I've been through and frequently speak publicly about trans rights and community issues. “I think it's important that the world understands and respects transgender people, the struggles that they face and the rights that they deserve.”
Paris Lees is a journalist, presenter and transgender rights campaigner who has challenged how the media talk about transgender issues. She founded the first British magazine aimed at the trans community, META, as well as working for a number of other publications. Lees has also made appearances on Question Time and Newsnight, as well as speaking at the Oxford Union. She currently works with Trans Media Watch to help Channel 4 remove transphobic material from its content. She has also spoken out over a number of incidents deemed transphobic, including media coverage of transgender teacher Lucy Meadows and a column by Julie Burchill in which she described trans people as "a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs". She was awarded the Positive Role Model Award for LGBT in the 2012 National Diversity Awards, Ultimate Campaigner at the Cosmopolitan Women of the Year Awards, and also topped the Independent on Sunday’s Pink List in 2013. After a tough start in life, which culminated in a spell in prison, Lees spoke of the change in media coverage of transgender people. Speaking when she was named Young Campaigning Journalist of the Year award at the MHPC 30 To Watch awards earlier this year, Lees said: “"When I first transitioned I was depressed and isolated. I looked to the media for inspiration and all I saw were people like me being ridiculed. "Five years on and things are looking very different."
Dr Jay Stewart was honoured for his services to the trans community with an OBE in 2014. He is a co-founder of Gendered Intelligence, a not-for-profit group which aims to increase understandings of gender diversity through creative ways, working with the trans community and those who have an impact on the lives of trans people. The group particularly specialises in supporting young trans people aged 11-25. Stewart led ‘What makes your gender? Hacking into the Science Museum’ – a £10,000 project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund with London’s Science Museum - as well as a number of other projects. As well as chairing Gendered Intelligence’ board of directors, Stewart also acts as a mentor and youth group session leader. Gendered Intelligence also provides age-appropriate workshops and assembles for primary school children to help them explore gender roles. When the initiative was criticised by a select few, Stewart spoke out on the importance of such education. In a statement on Gendered Intelligence's blog, he said: “It’s so important to teach children in schools that they can be anything that they want to be, regardless of the gender that they have been given at birth. They can be engineers, nurses and politicians; they can be caring and kind, strong and forthright; they can wear what they like and look how they like. It’s okay for all children to be girlish, boyish or anything in-between. “Our work at Gendered Intelligence includes going into primary school settings. It’s important because gender stereotyping and reinforcing gender norms start from a young age. “If we are going to tackle the prejudice in society towards those who express their gender differently from what is considered the norm, we need to introduce teaching early on in a person’s education. He added: “Trans people – like all people – have a right to an education in a safe environment. The only way to make school safe for trans pupils, and safe for everyone to express their gender, is to start talking about gender variance at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Sabah Choudrey helped found Trans Pride Britain, the first trans march in the UK. They also founded the QTIPOC Brighton Network for queer, trans and intersex people of colour, and desiQ for queer South Asian people in the London/South East area. Choudrey works for Allsorts Youth Project in Brighton as an LGBT/Trans/POC Youth Support Worker challenging racism in LGBT scenes, providing advocacy services and ‘Unlearning Racism’ training in LGBT spaces. They also work with Gendered Intelligence, providing support and mentoring for young trans people of colour. Choudrey speaks out about their experience of being trans and Muslim, as well as speaking at events such as TEDx talks. In a blog on HuffPost UK, Choudrey explained: “It has always been apparent to me that queerness is not something visible in non-white cultures. This was the history I was told. But this was the history rewritten by those that colonised the land of my mother and father, who criminalised queer in our land, and from then on, queer became synonymous with sin. “It is no surprise to me that it has taken me three more years to speak publicly about being Muslim and trans. “We're in a culture that teaches queer people that we don't deserve to be religious. We are taught to put faith only in ourselves because self love is the only love we will feel. Queer people don't deserve faith or hope, because why pray when you're already queer? Choudrey continued: “What society teaches us about religion is that it's a weakness, and I felt for years that it was being an Atheist that kept me strong. It wasn't until I was in a relationship with an Atheist and I finally talked about my Muslim background did I feel like Atheism had taken something from me I never wanted to let go of. “Accepting that I am Muslim again has been the hardest part of my journey. Accepting Islam back into my life has been the most challenging part of my identity. It does not feel easy yet. But it does feel true.”
Rebecca Root is an actress who appeared in the lead role in BBC romcom ‘Boy Meets Girl’, and has also appeared in a range of programmes including Hollyoaks, Casualty and Midsomer Murders. She will also be appearing in the upcoming film ‘The Danish Girl’ alongside Eddie Redmayne. However the actress is also a qualified voice coach - the only trans person to work as a voice and speech specialist in the UK today. She runs transgender voice adaptation sessions to help people to find a voice that they feel fits their gender. Her thesis, ‘There and Back Again: Adventures in Genderland’ has also attracted international attention and Root resented it at Harvard University. Speaking about the benefit of speech therapy for people who are transitioning, Root told the Telegraph: “The voice is more evident than what's between your legs, or on your chest. "I know some girls [people who have transitioned to female] who just don't care, who really don't mind sounding like what's considered a typical bloke. "But some say they simply won't talk because they haven't got what they think is the 'right' voice. "They won't make phone calls, and when they have to go to the shops they don't answer questions, they just mumble something. They're afraid of opening their mouths and that's such a shame." Root is also a mentor for young transgender people through Gendered Intelligence.
Fox Fisher starred in Channel 4’s documentary ‘My Transsexual Summer’ in 2011, which revealed the journey of a number of transgender people as they undertook a range of gender affirmation procedures. He went on to become the co-founder of My Genderation, an ongoing documentary project exploring gender variance. Fisher told the BBC: “Not only are we also trans* [written with an asterisk to denote a catch-all term for those defining across the gender spectrum] people, we have our own experience on the other side of the camera, as documentary subjects, on My Transsexual Summer, Channel 4, 2011. “These factors give us a very unique perspective and we are in a trusted position within a growing community. “We work alongside many UK and global gender support groups which share our vision of changing public perceptions already clouded by existing media fabrications and negative reporting of trans* people. Although things really are changing, there is a long way to go. “We make films independently, to humanise the process of transition, to allow the audience to empathise with trans* issues. We provide a platform to consider gender and all its constructs. We aim to provide engaging films on various aspects of being trans* and coming to terms with gender variance." He is also an ambassador for All About Trans - a project that "looks at creative ways to encourage greater understanding between trans people and media professionals to support better, more sensitive representation in the UK media." Fisher continues to speak out about the issues facing trans people in the UK. He also helped to found Trans Pride Brighton and has co-written a children’s book, entitled ‘Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?’.
Hannah Winterbourne (R) is the most senior transgender officer in the British Army. After a successful nine year career in the Armed Forces, which saw her graduate from Sandhurst and join the Royal and Mechanical Engineers, Winterbourne was in the middle of a tour of Afghanistan in 2012 when she decided she wanted to begin her transition. Despite the potential difficulties of such a masculine environment, she said that the army was “very, very supportive”. She told Wales Online: “ It is a great place for transgender personnel. They don’t care if you are LGBT, black or white, as long as you can do your job.” Winterbourne is now the Army’s transgender representative, which involves dealing with education and welfare, as well as helping with issues any trans soldiers may have. She is also a patron of Mermaid, a support group for children and teenagers with gender identity issues, as well as an ambassador for LGBT Sport Cymru. She told Wales Online: “A lot of inroads are being made with LGBT people breaking out into the mainstream. “I would say to someone reading this, ‘you are who you are and no amount of worrying or angst is going to change that so understand that who you are is absolutely fine. “Try to find someone you can confide in. “I want to show people what it looks like to be trans and happy.”
Alex Bertie is a trans YouTuber who has documented his experience of his transition since he was a teenager. Although just 20, Bertie has developed a strong following online with more than 150,000 subscribers and over nine million views on his channel TheRealAlexBertie. In his videos, Bertie describes various aspects of life as a transgender man, including medical appointments, relationships and coming out. He also provides helpful practical guides on his channel on topics such as buying chest binders, hair styling and coming out. As well as providing advice and support to young trans people, Bertie also gives tips to people who may have trans friends, family or colleagues, including how not to offend people and appropriate words to use. He told Ten Eighty magazine: “I’ve actually had a lot of parents talking to me. Like, parents have inboxed me on Facebook, which is so weird. They’re, like, older than my mum, and they’re open to talking about it, which is just amazing. They’re willing to reach out to young people, which I think is really, really cool. “Some people come to me with queries. They think their child might be going through what I’m going through, and they want to help them with that as much as possible. Other times, they’ve been directed by their kids to come and talk to me, or to watch my videos.” He added: “I think I do get a lot of positivity. More than I thought I’d get. Now and then, I do get the odd bit of confusion, or some hate, but that’s easily nipped in the bud just by information, just by education."
Roberta Francis, an underground queer poet, helped to set up London TAGS (Trans And Gender Non-Conforming Swimming) to give trans and non-binary identified people safe and positive space to enjoy swimming. After getting fed up with being misgendered by local leisure providers, Francis took the initiative and set up TAGS, working with Gendered Intelligence and in partnership with Lewisham Council. The sessions involve the private hire of a pool with both gender specific and gender neutral changing rooms available. Pool staff are also given training to ensure that gender issues are treated sensitively. Francis told Pink News: “I felt there was a big need for a swimming group in London to allow trans and gender non conforming people the opportunity to have access to a safe space. “Being able to swim is a basic right but for many trans people it can be really difficult because of how we are treated in the community as a whole.” She told xoJane that she knew that she was doing the right thing after the first session, She said: “The first night was wonderful. We got fantastic feedback from everyone who attended. The Fusion staff, reception, and lifeguards were helpful and friendly, which made everyone feel comfortable.” Francis is also determined to tackle discrimination in the classroom through her work as a supply teacher and has spoken out about the difficulties she has faced as a transgender person working in education.
Follow Dani Oliva on Twitter: www.twitter.com/olivaesq