In the wake of the death of Houston’s Human Rights Ordinance (HERO) – for a little background on HERO and it’s demise click here – lots of people have been talking about trans folx and public bathrooms. Essentially what happened is a bunch of religious bigots successfully advocated the repeal of HERO because they don’t think trans or genderqueer folx should be able to pee in whatever public bathroom they feel most comfortable. They seem to think that, because they base their transphobia on their religion, they get to impose their transphobic beliefs on other people in public spaces. Yes, this is ridiculous as it sounds. And yes, it’s incredibly sad these people were successful in killing an ordinance that extended protections in housing, employment, and public facilities to people of all sexual and gender identities just because they wanted to control where trans and genderqueer folx pee, take a shit, fix their hair, or make an offering to the porcelain god after pounding one too many jager bombs (drinks may vary, end result does not).
People have since found various ways to ridicule this mentality. Some trans folx are posting selfies on social media of them using the [legally] “correct” bathroom to document the awkwardness of having to use a bathroom they don’t really belong in. Example: Michael Hughes, a trans man, has been posting his uncomfortable-for-everyone-involved visits to the women’s bathroom.
Along the same lines, Kelly Lauren, a trans women, posted a picture of herself dressed to the nine in a men’s bathroom with the caption, “Houston, do you REALLY want me in the same restroom as your husband or boyfriend?”
While such mockery does highlight the lack of logic behind movements to prevent trans and genderqueer folx from using the bathroom they want, it also makes light of the situation. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good mocking of bigoted ideology, and comedy is a great method of social critique. However, only focusing on the absurdity of these transphobic views about bathroom usage ignores the very real threat trans and genderqueer folx face when they are forced into unsafe places, like the wrong – excuse me, “correct,” – bathroom.
Trans women and feminine-presenting genderqueer folx are especially at risk for harassment and abuse in all situations, even public ones. According to a 2012 NCAVP report, 53% of anti LGBTQIA+ homicides were of trans women (Giovanniello, 2013). While homicide may be the most extreme form of violence, trans women and feminine-presenting genderqueer folx experience disproportionately high rates of violence and abuse in general, including sexual assault. (Please note: I understand other groups, like disabled folx and people of colour, also experience high rates of violence; I’m just talking about trans and genderqueer folx right now.) If you don’t believe the threat of violence to trans women and feminine-presenting genderqueer folx is extremely high, please read this Mother Jones article here, titled “It’s Incredibly Scary to Be a Transgender Woman of Color Right Now,” or check out Google here, and do a little research of your own.
And who are the most likely perpetrators of this violence? (If you don’t know the answer, you should probably stop reading and go educate yourself.) Those in power. And what large group of people holds the majority of power in our society? Cis men. (Not all cis men! I’m a cis man and I’ve never killed a trans woman! There, I’ve said it for you, now shut up with the #notallmen-style comments.) Tans women and feminine-presenting genderqueer folx in Houston are being forced into confined spaces full of cis male strangers. Spaces which, despite the name, are not very public. Spaces people typically enter alone. Spaces that are often at the back of the bar or store – away from witnesses. Spaces that are unavoidable. Spaces that everyone should be able to use safely and comfortably.
So, yes, it is laughably absurd that some people think those with particular gender identities should not be able to pee where they feel comfortable. And yes, it is disheartening to see hate extend to even the damn toilet. But the more pressing issue here is safety. Forcing trans women and feminine-presenting genderqueer folx into a rather secluded space with people who, statistically, may very well pose a serious threat makes the otherwise routine act of taking a piss a risky endeavor. Repealing HERO is dangerous for the trans and genderqueer people of Houston. And those who repealed it are callous toward that danger.
If you would like to do something to make a difference for trans and genderqueer folx being forced into potentially dangerous situations every time they need to pee, take part in the #I’llGoWithYou project. For more information on it, click here.
- Giovanniello, Sarah, “NCAVP report: 2012 hate violence disproportionately targets transgender women of colour,” GLAAD.org, 2013, http://www.glaad.org/blog/ncavp-report-2012-hate-violence-disproportionately-target-transgender-women-color