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Having spent several joyous days in the land of gender neutral bathrooms (a.k.a. Creating Change in Chicago), I am even more astounded than ever by the fear-based, hate-driven and incredibly stupid bathroom wars continually waged against the LGBTQ community. It is incredible that we as a society, here in 2016, are more concerned about where we pee than creating safe communities.
Remember those first bathrooms we encounter as a child – when you had to go, you had to go, and the only impediment was that family member taking a bit too much time while you were dancing about in the hallway. There was time for play and bonding in the bathroom. I can remember washing both of my parents’ hair, making crazy styles out of the bubbles from the shampoo like they had with me and I later did with my son. I can remember heart-to-heart conversations with my mom sitting on the toilet stool while she bathed and her lectures to me while sitting on the same toilet stool as I showered trying to get my head together after a night of partying. I can remember sharing secrets with friends in the school bathroom. And let’s not forget those “meetings in the ladies’ room”!
But I also remember being told of the boogie man in the bathroom; being told not to go by myself and to be on the lookout for scary people. And it wasn’t just for little girls – I remember my brother begging to go to the boy’s bathroom and not to be dragged into the ladies’ room with my mom or my sister. Something just wasn’t safe.
Then there were the stories of segregated bathrooms under Jim Crow Laws and racial segregation. These laws meant that black people were legally required to use public bathrooms marked “for colored only.” Stories about living under Jim Crow, driving past gas station rest stops to find a “colored” bathroom – even a field – to relieve oneself, were a reality for my grandparents and a part of the family history.
Even being born and raised in Michigan didn’t spare my mother from bathroom harassment. Her entry into the work force at a factory exposed her to separate but unequal facilities and sexual harassment around normal human bodily functions by her male coworkers. As much as we want to believe that bathrooms are just public facilities, we have to recognize that sometimes they are not safe spaces. And it is these fears that hate mongers prey upon and use as fodder to demonize anyone perceived as the other – whether it is African-Americans, gays, trans folks, immigrants, you name it.
Individuals who cling to the belief of gender-segregated bathrooms claim they are protecting us from predators while upholding some outdated paternalistic viewpoint. They believe that some of us need protection – protection from “the other” breaking down barriers of their status quo, challenging their belief systems and perceptions.
While reading trans activist Willie Wilkinson’s book, “Born On The Edge of Race & Gender: A Voice For Cultural Competency,” I was tickled by his account of the baby shower where his mother had done the “ring test.” Friends hung her wedding ring on a piece of string and held it over her pregnant belly. The ring swung like a pendulum and the results indicated she was having a boy. At birth the doctor looked between the child’s legs and announced a girl, but the ring’s prediction had actually been correct – Wilkinson was just born into the wrong package.
I was tickled because I had recently attended a lesbian shower and they did the same thing – using the “ring test” as a back up to the sonogram photo. Maybe instead of worrying about gender, we should be concerned about healthy children and a safer world.
You see I am concerned about safety – safety for our elders; safety in all our communities; safety in our schools; safety for my trans sisters and brothers to simply live their authentic lives; safety for immigrants from false rhetoric and illegal detention; safety from gun violence; and safety from our drinking water. I want to live in a safer world – period! But we will not have a safer world by standing on the necks of others. One of the great things about this year’s Creating Change Conference was the opportunity to interact with and observe guests at the hotel from outside the LGBTQ community. Best overheard comment from an over-50, heterosexual woman to her husband: “Gender neutral bathrooms make sense. There’s always a line for the ladies’ room. I just went in and peed.”
Gender-neutral bathrooms work! Now let’s get busy fighting the real issues by building a truly safer world.