Understanding Bathrooms

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

You open the door, everything about your instincts tells you not to enter the room. A wave of anxiety hits you and you shudder as it comes. You feel insulted- no, betrayed- no, broken. Why is this happening? You know that you do not deserve to feel this way everyday. You have just been given a very short glimpse into the experience of a trans student every time they have to enter the wrong bathroom. With this in mind, transgender students should be given access to the bathroom which aligns with their respective gender.

For starters, what is a transgender person? Are transgender people really the gender they label themselves as? Well, a transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not align with the gender which they were assigned at birth. To fully comprehend the meaning of this, it is useful to differentiate between sex and gender. “Gender” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “Either of the two sexes (male and female), especially when considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones. The term is also used more broadly to denote a range of identities that do not correspond to established ideas of male and female.” The important difference to be noted here is that the word gender is used in reference to an identity whereas sex is a word referring to how a person’s body is physically structured. There are some misconceptions surrounding what transgender people experience in their lives. For instance, A trans person’s gender does not “change” and they were not “born a different gender.” Rather, their sex as assigned at birth does not match their gender. Along with this, generally, people are socially defined by their gender rather than sex. For example, a trans person will often use the pronoun (he or she or they) which refers to their gender rather than their sex, as their identity is more important than which body parts they were born with when involved in a social interaction. All of this information is important, because it is necessary to fully comprehend that trans people are not people who simply “chose to change their gender” as many people seem to believe at the moment. A trans person’s gender is valid and not optional.

Another key element to this situation, beyond a basis-level understanding of the validity of trans people, is the mental burden. One contributing factor to this is gender dysphoria: a feeling of negativity, discomfort, and anxiety experienced when a transgender person is either directly or indirectly misgendered. This feeling was anecdotally described previously, however, words can only barely scrape the surface of what it feels like to genuinely experience gender dysphoria. While gender dysphoria on its own is to be expected from trans people, what may be unexpected are the mood disorders that follow. One study found that “transgender youth were found to have an elevated risk of being diagnosed with depression (50.6% vs. 20.6%); suffer from anxiety (26.7% vs. 10%); had attempted suicide (17.2% vs. 6.1%); and had engaged in self-harming activities without lethal intent (16.7% vs. 4.4%).” (harvard.edu) Well, why is this? It could result from a number of contributing factors. As mentioned prior, for some, the burden of gender dysphoria may be too much to handle, causing mood disorders on its own. For others, it could be the societal burden being placed onto their shoulders. Being trans in today’s world certainly is not easy. Along with this, domestic troubles as a result of being trans are likely, as many families are quick to turn away a child who is brave enough to come out as trans. The most probable explanation as to why trans youth are at such a high risk of developing a mood disorder is probably a combination of the factors listed above. Almost all trans people will face some form of negativity from their home, and the societal backlash is inevitable. Why is this important? Well, it is important to understand that the harsher the burden is on trans people, the higher the depression and suicide rates will get. A source of gender dysphoria which many people do not consider is bathrooms.

Per recent Title IX changes, trans students are no longer allowed into the bathroom which corresponds with their gender. The ideology behind these changes is to “protect children,” as many people believe that if there were no restrictions through Title IX, then people would frequently walk into the “wrong bathroom” say they are trans, then assault people. This is an unreasonable assumption for a number of reasons. For starters, if the problem is sexual assault, why are cis gay people not banned from bathrooms? They pose just as much of a hypothetical risk to children as trans people do- if not more. Statistics show that there are 5.5 times more cis gay people than trans people, so unless the implication is that a trans person has a naturally higher likelihood of being a sexual assaulter than a cis gay person (which is not the case), sexual assault cannot be the sole reason for the targeting of trans individuals under this restriction. Well, then some people who support the restriction would make the argument that it is not the trans people themselves at fault here. Rather, it is the people who would pretend to be trans to get away with assault. Well, thinking logically, this is the first time that Title IX has contained this restriction. In all of the years that trans people were allowed into the proper bathroom, has anybody ever attempted to sneak into the incorrect bathroom claiming to be trans? Nope. Not one. This is an insane hypothetical. It is illogical to fight an evil which does not exist.

Well, if the two arguments for removing trans students from bathrooms are invalid, then what is the purpose behind these restrictions? It’s simple really. Current politicians do not want trans people to easily fit into public spaces. Consider this: it is more than likely that our current political leaders in the USA have the end goal of having all bathrooms be separated based on the sex one was assigned at birth rather than gender. If this were to happen, trans people would not be able to exist in public spaces. How would a trans person be able to walk around in public if they cannot use the bathroom? Many would argue that restrictions like these would not ban trans people from using the bathroom, rather, the trans people would just have to use the bathroom which matches their sex as assigned at birth. The issue with that is, it causes more problems than it solves. For one thing, trans people who are “stealth” would be forced to publicly reveal that they are trans. This would undoubtedly cause a lot of the aforementioned societal backlash (possibly leading to assault against the trans individual in extreme cases). Another issue would be the gender dysphoria associated with having to misgender themself while walking into a bathroom which does not correspond to their gender. The painful experience of having to use the wrong bathroom daily could only have two outcomes. Either the trans person’s likelihood of attempting suicide increases from the constant dysphoria, or the person is forced to back out of public spaces, since bathrooms are a biological necessity, and there would no way to avoid walking into the incorrect one.

That is what these restrictions would result in, and politicians know it. They are purposefully putting barriers up to stop trans rights advancements. If that were not true, why would the Education Department stop accepting complaints about bathroom access? They must have read letters written very similarly to this one, with very similar information. Measures like these are very common against civil rights movements on the rise. However, as many know, civil rights will always prevail! Contact your congress people. Make sure it’s heard that these restrictions, while sounding respectable on surface level, are unjust excuses to discriminate. If you run a school or are managing a building, designate public unisex bathrooms, so that trans people do not have to face the external and internal judgement due to the bathroom they walked into. Once again, just take action in any way you can. Every voice matters. Trans rights are on the rise, and it’s now or never.

“Between the (Gender) Lines: the Science of Transgender Identity.” Science in the News, 10 Aug. 2017, sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/.

Ciccarelli, Saundra K., and J. Noland. White. Psychology: DSM 5. Pearson, 2014.

Dennis, Riley J. The Problem with Anti-Trans Bathroom Bills. YouTube, Everydayfeminism, 18 Jan. 2018, youtu.be/G7neO12fMYo.

Dreger, Alice. “Why Gender Dysphoria Should No Longer Be Considered a Medical Disorder.” Pacific Standard, 18 Oct. 2013, psmag.com/social-justice/take-gender-identity-disorder-dsm-68308.

“Gender.” Oxford English Dictionary.

“GLAAD Media Reference Guide — Transgender.” GLAAD, 19 Apr. 2017, www.glaad.org/reference/transgender.

Kastanis, Angeliki, et al. “LGBT Data and Demographics.” Williams Institute, williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/visualization/lgbt-stats/?topic=LGBT#density.

Kuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. Walker Books and Subsidiaries, 2016.

“Transgender.” Oxford English Dictionary.

“Transgender Rights.” Performance by John Oliver, YouTube, HBO, www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmoAX9f6MOc.

“Transgender Youth at Risk for Depression, Suicide.” News, 14 Jan. 2015, www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/transgender-youth-at-risk-for-depression-suicide/.

What Is Gender Dysphoria?, www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria.

“When You Don’t Feel at Home With Your Gender.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/mental-health/gender-dysphoria.

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Megan Jordan

writing about my interests, LGBTQ+ liberation, feminism, racial justice, and more