16 February 2013

It's About The Bathrooms, Again

When I was in school, I very rarely went to the bathroom.  That wasn't because I ate an unusual diet or had extraordinary self-control.  Rather, I was just too damned scared to use the boys' bathrooms. To me, they were the most dangerous parts of the school:  If I were harassed or beaten, there would be nobody to stop it.  

In elementary school, all of the teachers were female.  In high school, we had some male teachers, and most of the security guards were men, but their bathrooms were separate from the students'.    

I was always a target for bullies because I was considered a "sissy" or "girly" boy.  In fact, some--and, I would later learn, a couple of teachers--actually referred to me as a "girl".  Ironically, they were right, but in school that put me in danger.   After I started to work out and play sports, the school thugs no longer punched me in the face in the hallway or body-slammed me into lockers.  However, the bathrooms were like black holes:  Kids quite literally disappeared into them.

If it was so dangerous for me even though I was a fairly athletic teenager, I can only imagine what it would have been like had I been living and dressing as a girl, or even if I'd been more androgynous than I was.  

Even after I left school, male-only bathrooms terrified me.  Whenever I had to use a toilet while away from home, I sought out bathrooms that weren't gender-specific.  That meant going to a pizzeria, coffee shop or store that had a single bathroom or toilet stall for all customers.  Even the filthiest, smelliest ones didn't frighten and repulse me as much as male-only facilities.

I think of those experiences whenever any government or other institutions is crafting transgender-inclusive policies, or at least rules that don't discriminate.  It seems that most people don't object until it comes to the part about bathrooms.  That is where people's acceptance of diversity in gender identity and expression stops.  People who were all for equal rights adopt "boys are boys and girls are girls" attitudes that could make any fundamentalist preacher seem like the director of PFLAG.  

Not surprisingly, that's happening in Massachusetts right now.  The Bay State's Department of Education has just issued a list of directives for handling transgender students so that schools are in compliance with the 2011 anti-discrimination law to protect transgender people.  Included are policies that allow students to use bathrooms or play on the sports teams designated for the gender by which they identify.  

While resistance to these policies has been, perhaps, not as strong as opposition to similar policies in other parts of the nation, it has been not only present, but almost entirely predictable. 

How predictable?  It uses the same trite and misinformed arguments as other objections to such policies.  Here's another maddening similarity:  the name of the group leading the opposition.  In this case, it's the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Why is it that so many transphobic and homophobic groups have the word "family" in their names?   My cynical self says it's a smokescreen.  However, people who oppose the kinds of policies adopted in Massachusetts almost always are sincere in the belief that they support "families"--or, at least, their concept of them.  They usually make voice their objections in religious terms: "The Family" is, in their view, based on differences in gender that are ordained by God.

However, I cannot understand how anyone can purport to be advocates of families or "The Family" if they are not concerned with the safety and well-being of children.   Trans kids need to be in an environment where they can learn without unwarranted threats to their physical beings and emotional health.  In that sense, as in many others, they are exactly like all other kids.  

I can understand the discomfort some might feel over someone they perceive to be of the "other" gender in their bathrooms.   Most of us feel the need for privacy as we take care of our needs.  Most school bathrooms provide that, at least to some degree:  The ones I've seen all have stalls.  (When I was living as a male and using men's bathrooms, I used the stalls even if I had only to urinate:  I didn't want to stand alongside other men at the urinals!)  Others are worried about the potential for rape and harassment.  I have looked long and hard, and I have yet to find any report of a male-to-female transgender of any age harassing a woman in a bathroom.  We don't go to bathrooms for that reason; still, we are conflated with "peeping Toms" and pedophiles.  

I have found that most people understand what I've just described if it's explained to them, and they actually get to know a trans person or two.  On the other hand, those who belong to "Family" organizations seem to cling to their phobias, no matter what facts are presented to them.