No bathrooms, no masters
With the debate over inclusive public restrooms chimes on, solidarity and awareness of transgender struggles remain unnoticed.
February 26, 2017
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Inevitable is what comes to mind when I look on Trump’s administrative decision to rescind Title IX protections for transgender students in publicly funded schools. According to a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, the order will not affect California institutions already observing the protections; however, the action continues to fuel debates between allies and lawmakers regarding the subject of public toilet use.
The amount of support and allyship concerning the situation seems to be focused on the case of 17 year-old student, Gavin Grimm — who was provided a chance at the “national stage,” according to an article by The New York Times published last week. But while my heart is with Grimm and his efforts against the Virginia school district denying him rightful access to his restroom of choice, the problem is more expansive than bathroom discourse. The necessity of transgender visibility and solidarity is as in demand as ever, with 27 homicides against trans people in 2016, as reported in a January article by The Advocate.
Despite the fact that most people who agree on gender inclusive restrooms are self-aware enough to understand that this violence infringes on basic human rights, they continue to sensationalize transgender people — making them out to be idiosyncratic characters fueled by bravery and resilience. Ironic then, that the New York Time’s article cites Gavin’s “awkwardness,” and “twelve dollar Walmart sneakers” to illustrate his average nature, or typicalness. While the protection of trans students and kids is also crucial, there are damaging consequences as a result of normalizing identities.
The New York Times, for example, is committing serious erasure when they pose Grimm as the “new face of the transgender rights movement,” when there are many transgender activists currently at work: Janet Mock, Bamby Salcedo and countless others working in transgender fields of study.
This portrayal of a white, respectable transgender person is ever more exclusive, considering that the argument made in opposition to bathroom legislation is centered around the potential danger toward women by cross-dressing men. This is made evident in a report by NPR which discusses what North Carolina pastor Ron Baity deems threatening: “He [cross-dresser] could be there because he’s a sex pervert. He could be there to bring damage to a young girl.” As the report mentions, using “sexual predator” as a synonym for being transgender is further offensive and rooted in homophobic violence.
This argument also does not account for public harassment within restroom settings, which transgender people are at risk of themselves. NPR cites a study and survey done by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law – not only did the study find no connection between crime inclusive public restrooms, but found that of 93 people, 70 percent reported experiences of harassment in public restrooms.
The current case of Gavin Grimm vs. Gloucester County is an example of the problematic nature of transgender visibility. Despite evidence from organizations including Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Human Rights Campaign, there is a disconnect between the motive and the crime itself. This pattern of violence which transgender people face, especially transwomen of color is historically relevant, and points to the dangers of performed or perceived femininity, as controlled by colonial ideas of gender.
Individuals like Grimm are singled out, portrayed as heroes while the violent conditions within which they are opposing are not further criticized beyond the face of the situation. That the article also cites Laverne Cox for mentioning the Virginia teen during her Grammy speech, is further proof of the lack critical reflection when it comes to transgender identities.
Laverne Cox’s invocation of Grimm points to the level of genuine solidarity which she leads her life with. That Cox used her celebrity status to shed light on Grimm’s case is more evidence of her role as an activist. Yet, it takes a bombshell like herself to point to the public that transgender bathroom rights are about basic human rights, as illustrated in her comments to MSNBC last week.
Cox says, “When trans people can’t access public bathrooms, we can’t go to school effectively, go to work effectively, access health-care facilities — it’s about us existing in public space.” The access to public facilities is contingent to transgender visibility and the denial of existence through everyday situations–and anyone who identifies within the spectrum of transgender identities will tell you–bathrooms are just the beginning.
Beyond obvious obstacles like fashion and relationships, transgender people face a myriad of micro-aggressions on a daily basis. In my experience, college campuses are often bastions for cisnormative culture. Even with the inclusion of gender neutral bathrooms, or the ability to specify your gender identity, as CSULB recently provided, transgender students are left alienated and vulnerable.
Furthermore, my involvement with the queer studies department sheds light on the disproportionate amount of people who are informed on transgender activism and theory. Needless to say, there is a certain privilege in education; but we are all here on campus. Within the ranks of higher education, I’ve found that this privilege is less accessible for transgender people themselves. Closeted transgender and/or queer students would otherwise be outed by enrolling in these programs on campus, leaving them vulnerable to the wrath of potentially transphobic or homophobic parents.
Homophobia as an institution continues the perpetuation of transphobia, because people often conflate gender with sexuality. Either way, if observing transgender rights is as simple as understanding basic human needs, why are the single stalls accessible to me more often occupied by cisgender people with stage fright and a terrible case of the number twos?
Before anyone decries “cisphobia,” remember that transgender people die because people continue to read their gender in public and act on these feelings of transphobia. The acknowledgement of cisgender as an identity and entity within social infrastructure is necessary when there is such little solidarity and allyship for vulnerable transgender people. This is the difference; cisgender awareness is a survival tactic, transgender visibility leads to harm, sexual assault, murder. As cited in a recent Huffington Post article, a 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities reports that “transgender and gender non-conforming students experienced greater rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking than any other campus group.” Yet, those in opposition of bathroom bills cite the potential of predatory violence.
Trump and his administration might be a bunch of hypocritical bullies, but I stand that until people are aware of the ways that they are complicit in transphobia, until people are willing to be critical of themselves and the media they consume — transgender and gender non-conforming folx will not be genuinely represented or properly cared for. The legacy of institutionalization carries on like a super-virus evolving with new-liberal standards.