The ladies room made me a better woman.
Emerging as transgender always means leaving the peer group you were assigned to at birth, in some way or other. It means moving into no-man’s/no woman’s land and heading towards a new destination, a new way of being in the world.
Isolated loners don’t contribute much to community. Humans contribute when they are part of a group, part of a team, a village, a family, a corporation, a network.
Belonging to a group keeps us grounded, balanced and healthy, aware and considerate of the needs, desires and preferences of people around us.
Leaving manhood (or womanhood) is one thing and for some transpeople, that’s all they want to do. For many of us, though, we have the hope to enter womanhood (or manhood) and that becomes the difficult part, trying to find a way to be gracious, respectful, safe and also become one of the group.
Opening the space for transpeople to become new, to take on a communal identity, is a key part of welcoming transpeople to society, bringing them back into the fold, to both keep them socialized and to get the best from the special gifts they have to offer.
Our allies are not the people who want to keep us pinned in the fiction of binaries or even the ones who want to cut us a little slack. Our allies are the people who affirm the possibilities which are nascent in us but have not yet bloomed. Our allies are the people who trust in our futures, beyond the current limits placed onto us.
For many of us, the barrier between who we were and who we can be is the door of the ladies room.
When we resist entering the ladies room, instead seeking solitary loos or ducking the social interaction women actually have in that reserved space, we resist entering womanhood.
This is, of course, exactly what many of those who dismiss, reject or mock trans want to happen. They want the barriers separating gender roles to be maintained and strengthened, want to maintain the levels of fear which perpetuate the divide that comforts them. Others want to resist gender itself, believing that gender serves no useful purpose, only oppression, so it needs to be resisted at all costs.
Does that resistance, though, serve transpeople as individuals or society in as a whole? Does keeping transpeople skittish, afraid and marginalized make life safer other people? Or does it deny contributions that human cultures in other places and other times have valued, creating instead hurting and stressed people across the gender spectrum?
Integration of transpeople in a more nuanced, more considered, less binary and less heterosexist gender system is the start of making considered gender serve the possibilities of people instead of making compulsory gender, based on simple biology, constrain people into limiting roles. Our smelly bits are the bits that define us, as these fundamentalists would say, not the bits that drive our choices, be they smelly or transcendent.
A transwoman who doesn’t feel entitled to use the woman’s room, who resists using that space, will also resist entering other women’s spaces. They won’t easily enter men’s spaces, either, so they will be alienated from and denied use of any gendered spaces.
They also be will be alienated from and denied use of any gendered standing. This denies a key component of society to them, but it also denies society any components that the transperson may be able to bring to all of us understanding and effectiveness of social institutions and forces.
In very simple and very personal ways, the way we resist being inside gender, except by concealment, harms not only the individual but also the group of gendered people. Resistance becomes a lose/lose situation, separating the power of diverse views from the the forces that grow, heal and modernize the community.
When we can get past resisting including transpeople who identify as women in the world of women, from access to the women’s room to access to women’s discussions, we can both bring transwomen into the fold of women and bring women into an understanding of gender beyond simple binary heterosexist thought.
That resistance is on both sides, of course. Many transpeople with a feminine heart don’t want to make that step into the world of women, fearing loss and erasure in the process, and many gender fundamentalists want to resist that step, fearing loss and change in the process. That resistance itself may be invisible to people who simply take binary separation for granted, not seeing how they shape and limit the worldview we can possess.
For transwomen who have stopped resisting entering the women’s room, stopped keeping their heads down and working to stay concealed, the understanding, growth and healing they have found from being plugged into the network of women is real and awesome. From the smallest sharing of views to the biggest affirmation of connection, coming in from the cold allows them to release pain and fear, allows the women around them to understand a bigger, broader world.
In my inner life, I have worked hard to enter women’s space, to gain understanding. In my outer life, though, I have resisted entering that space our of a fear of being attacked as a colonizing and intrusive force. Understanding I have, but being outstanding escapes me, a smart fly on the wall, but not a force in the conversation.
Open access to the ladies room creates better women, training them in the rules and rituals, giving them ownership to protect the special space from danger, and allowing them to share their special gifts to lift and care for all other women. This is true not only of sanitary spaces, but of women’s spaces in a wider way. As long as they need to identify as women to enter, strengthening and deepening that identification only makes transwomen better partners and more invested in valuing and protecting shared womanhood.
Keeping transwomen out of the women’s room only keeps them hurt, marginalized and angry while maintaining the notion that the most important part about women is what is between their legs, not the bits inside of them that drive their choices.
Only women can teach women to be women, offering shared values and understandings. I grew as a woman by watching other women close up, and I know that my continuing growth as a woman is directly related to participating with women as one of them and not as some kind of interloper or freak.
If you want transwomen to be better women, they need to be inside the tent. Keeping them outside just leaves them as a force for fear and revolution. Isn’t helping make them a force for love and growth a much better plan?