The Bathroom Lie

The women’s room is only for people like you.   That’s why you can feel safe in there, knowing that it is limited to “us,” while “they” are kept out by tradition and law.

That’s a big lie, of course.   The people who use women’s rooms, even legally, are quite a diverse bunch.

Ex-convicts can use the women’s room, alongside of the Amish.   Nuns use the women’s room, the same as sex workers do.  People from every country in the world, raised in every culture, use the women’s room.   Some have endured genital mutilation and others like nothing more than a quick knee-trembler with a good looking guy.

Women who lust after other women use the women’s room, right next to fundamentalist Christians.  Masculine hearted butches use the women’s room, and even some people who know themselves to be men but are passing as women.

Just because you use the women’s room doesn’t mean you are in a stall next to someone like you, even in places where only people assigned as female or soon after use that facility.    The range of possibility in gender, culture, experience, desire and behaviour just in the population of assigned female people is huge.

I remember when the partner of a transwoman asked me if it was true that a transsexual had used the showers at Michigan Womyns Music Festival.   She was distressed, thinking that was going too far, being too in your face, even for a protest about their “woman born woman” rule.

I checked and had to report that yes, it was true, a transsexual had used the communal showers.   The transsexual, though, was Tonye Bareto-Neto, born female and then working as a trans man in a county sheriff’s office.  According to the rules, birth sex defined you, so he took a shower.    The partner was relieved, though, that it hadn’t been a man in a dress in there.

The notion that women’s rooms should feel safe because there are only people like us in there is a lie that the normative want to believe.    They think people “like us” are safe, even though most sexual abuse comes from normative appearing people, often friends of the family or even those in positions of authority.

Sure, the women’s room at church may only include people who go to your church, self-selected for willingness to be one of the gang, but once you step out of those kind of homogeneous settings, into the workplace or the mall or the airport, diversity is the only constant.

The people who use the women’s room come together under a kind of social compact, one that lets all users understand appropriate behaviour, following the rules and keeping each other safe & comfortable.   The wide range of diverse people in there, from the aged woman to the little girl to the intersex person are just trying to do their business, be appropriately sociable and keep the place nice.

I remember a time when a transwoman was hounded out of a local library by a butch security guard because she was reported as using the women’s room.   A local talk radio guy chose to take a angry press release written by a trans activist and make a fuss, complaining about “hoo-haa’s” in the ladies room.

Everyone agreed, though, that the only place this transwomans genitals had been exposed is inside of the toilet stall.   Any women who saw them must have been invading her privacy, deliberately peering through the cracks in the partitions.

Who has broken the rules of conduct more here, creating more unsafe conditions, the transwoman who needed to pee or the trouble making intruders who feel entitled to spy on others?

It may be comforting to think that the people in the women’s room are there because they are just like us, to believe that people like them are barred at the door.   That’s a lie, though.   The women’s room is full of diversity.

What women share in that room is a commitment to safety and decorum.  Anyone who violates that is a problem, whatever their history and biology, be that spying, policing, or any other kind of intrusive and unsafe behaviour.

Laws that say biology is more important than gender, that we are our holes, may seem to help enforce that lie that the women’s room is only for people like us, but they miss the whole range of real and robust diversity that really exists in women’s rooms already.

If you are scared to use a public facility where people who are not like you might be sitting next to you, even through a partition wall, then maybe using public facilities is just not for people as closed minded as you are.

All kinds of women with all kinds of biology, all kinds of history, all kinds of desire and all kinds of preferences already use the women’s room.   They are all like you, yes, but mostly because they identity as women, making the choices of a woman in the world, and not because they share your heritage, beliefs, fears or politics.

Enforcing decorum and proper behaviour in the women’s room is good and right.  No female should be able to take exploitative videos in there, for example.

Enforcing purity in the women’s room, though, is trying to keep a lie going, the lie that only people like you deserve what you have.

America is a big, pluralistic society committed to personal freedoms.   And every public women’s room already follows those same guidelines.

Everyone, you see, gets to pee.  Hurray!

In Visibility

I have seen a few posts responding to Trans Day Of Visibility with the idea that somehow, visibility is just too dangerous for transpeople and we are crazy to pursue it.   I responded to one such post:

Any reason that we stay invisible will be sufficient for those who want to use fear to silence and erase us.  They don't long for a day when transpeople didn't exist, instead they long for the good old days when transpeople stayed in the closet where they belong, keeping the culture "sanitized" on the back of our denial, dehumanizing us through the power of our internalized shame.

Transpeople share the experience of being shamed into the closet, into severe self policing to keep the “bad” parts of themselves hidden from the world. Even when we emerge and are presenting as the gender associated with our trans heart, we still feel the need to self-police, keeping our history in the closet so people won’t use it to hurt us.  For transpeople, the political is personal; our emotional healing is the only way we can help the world heal around separations that run though hearts. Healing ourselves is where trans liberation always has to start, and that means making what is inside us visible, first to ourselves and then to the community.

Being visible in the world is being vulnerable in the world, yes.   But as Brené Brown speaks about in her shame work, being vulnerable is the only way to have people love you.   It is the only way to show your heart, only way to find emotional connection with others who see and respond to your naked humanity.

Vulnerability demands prudence, of course, because simple expressions of our truth, like refusing to pee in the bushes, have been politicized by those who gain from spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt in the population.    Hiding, though, is not a strategy that is tenable in the long run, because we are who we are and the truth will out.   That's why we have to out ourselves on our own terms and in our own way all the time.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
	-- Pastor Martin Niemöller

Your silence or invisibility will not protect you.  Your bonds with others in society are the only things which can do that.   The current bills not only spread fear but they also spread indignation by those who see them as cruel assaults of human freedoms.   They activate not only those who hate us, but also those who love us, or at least love the idea of freedom.

Finding our own centre, our own peace, our own beauty past the internalized heterosexism and transphobia is the basis of healing ourselves in the world. Healing ourselves in the world is the basis of creating healing in the world, of helping people past their own internalized gender policing, into a world where we value the contents of other people’s hearts much more than we do the shape of their genitals.  Nothing heals in the dark, dank shadows, though; sunlight is said to be one of the best disinfectants.

We need to be visible so people will include us, not marginalize us.   Does this vulnerability mean we have to take all the emotions people have?  Yes.   The only way to do it is to believe, really believe that in the end, love always wins, no matter the bumps along the way.

Invisibility is where we came from.   Out is what we claim.  That out comes with a cost demanded by retrograde reactionaries who want to keep us dehumanized.  But it also comes with the humanizing joys of vulnerability beyond shame.  

Letting haters scare us back into the closet by their threats is succumbing to shame.  And that is not a place I want to be.

Sacred Rites

Whenever two or three are gathered. . .

There are times when I feel the need to invoke the sacred, to call and respond, offering and receiving, connecting with a higher power.

For me, the one of the most important and most difficult things is learning to let go and trust in a power, a process, a force outside myself.

Inside of myself, I tend to assume that the future will look like my past, assume that the worst possibilities I can imagine will come to pass.

Rationally, I know that this isn’t true, that other forces are in play, that balance will happen, that surprises occur, that my worst fears are not the template for what is going to happen, but like so many other humans, wrapping my heart around that belief is very hard.

It is trusting those other forces that is so hard for me.   Other people bring kindness, curiosity, wisdom, grace and delight to the table, powerful energy that is beyond reactionary fear, and in that humanity, I need to trust.   As much as I know that the worst is never as bad as you expect it to be and the best always is in the unexpected, knowing that and trusting that are different things.

Maybe this is why we were told to gather; as individuals we can be myopic and lost in our own dread, but together, we see the light in each other, the compassion we share coming out as we reach out and care for each other.

Somehow it is always easier to see the best in others than it is to see and feel the good and magical inside of us.   We know where we hurt, where we are broken, but they see where we are amazing and beautiful.

The mirroring that occurs when we come together and affirm the power that moves through and connects all of us is transformative.  We see ourselves and our choices in a new light, not just through our eyes but in the context of others who acknowledge the best in us, the best in every individual, the best in continuous common humanity.

Humans have figured out many ways to gain context in their lives, from elaborate rituals which connect us to our ancestors to simply sharing meals together.  They all give us perspective, letting us feel supported and connected in the face of what can seem like a cruel and cold world.

It is when we are seen, understood and valued for our unique contributions to the group that we are mirrored, given permission to feel our own feelings and own our own knowledge.

When we feel like large parts of us have to stay hidden, are seen as problems rather than gifts, that mirroring isn’t really effective.  No matter how much people love our potato salad, if they resist affirming the heart that made it, we still feel cold, isolated, still are left expecting another hit.

I need the kind of sacred ritual which helps me get out of my past, out of my fears and instead helps me feel the possibility that my emergence can be valued and celebrated rather than dismissed with disgust.

Is the space in the holiest to celebrate the cuteness and beauty of even a decrepit, aged transperson with a big solid frame?   Maybe, but I certainly have found it very, very difficult to find.

It is hard to call in the transcendent by yourself, as mired as we are in our own shit.   That’s why we were told to come together to see beyond our own fears and into the possibilities that love can produce in the world.

I know that divine surprises exist for me in the world, gifts of being seen, being affirmed, being valued, being treated with maturity, dignity and compassion.

I know it, but I need to believe it, believe it so my own history, imagination and fear don’t suck me down into staying small and hiding in the darkness.

A sacred rite where people come together to cleanse each other, helping us lift our eyes to new possibilities and affirming that being open to the divine and surprising gifts which exist for each of us, turning the scared into the sacred, would be nice.

And by nice, I mean lifesaving.