Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Headline Fail, and Bathrooms...Again

A friend sent me this link to an article entitled Sex change woman 'humiliated' at Rama. It's hard to even know where to begin sometimes. "Sex change woman"? Really? And humiliated has to be in scare quotes? Because when transgendered people are targeted by security while peacefully using the restroom, have their identity questioned, and then are escorted out of the building by 4 security guards, they're only "allegedly" humiliated, and not actually humiliated like a cis person would be? Come now.

This story is the latest in a string of events that have brought the bathroom issue back to the forefront. There's a long history of using public restrooms as a battleground. Currently, the specter of "men in the women's room" is the tool of choice for anti-trans conservatives who are opposing legislation that would protect people's access to public facilities (among other things) on the basis of gender identity. By refusing to acknowledge the self-identification of trans people, and by portraying them as perverts and predators, they divert our attention from the real issue and the actual situation in question. And this is not a new tactic. The esteemed Phyllis Schlafly and her cohorts used the whole men-in-the-women's-bathrooms shtick to bring about widespread panic and defeat the ERA back in the day. Same story, different bigoted cause.

Of course, this history of using public restrooms as a social positioning and stigmatizing tool goes way back before the ERA fight. When I was in fifth grade my friend W (who's black) and I went to visit her grandma for a week. She told us a story that impressed me in a way that no other talk about racism and diversity had ever done. She said when she was a child she rode across country with her mother on the train to go visit relatives. At many of the train stops the restrooms were restricted to whites only, forcing the black passengers to go find somewhere to pee outdoors. Not only was this humiliating and inconvenient, but it reinforced this idea that whites are cultured and sophisticated while blacks are dirty and crude. Bigoted people have understood for generations that dictating who has access to a public restroom is a powerful way to establish who is valuable and legitimate and human and who is not. These subtle but powerful messages are internalized by both the oppressor and the oppressed and profoundly informs their views. So the next time you hear someone whining about allowing men in the women's room, imagine having to leave the train station and hike out into the field and find some bush to pee behind, and remember that the reason we don't have the ERA amendment today is precisely because of this kind of bullshit.


1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I'm finding the whole bathroom conversation to be too depressing to engage in. There's just so much relentless willful ignorance on this topic. I scanned through the comments on that thread on Feministing and didn't comment because it's just the same old crap all over again.