Bathroom Politics

public-restroomsEveryone needs them, which may be why they have been the site of so many pitched political battles:  bathrooms.

Interestingly, the battles usually revolve around “safety.”  When some people wanted human races kept separate, they argued that blacks and whites had different germs and/or hygiene practices, and that having them use the same facilities would lead to the spread of disease.  Now the argument for segregation seems to revolve around women’s “safety,” which apparently is assured by never, ever allowing an adult male to use the same facilities.

Any segregation, of course, involves formal and/or informal policing, and the forced assignment of people into distinctly separate categories.  That’s why the simple right of transgender people to pee in facilities built specifically for that purpose has so often been challenged or denied: if men have to be kept out of women’s bathrooms, then we have to determine who a man is.  Apparently, that cannot be decided by the person him- or herself; instead, something else — a body part, a government identity document, manner of dress or appearance — is the determinant.  Or so the lawsuits, arrests, and civilian bathroom-rules-enforcers insist.

As society battles out these issues over who is safe and who isn’t and who is allowed to “go” where, though, real casualties mount.  Actual people get hurt.  A new study recently released by The Williams Institute begins to quantify the damage: it reports that in a survey of transgender and gender non-conforming people in Washington, D.C., 70% reported having been denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms.  The damage didn’t stop there: many of these victims reported negative ramifications of bathroom denial or abuse on their education, their employment, their health, and their participation in public life.  You can read more about it at http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Herman-Gendered-Restrooms-and-Minority-Stress-June-2013.pdf

 

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