Saturday, November 03, 2007

Free to Pee

I was reading the latest copy of JustOut, Portland's only queer rag. There was an article about bathroom safety for transgendered folks that I feel is important to think about. In the piece a person was asked to leave the women's restroom and when an attempt was made to use the men's in a different store this person was told s/he was in the wrong room. Though I have not personally experienced this kind of harassment I've had plenty of lovers who have. No they were not trans per se, but each woman who expressed her gender towards the masculine had a bathroom story to tell me. And there was always pain in those stories.

It's easy to take some things for granted. Just like a number of whites (not all mind you) don't understand their own set of privileges based on their skin tone, people who don't express their gender according to what general society considers correct (ie. you're born with a cock so don't wear skirts, you're born looking female but better not dislike wearings skirts) have to struggle with oppression in the forms of harassment, threats and even violence. And often the most commonly shared experience of this kind of prejudice is in the bathroom.

Junior high was a terribly awkward time for me & most folks. I remember my own prejudice then against those who didn't conform to "proper" gender expression. I was afraid the girl who never expressed herself in an feminine way would be unsafe to be around in the bathroom. In fact then I thought out loud to friends that I thought gays & lesbians should have separate bathrooms, because what if they hit on me in there. Gosh I'm glad I'm not 13 anymore! But these kind of juvenile attitudes persist in many adults in our communities. The assumptions that trans folks or genderqueer folks are a threat while we go to the bathroom is silly at best. Not a whole lot of folks get excited from hearing someone else pee. And those that do are often the last folks we'd ever think (like a senator or something).

Being kicked out of a bathroom at any time would be embarrassing at best. Then imagine having this happen when you've got to use the toilet. Everyone has the right to take a piss or a doo doo. Why should we say we're a free country when someone is perceived to be the wrong gender and forced to not be able to relieve themselves?

Now I don't know what the best ways of talking to someone who is perceived to be the wrong gender for a gender segregated bathroom about one's personal comfort level. I don't think someone needs to ignore their own comfort and instincts. But I know there are ways to make ourselves feel safe while not harassing or making a drama out of that which we don't yet understand. I'm going to explore ways allies can talk to others about this topic and also ways to support our transgender and genderqueer citizens to help protect their safety as well.

In the meantime here are two great links:
Peeing in Peace is a great resource for transgender folks and their allies. It was produced by the Transgender Law Center in California and has not only some wonderful advice and resources but also a history of bathroom activism and how to deal with harassment. This in in a pdf.

Also a wonderful resource for gender free restrooms is You can look up your location (the site lists all the states and some other countries besides USA) and see where the gender free restrooms are. Among some of the places in Portland are Powell's Books on Hawthorne, the downtown YWCA, the Doug Fir, and the Roxy. Check more PDX locations here.

Well hope you all are having a lovely fall weekend!


Diane J Standiford said...

Thanks, for caring. Great link.

Clare said...

Thanks for pointing out and helping us to think about things that can so easily stay in the realm of invisible. Also, great resources.

BTW, I think your blog is great. Got here from NaBloPoMo's Queer Women Bloggers of Color group. And although I am only a double minority (queer and female), my current gf has the joy of being the minority of most minorities (black, non-American (African), female, Muslim, queer).

Bailey said...

Thanks for propping our web site!