Sunday, May 17, 2009

Today is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)

IDAHO this year is focused on the issue of transphobia. I wanted to talk a little bit about this issue, because I have seen it play out even on a college campus like mine that claims to be so progressive.

Earlier this year, the feminist group at Knox, Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) decided to forcibly "gender fuck" two bathrooms in one of the buildings on campus. We did not have permission from any of the administration, and in order to cause the least amount of panic, we decided to set up a table for three days outside of the cafeteria and explain our mission as well as collect signatures of support. We wanted to make the two chosen bathrooms gender neutral, meaning that people of any gender could use them. We explained that this would not effect the other bathrooms on the lower level of the same building, in case this idea made people uncomfortable.

We got over 100 signatures in support of our initiative, and had lots of people ask questions. We explained that the gender dichotomy present in bathrooms was not suitable for a number of transstudents who expressed that they did not feel comfortable in either bathroom. Designating these two bathrooms gender neutral would help make students feel more at ease.

I tabled for a while each day, and one day I was sitting with three SASS members who are trans-identified, when someone came up to talk to us. He approached us and asked us the usual questions, but unlike most of the people we talked to who reacted in one of two ways, "Oh, that's great!" or "Oh...okay..." he started asking more and more questions. He made sure to tell us that he was interested in having a discussion, but at the end, this was what he had to say (in my words): If transpeople feel uncomfortable with dichotomous bathrooms, maybe they should just go to counseling to help them with those feelings of discomfort. It makes more sense than making a larger population of non-transgender people feel uncomfortable having gender neutral bathrooms.

The conversation unraveled from that point. I couldn't believe that this guy, saying he wanted to have a conversation, had us talk with him only to shut us all down by implying that gender neutral bathrooms were unfair to cisgender people. What? It makes no sense to ask transpeople, who are not privileged like cisgender people are in this society, to adapt to a world that was not meant to benefit them at all. All we were asking for were two gender neutral bathrooms in a building with more than two bathrooms, and this guy still couldn't see the point.

It's this kind of attitude, even though it may seem small and unproblematic, that proves how important it is for us to work for transrights not just in our own countries, but around the world. It is this kind of attitude that allows people to feel entitled to murder transpeople, to harass them, to make them feel like an Other.

To read an appeal rejecting transphobia and respecting all gender identities, click here. To sign the appeal, click here. I did!


Mike said...

Two questions about your bathroom protest or w/e it was called.

1. How is making uncomfortable the people who are living out the gender God intended them to live, which is the vast majority, in order to make comfortable a few Transpeople going to prove any kind of point?

2. And if a guy wants to become a girl or a girl a guy, why don't they just use the bathroom of the gender they believe they are? If they are so comfortable being trans, then why should choosing their bathroom be such a tough decision? Maybe that confusion and uncomfortable feelin ought to tell them something...

Amelia said...

I posted this comment so I could respond, but really, Mike, it's not okay. I want this to be a safe space, and you coming and proclaiming certain gender expressions, etc. etc. are right while others are wrong is not helpful in creating that space. So I will respond to this one comment.

1) Most cisgender people we talking to supported our idea, even if they were unsure about it at first. I don't believe in any of this "God intended them to" stuff, but it seemed that from my experience that most of the people we encountered were willing to make this concession, even if they did not feel comfortable with it. I think that says something about you and your unwillingness to accept things even when they didn't affect you. Because many cisgender people were find with it, especially since we didn't gender neutralize every bathroom in the building.

2) You take the issue of being trans too simply, I think. I am a cisgender woman, so I can't speak definitively on the topic of transitioning, or anything like that, but because being transgender is part of a human experience for some, I refuse to believe that it is as simple as "They want to be another gender/sex, so if they're uncomfortable about it, something is wrong." No. I don't believe that at all.

Also, if you are transitioning, I would imagine (although I can't say for sure) that it is not simply an overnight change. So what? Are people who are not completely transitioned supposed to not use bathrooms at my college? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons one could feel uncomfortable with having to choose one of two bathrooms while, or even after, transitioning. I don't believe that, either.

If you want to talk more about possible solutions/your opinions on the gender binary or gender dichotomy in bathrooms, feel free, but I will tolerate no more comments about the issue of being transgender, whether you feel it is right or wrong, whatever.