Friday Philosophy: Let My People Pee

Quite a few transwomen, if not all, have encountered the fear of other women when they transitioned.  Women-born women don’t feel safe with us using their restroom facilities.  At least the fear that is voiced is that somehow we are rapists or pedophiles, hunting victims in women’s bathrooms.

The reality is that nobody has ever provided an example of that ever happening.  And the reality is more along these lines:

On April 15, Colle Carpenter, a female-to-male transman, post chest-reconstruction surgery, who also happens to be a person with a disability and a graduate student at Cal State Long Beach, chose to use a men’s restroom at the university and encountered someone transphobic, who pulled Colle’s tshirt over his head and carved the word “IT” on Colle’s chest with an X-Acto knife.

‘It’ is such a derogatory term. It takes away a person’s humanity. It takes away their personhood. It makes them less than human.


This was a hate crime.  Someone intentionally selected Colle to target with this crime because he was a known transman.

All transgender people are fodder for such acts.  A transwoman using a men’s restroom would face even more danger than Colle encountered.  But there are still people who think we should just suck it up and live with the danger, as part of our passage into our new lives.

More about the hate crime is available through local news (this has better sound than the youtube above).

Use of a bathroom at a job site is necessary.  Have you ever been in a situation where in order to eliminate waste from your body, you had to drive home from work?

I have.  It is not a productive usage of time and can lead to employer complaints about worker availability.  That’s not a good way to keep a job.

It is precisely the fear surrounding The Bathroom Issue which is being used to deny transfolk equal employment opportunity and equal rights in public accommodation.  

Employers facing the restroom issue for the first time are legally inclined to apply the Principle of Least Astonishment, which is that a person who presents as a woman will be less astonishing using the women’s restroom than the men’s, vice versa for a person presenting as a man. If a concern arrises, from the corporate Legal department or another employee, the employer must provide alternative soultions for the employee complaining, NOT the transgender individual.

This situation has now been resolved by the federal courts. In a landmark case Cruzan vs Davis (pdf), a ruling was made in June 2002 by a federal appeals court in Minnesota that an employer is within its rights to instruct a transgendered employee to use the restroom matching their new presentation, and that if another employee complains, the company may offer the complaining employee an accomodation (such a the use of a different restroom by the complaining employee.) .


Interestingly, Cruzan claimed that having to share a restroom with a transitioning transwoman violated her right to Freedom of Religion as well as constituting sexual harassment.  The judge noted that Ms. Cruzan could produce no religious doctrine specific to the issue and that Ms. Cruzan was in no way harmed by Ms. Davis using the restroom she used.

The site from which the above quote was drawn provides a few more:

The Society for Human Resource Management:

The simplest answers are the easiest. We don’t have a lot of complicated rules and expectations. Simplicity is good: we don’t discriminate, we cover medically necessary procedures, use the bathroom that matches how you present . . . . It just works.

New York City: Anti-Gender Discrimination Law:

What about transgender people who have not had surgery? What facilities will they use? The new law requires that people be allowed to use facilities that accord with their gender identity, not with any particular body part. Just as non-transgender men and women are not asked to prove what body parts they have before entering gender-segregated facilities, transgender people also should not be. All people, regardless of surgical status, are entitled to use facilities which comport with their gender identities regardless of whether their bodies match traditional expectations. Challenging someone’s gender identity and/ or asking invasive personal questions about their body parts is a form of harassment.

San Francisco Human Rights Commisions (Compliance Guidlines),

Section 5 Subsection A

A. BATHROOMS/RESTROOMS: Individuals have the right to use the bathroom/restroom that is consistent with and appropriate to their gender identity. The Commission wants to ensure that people of all genders have safe bathroom access.

Reading University (Transgender Policy) :

Transgendered students have the right to toilet and washing facilities that are appropriate to their gender.

8. It is entirely inappropriate for transsexual women to use male toilets. It is embarrassing, demeaning and psychologically damaging. Transsexual women are women and for them to use male toilets is discriminatory. The same applies in the reverse situation.

While many transpeople can eventually “pass” (a nasty concept, in my mind) sufficiently so that using a public restroom does not present problems, the workplace is a tougher issue, often because the transperson was known from the previous gender role…or word has spread in some other manner.  And then people feel discomfort about sharing a bathroom with the person, not because of any actions performed by the person, but based on perceived status:  if someone refuses to accept that a transwoman is a woman, then they are likely to believe that “a man” is using the women’s restroom.

And that somehow is made to be our problem rather than the problem of the person with the diversity deficit.

Remember when white people were uncomfortable with black people sharing their restrooms?  Is this different?  Some will think so.  Some will even object to the comparison.

The following worlds come from people who disagree with that objection.  Clicking on the name of the person should open an .mp3 file.

Rosalyn Taylor O’Neal, author of 7 Keys 2 Success:  unlocking the passion for diversity and currently Vice President and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Campbell Soup Company, after 3 years as Vice President for Diversity Initiatives at MTV Networks.

Yolanda Kingwikipedia, oldest child of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King…and a fierce advocate.  May she rest in peace.


    • Robyn on May 29, 2010 at 00:01

    …I traveled by Greyhound from Little Rock, AR to visit my family in Oregon for the first time after my transition.  Now transwomen early in transition don’t necessarily “pass” that well (being 6’3″ was only part of the problem), so I had contacted Greyhound and explained to them that I would have need to use restrooms along the way.  I was informed this would not be a problem.

    Some woman in Boise, ID, thought otherwise and called the police on me.  I was arrested and all my cash was confiscated before I was taken back to catch the next bus for Portland.

    I’m sure nobody else here has any idea how degrading it is to be arrested for using a restroom.

    • Robyn on May 29, 2010 at 01:05

    …available in Orange.

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