Bathroom Binaries

Morgan White
Contributing columnist

illustration by Ryan Schultz
illustration by Ryan Schultz

Precedence has taken suit in Federal court. In July, the U.S. Justice Department sided with Gavin Grimm, a 16-year-old rising senior, who filed a lawsuit against the Gloucester County school system with help of the American Civil Liberties Union claiming that he should be allowed to use the school system’s communal restrooms and not alternative facilities meant for transgender student. According to The Washington Post, Grimm was born a female and identifies as male.

The decision came on the heels of transgendered Caitlyn Jenner, who formerly identified as male Bruce Jenner known for winning the gold medal in the 1976 Olympic decathlon, gracing the cover of Vanity Fair. This is the world we live in where in both circumstances a substantial amount of communities do support the ability to discover who you are even if it’s not the pronoun you were born with.

However, the world we live in conversely has just as many communities that are against the ability for Grimm and Jenner to identify as they see fit. It’s the same world where police brutality exists targeting people racially, where white terrorists are identified as mentally ill young men following gunning down nine people in a historically black church in South Carolina wielding a confederate flag and the flag for an apartheid ridden South Africa.

If you haven’t come to the conclusion yet, our identities are pertinent. But they don’t have to be. The transgender community is part of our manifest destiny and to embrace it is to say we are all human and no matter what stripes you wear you are accepted as you are.

That’s just wishful thinking though. Instead we’ll remain in a world as resistant to change as I am to believing that guy’s accent in my class is authentic. So as much as I wish I could end this with a suggestion to change I’m apt to believing now that the wishful thinking we may do and may promote has little to do with the change that is carried out in the real world. The U.S. Justice Department did a good thing in Gloucester County. It’s the legal venues where real change begins.

RESPONSE: THE FAIRYTALE OF ACCEPTANCE

Ryan Schultz
Illustrator

Note: I am the assigned illustrator for this article. However, I felt that I needed to respond formally after reading the article in full.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT

The introduction neglects to inform of Grimm’s struggle consisting of a 7-month legal battle which began in opposition to the School Board voting 6-1 against Grimm’s right to a public bathroom in school that matches not only his identity and his legally changed name and the gender on his driver’s license, if there was any question that personal identity wasn’t enough. The introduction also fails to even mention briefly that Grimm’s right to a bathroom was called into question not by the principal of the school, who firmly gave Grimm permission to use the boys’ restroom, but by backlash from parents and residents in the county who forced an ultimatum on the School Board by threatening to remove the entire board if Gavin was not removed from the boys’ bathroom.

ON TERM USAGE

As per the term usage in the final sentence of the first paragraph, it is, in my opinion, a bit more accurate to say that Grimm was born biologically female but identifies and lives as male. There is a difference between identifying as one’s authentic self and living openly as one’s authentic self, the difference being those who live openly are at much greater risk for discrimination and violence.

Additionally, “transgendered,” as it is used to describe Caitlyn Jenner, is a transphobic term that implies that to be trans means something that has happened to you to make you trans, often implied negatively. Preferable is the use of the actual term, transgender, to describe someone who is in fact transgender. However, for others in the trans community who may not identify as specifically transgender, simply ‘trans’ is a safe option that is inclusive to all in the community.

ON ACCEPTANCE

Especially in light of the absence of sufficient material in both Grimm’s introduction and Jenner’s description, it is both incorrect and also unsupported in the opinion piece that a conclusion can be made about the wide acceptance of trans people in this world*. It is both incorrect and unnecessary to simplify the entire existence of trans people to a change of pronouns, implying that you are born with a pronoun rather than assigned one at birth based on the appearance of your biological sex, as if the greatest struggle in the trans community is pronouns. If only.

The Trans World

On the issue of world support, aside from the article being strictly limited to two trans stories existing wholly in the United States, it is vastly incorrect to assume based on the mediocre acceptance of Grimm by the Justice System and Jenner by capitalist media sensationalists that there are equal levels of acceptance in other communities in the US and around the world.

In the US, transwomen of color are gunned down almost weekly. You can still be fired in this country for being trans. Many trans people face discrimination in health facilities when their caretakers are made aware of their identity. Lawmakers are desperately trying to pass laws that bar trans people from using the bathroom that matches their identity, often with penalty of a fine or jailtime. Queer and trans youth make up 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth in the US, and one in five trans people reporting having experienced homeless in their lives. Transgender inmates in prisons are often placed in the prison that is believed to match their biological sex, rather than their gender, leading to a disruption of the safety of the inmate, having to spend their time in the wrong facility and very likely face abuse or discrimination at the hands of other inmates and authority figures.

Many countries in Europe require a years-long battle for receiving a change in legal identity, including agreement to be diagnosed with a mental disorder, sterilization, receiving hormones, and having to be single.

In Kuwait, a 2007 law criminalizes ‘imitation of the opposite sex,’ leading to widespread arrests of transgender women, including being forced by police, through physical violence, to sign documents stating they would ‘never again imitate the opposite sex’.

In Uganda, the Red Pepper, a tabloid newspaper, exposed more than 200 queer and trans people with pictures and personal information, opening all of them up for discrimination, job loss, physical violence, arrest, etc. Many of those exposed were forced to leave Uganda for their own safety, as this exposure followed a new anti-gay bill passed in the country, in which forms of sexual relations or promotion of sexual relations between persons of the same sex were met with a sentencing of life in prison.

Those who identify as trans, especially those who choose to live as their authentic selves in public, face far more discrimination than acceptance in all communities, especially trans people who are nonwhite and of a lower income or social status. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that in 2013, “72 percent of victims of anti-LGBTQ homicides were transgender women, and 89 percent of victims were people of color.”

ON THE INTERSECTIONALITY OF OPPRESSION

The conflation of both Grimm’s and Jenner’s respective struggles for acceptance and the experiences of people of color targeted by police violence is incorrect. This presents the trans community as being represented by Grimm and Jenner, which is unnecessary. Additionally, this assumes that the communities as inherently separate, as if trans people cannot be of color, as if trans people and especially trans women of color do not face police violence at staggering levels.

I can’t even approach the inclusion of Dylann Roof in this comparison, although in the vaguest of senses it appears to try to relate opposition to a choice of bathroom with the massacre of 9 black churchgoers in a planned assault that acted as a death sentence for simply existing. If anything, the murders of 14* trans people of color in 2015 would be more similar of a comparison, especially since neither Grimm nor Jenner are people of color, and in Jenner’s case, she comes from a privileged background that offers her every safety and security in being her authentic self, as opposed to those without the privileges of whiteness, wealth, etc.

(* As a note, I had to update this response to include the murder of Ashton O’Hara)

SAY THEIR NAMES: Ashton O’Hara, Shade Schuler, Penny Proud, Amber Mason, India Clarke, K.C. Haggard, Mercedes Williamson, London Chanel, Mya Hall, Ty Underwood, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Taja DeJesus, Lamia Beard, Yazmin Vash Payne.

ON “MANIFEST DESTINY” (as seen in the final paragraph)

A side issue, but seeing as Manifest Destiny resulted in the removal and annihiliation of millions of Native American peoples as a result of the expansion of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy, it is in my view that one should not want to use the term blindly in this manner, especially for a subject of ‘embracing those who are different’, which was opposite the goals of Manifest Destiny in the 19th century.

There’s a lot of misinformation and misconception about the trans experience. When we have articles like this where it is obvious that not even minimal awareness or attempt at serious research was present, we take two steps backward rather than a single step forward. This applies to all topics of research and writing. If you’re not willing to do your proper research and represent a community fully and truthfully, don’t write about them. Don’t waste your time, because to those who are affected personally, we can see through bullshit logical fallacies and fairytale notions of acceptance. Don’t think that we’re going to give you a gold star for trying.

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