With the recent dismissal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance or HERO, a question has arisen in the general public’s dialogue of the usage of public restroom facilities by transgender and gender non-conforming peoples. The issue stemmed from the gender identity protection clause of the ordinance. The clause stating that the protection of transgender people’s use of public restroom facilities would be protected in the city. Doesn’t seem so extreme, right? However the people of Houston believe that it is.
Being the flagship issue of the ordinance, many Houstonians saw it as a means to open a legal loophole for rapist and child molesters. However, the clause does not protect illegal actions such as those crimes, only that trans and gender non-conforming people would be protected. There were already laws in place to protect those in restrooms from such vile crimes.
So why then was it portrayed as if anyone can just simply walk into a restroom and commit a crime? This barbaric thinking stems from the perception of predominantly trans woman, that we are just men in dresses looking for a sexual rush. However, I, a woman of transgender history, have never gone into the ladies restroom for a sexual rush or for anything other than what a bathroom is used for. The idea that a pedophile/rapist can hide behind our struggle and the government not stepping in is an illogical and delusional assumption.
We deserve to be protected just like everyone else and not banished to a third restroom to hide because we make some ill-informed people uncomfortable, as Dr. Ben Carson, Republican Presidential Candidate hopeful, has stated. Dr. Carson offered to create a separate restroom for trans people, however that only causes more of a problem, such as, are there going to be 3 restrooms or 4? What about agender people and bigender people. Are we going to create a restroom for every single gender identity because it makes a few people uncomfortable?
Of course not, that is why we have to protect transgender and gender non-conforming people’s use of public facilities. The usage of a third restroom would also be a hazard to an already discriminated against community of people. By telling the world that you must use a third restroom, it puts a bulls-eye on us. We become targets of hate and violence. We, as a community, experience harassment from every angle from upwards of 33% of trans folks having stated they were harassed by law enforcement officers, to 31% of transgender teens experiencing harassment from teachers in schools.
When we are singled out and “othered” it says to the masses that we are different, and different means dangerous. It’s the same logic and rhetoric that was used in the 50s and 60s against the black community, in the 80s, 90s, and 00s against the LGB community. Yet it seems like we must continue to walk this shameful path and prove to the masses that we are people and we deserve to be treated like people.
My third and final issue with HERO is HERO itself. Although I did support and continue to support the inclusion of the LGBT community in equal protection and non-discriminatory legislation, I had a issue with it being a public referendum. We experienced what happens with public referendums such as California’s Proposition 22 (2000) and Proposition 8 (2008) each being public referendums to ban same-sex marriages, with a majority vote to pass.
When a large majority is ill-informed and afraid of the “others” they tend to default to using the belief that we are freaks or perverts to justify their discrimination. It wasn’t until a federal court demanded the rest of the country to protect us was there ever anything to use as a legal defense. Issues of rights should never be placed in the hands of the public but should be made by those with final authority and that authority must be bound by their devotion to continual inclusion of all peoples for their authority to be justified.
Tell Me I'm Beautiful.
Tell me in my slacks and button-down and tie, with no jacket because the shoulders are always too wide, the sleeves always too long.
Tell me in my jeans and extra-large t-shirts, in my tank tops and cargo shorts, with chipped nail polish and sneakers found in children’s sizes.
Tell me in my draped tops and puffed pants and jewelry, androgynous only in that no one of “either” gender would wear them.
Tell me I am androgynous in all of these.
Tell me that androgynous does not even begin to describe me.
Tell me that you look at me and do not see a tom-boy who will grow out of it, do not see a teenage boy in an ill-fitting suit, do not see a butch girl who neglects her appearance, do not see a flauntingly femme gay boy, do not even see a trans boy who hasn’t quite figured it out.
Tell me that I exceed your ideas of what it means to be male and female,
That I transcend the very concept of gender,
Grasping these ideas in my hands and yanking them apart, spilling their shimmering contents and splattering my body with their galaxies.
Tell me that you look at me and do not see gender.
Tell me that you look at me and see only the dazzling beauty of my incomprehensibility.
Tell me, because I need to hear it.
Tell me, because sometimes I cannot even tell myself.
This Piece was written by Linas Mitchell
Upstate South Carolina is my home. It is where I grew up, where I went to college, where I fell in love for the first time, and where I met some of my best friends and chosen family. Over the years since I’ve moved away for graduate school, South Carolina has been situated in nostalgia – I miss fried chicken, sweet tea, kitchen table conversations, that smell of gardenias in summer, yearround sunshine, bare feet and blue jeans, and hearing folks say y’all and call strangers darlin’ without a second thought.
Upstate South Carolina is also where I made the decision, in 2010, to undergo gender transition. It is where I made the decision to be Austin. I wish I could say that my transition was met with the hospitality that Southerners like to boast about on roadside signs, in magazines, or in tourist advertisements. I also wish that I could say that my Christian family met me with scriptures of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. My family—like most families in rural areas of the country where information about queer and trans folks doesn’t circulate as often—was not what most would call supportive. When I opened up to my family about my decision to transition, my vulnerability was not met with a hug, open dialogue, or questions about how I was handling this difficult decision. Instead, I was told that while they would always love me, I would never be Austin to them. That no matter what I did to myself, I would always be Stacey, their daughter and sister. This invalidation and disrespect made me feel displaced, pushed out, and in a way disowned, not only in my family but also in South Carolina.
Shortly after opening up to my family about my gender identity, I left South Carolina to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology at Kent State University in northeast Ohio. Sociology is a special kind of discipline where folks kind of have to be open-minded or at least fake it, lest they be publicly shamed by a majority of their colleagues. As a result, I have felt validated by and truly comfortable in my workplace and my colleagues in the department have been phenomenal. Prior to any legal steps in my transition, my department changed all names and pronouns and made sure everyone in the workplace treated me with the respect given to any new member of our campus community. I have had what most would call an ideal trans experience in the workplace, in stark contrast to my coming out experience with my family.
This summer, I returned to Upstate South Carolina for three months to conduct fieldwork for my dissertation project on transgender health and community. I have been back several times but this time was different. This time, rather than spending time with family and feeling invalidated and disrespected, I met a whole new group of folks who met me with the respect that they know trans folks deserve. The Gender Benders group was overwhelming for me at first – I left SC at the beginning of my transition and never really formed or joined a trans community. I didn’t know what or who to expect. Once I let my guard down, I can honestly say that the summer turned into the best summer of my life. I met folks from all walks of life and most everyone in the group met me with a smile and a hug. The GBs have an uncanny ability to make strangers feel like family. After this summer, I no longer situate South Carolina in nostalgia. While I do miss it often, it is not a missing that is abstract. I miss the familiar smiles, the repeat-after-me songs that we all enjoyed even when we thought we wouldn’t, the nature walks where we bonded and just let the business of the world go, the hugs that always come when I need them the most, the open-hearted nature of all interactions, the radical acceptance of all things and all people without judgment, knowing that I’ll be met with respect and understanding even if I’m not agreed with, and the love. I miss the love the most.
The Gender Benders are not just a support group for trans folks. The Gender Benders are a family. The GBs are my family. Thank you for reminding me what home feels like, y’all.
This post was written by Austin Johnson on September 6th 2014