This has never been about bathrooms. It wasn’t about drinking fountains, either. It’s about keeping Trans people out of public spaces. Trans people have existed since the beginning of time. We have been using public accommodations alongside Cisgender people for as long as our society has been developed. There is no known incidence of a Trans person assaulting someone in a bathroom. This is not a safety issue for cisgender women in bathrooms. That is a mirage.
This is really about shame. Our community’s continued fight to move out of the dark, and society’s pressure to keep us shadowed. Our punishment for the audacity we are currently exhibiting is increased scrutiny. The reaction to our demands to be visible in public has been a multitude of legislative attempts to bar us access from accommodations. If we can be kept from being in public spaces, we will be kept tightly wound by our shame.
The insidious nature of shame is that when bestowed upon us from the outside world it infiltrates our being. It changes the way we see ourselves. We begin to see ourselves as others see us. We become our own oppressors. Over time, shame takes happy, healthy and joyful Trans youth, and makes them loathe themselves.
What we learned from Injustice at Every Turn, a large volume study of Trans people published by The Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is that Trans youth are at extreme risk in schools. The study concluded that those who expressed a trans identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%). Harassment so severe, that 1/6th of those students in America chose to drop out, rather than stay in school. Similar data figures came from the U.S. Transgender Survey in 2015. These are all experiences that teach us shame.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moments where events change the course of our lives. I grew up in Eastern Oregon, and hit public school in the early 1990’s. I began being bullied in 1st grade. I learned, as we do often do, to fight back, as teachers seemed to be oblivious. I was lucky to be taken out of public school in 2nd grade, and did not return until high school— a detail that likely allowed me to survive. My first year back in public school was much worse than my days in 1st grade. I was clearly different by this time. I was much closer to being the me that I am now. Questions became accusation, and accusation became physical assault. I lasted a year, and dropped out.
Looking backward, I can say with certainty that leaving high school was one of the defining moments that changed the course of the rest of my life. I started the process to medically transition not long after. The early 2000’s were dark times for Trans folks in many ways. Like most of the Trans women who transitioned at early ages back then, I found myself houseless and engaging in survival sex work by age 17. It took me almost a decade to return to formal education of any kind.
I am currently finishing my Bachelor ’s degree in social science at Portland State University, and I am working as a CareLink Navigator here at CAP. I am smart, capable, engaging and have fire within me to create change – and, I am about to turn 31. Most of my peers finished undergrad 8 years ago, have a master’s degree and are in management positions. I am still in an entry level position; still trying to get caught up to the rest of the world. Unlearning the mirroring we receive when we are young is some of the very hardest work. These social experiences had a stunting effect on my life. An effect great enough that I am still doing work to undo it, a very long time later.
During the time that I was in school, no protections existed in Oregon for Trans people. This was long before the legislation of 2008 that made it illegal to discriminate based on gender identity, and the sweeping guidelines from Oregon’s Department of Education last year. Oregon has taken a stand when it comes to Trans youth and adults in schools and public accommodations. Unfortunately, most states have not and are still forbidding Trans folks from using the correct bathroom. Most Trans youth live in states where they are being sent the messages that I was. That there is something wrong with us, and we need to make ourselves scarce.
These experiences have consequences for the rest of our lives. My personal progress has cost a great deal, financially, physically and emotionally. While we cannot forcibly change the way people view us, we can change laws, add protections, and continue the momentum into light. My desire is that even youth in rural, southern places who are Trans, will eventually have the ability to complete school, and have the same access their cisgender contemporaries do.
For that to happen, all of us need to have investment into this crisis. Trans people need cisgender people to care that we are being barred access to education and accommodations as much we do. This is about you fighting with us to bring back regulations protecting Trans people under Title IX. This is about you fighting with us to change people’s perceptions of Trans people. It’s about hiring us to work in your agencies and companies, inviting us to your gatherings and to be part of your communities. It’s about teaching your children to accept and stand up for their Trans classmates.
We are not here to hurt you, and we never have been. We just need to pee, attend school in a safe environment, and go about our lives. As we approach another supreme court ruling on Trans youth in schools, I encourage you to google Gavin Grimm, and become aware of the ebb and flow of federal regulations around this issue. Talk to your children. Talk to your family members in other states. We need you.
Cascade AIDS Project