It’s just common sense: trans* women must be welcome in women’s bathrooms

Republican lawmakers south of the border (at both the federal and state levels) have been unduly concerned about the safety of cis women like me lately. Are they worried that health outcomes for women will be negatively impacted by conservatives’ proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood? Distressed about the ways in which myriad anti-abortion laws across the nation infringe upon women’s rights and may force women into seeking out unsafe, illegal abortions? Are they worried about the gun violence that turns women with abusive partners into prisoners in their own homes, or about the sexual assaults committed on college campuses nation-wide?

Nope. Dear hearts, those sweet old goats in Republican Party have decided that the biggest threat to the safety of women and girls in their great nation is to be found in public restrooms. Public restrooms that, unless these righteous men legislate a means to stop them, will soon be absolutely RIDDLED with pervy dudes dressing up as ladies so they can spy on women using the toilet and listen to them pee. Pervy dudes, who, if they are allowed to use the same washroom as cis women and girls, will almost CERTAINLY assault them. (Note: if a man dressed in men’s clothing sexually assaults a woman in any other location, Republicans are not interested because she probably just has “buyer’s remorse” or shouldn’t have had so much to drink, but don’t worry, the moment that rapist dons a frilly blouse and tries to use the ladies’ room at the food court, the good men of the GOP will HAVE WOMEN’S BACKS).

Of course, in reality, Republicans aren’t legislating against male rapists donning skirts and sneaking into bathrooms. They’re legislating against trans* women, who ARE women (even if their birth certificates might not say so). Never mind that there is virtually ZERO evidence of any sexual assault ever being committed by a trans* person in a U.S. bathroom, or that trans* people are statistically much more likely to need protection from cis people than we are from them. Republicans aren’t trying to protect women. They are trying to keep a small group of women isolated from other women, and isolated from society at large (because if you can’t use a public restroom, activities like going to school, going shopping, attending a theatre or sporting event, or using a gym or swimming pool become just about impossible). It’s not about keeping women safe, it’s about forcing an already severely marginalized group of people back into hiding (many of these laws would also force trans* men to use women’s washrooms, a completely absurd outcome if your stated desire is to keep men OUT of there).

Infographic by Hannah Johnson.

Let’s be blunt: if a man wanted to attack a woman (or girl) in a public restroom, a new law about who can use which bathroom wouldn’t stop him. The little lady silhouette on the door wouldn’t stop him. He certainly wouldn’t bother dressing in women’s clothes to do it because it wouldn’t make his criminal actions any easier for him–sexual assault is already illegal no matter what you’re wearing. So no, this is not about safety. At all.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve EVER noticed when I’m sharing a public restroom with a trans* woman (unless I happen to run into someone I know personally who I know is trans* while I’m washing my hands or whatever). A major reason for this is probably the fact that even in Canada, where laws don’t specifically target trans* people (to the best of my knowledge), many trans* individuals are still not comfortable in and are not made to feel welcome in multi-stall public restrooms, so I probably haven’t had much opportunity. That said, I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t notice/haven’t noticed because, like most women, I’m not really in the bathroom to check out other people. When I’m peeing or blowing my nose or having a quick cry on a bad day, what do I care what the lady two stalls down from me has between her legs? How could I possibly know she was trans*, and even if I did, how could that possibly affect me in any way? What does her birth certificate have to do with whatever she’s doing in the bathroom (most likely using the toilet or getting something out of her teeth or just taking a quiet moment for herself like the rest of us)?

How does a trans* woman being allowed to use the women’s restroom impact me whatsoever? The answer is that it doesn’t. And so I feel foolish for even saying, “trans women are welcome to use the same restroom as me” because I shouldn’t even have the power to give that permission in the first place. But since it seems so many socially conservative politicians are concerned about my wellbeing, I want to assure the world: this is okay and nothing bad is going to happen. Women’s restrooms are for women, and since trans* women are women, it’s their restroom too.


P.S. I wrote this post specifically about women and women’s bathrooms, since that seems to be the focus of most of the conservative pearl-clutching about toilets and trans* people. However, I am aware that some people are non-binary, meaning they do not identify as either male or female. For this reason, I’m happy to see that many public spaces in my community are renovating/have renovated to provide private, gender-neutral (and accessible) restrooms in addition to multi-stalled gendered facilities. That said, if a public location did not have one of these gender-neutral restrooms and a non-binary individual felt more comfortable in the ladies’ room than the mens’, I’d still like to think that would be fine with me, since, as I said, most people are in the bathroom to do bathroom stuff and I can’t see how this could possibly hurt me.

Walking With My Keys in My Hand

nightstreetLet me begin by saying that I understand the smallness, the near insignificance of my experience compared to the horrifying experiences of many other women in Canada, and worldwide. But here goes.

If you’re a woman who lives, or has ever lived, in a city, then you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that when I walk alone at night, I usually walk “with my keys in my hand”. I’m not just holding them because digging them out of my bag when I get to my front door is annoying. I am carrying my keys in a particular way: the lanyard is wrapped tightly around my hand and the points of three different keys poke out between my knuckles. If you’re a woman who lives in the city, you’ll know why I do this, and why you’ve likely done it yourself.

Because you’re scared that someone will attack  you, and you need your first punch to cause as much pain as it possibly can. Most of us, thankfully, will not be attacked while walking home at night, but still. You are scared, and you walk with your keys in your hand.

I don’t live my life in perpetual fear. I like Vancouver and I love East Van in particular. But it doesn’t take so very much to compel me to put my keys in my hand. A dark street. The lateness of the hour. A vacant lot.

A couple of years ago, when I lived alone at my last apartment, I was heading home late on the number 16 bus. There are usually strange characters on this bus and I’ve had (or overheard) some pretty strange conversations. The conversations are usually funny and I forget them as soon as they’re over. But sometimes, I just get a feeling. A feeling that the attention directed at me is no longer safe for me. That night was such a night. A young man sat next to me on the bus and started to talk to me. Which is fine. It’s a free country. But there was an intimate tone in his questions that was too personal, that wanted to know too much about me. And it was late, and I was tired, and I had been drinking, all things that weaken me and make me feel more vulnerable. When I pulled the bell and excused myself at my stop, the guy said, “Oh, is this where you live? We should hang out.” I said, “No” and got off the bus. I tucked my keys between my knuckles and ran all the way home.

Of course, I made it home safely and never saw that person again. Reading this anecdote, you might not understand why such a seemingly harmless interaction would frighten me so much. But somehow, it’s been ingrained in me that a woman’s survival depends on reading tone, and trusting her intuition. Nine times out of ten, the person who seems inappropriate and threatening to her is merely inappropriate. But the tenth–there’s a good chance that tenth could be a Threat. And if she’s unlucky, that Threat could be an Attacker. Problem is, we have no way of knowing who to protect ourselves from, so we have to act on our red flags, whenever we see them. I don’t know where I learned these lessons. I grew up in the country and never had this issue. I can’t remember my mom or any other authority figures teaching me these skills. But when I moved to the city, there they were, waiting for me to need them.

So when I’m walking alone at night, I walk with my keys in my hand. I eye every stranger I pass. I eye cars too, to make sure they aren’t slowing down or stopping beside me. When my friends and I part ways on a cab or in the bus one of us asks the other to “text me when you get home”. Do I feel like I’m too paranoid? Do I feel a bit crazy? Do I feel like I’m overreacting?

Sometimes. To be honest, I know that my little precautions would likely do very little to help me if someone did want to attack me. But I’ve got to do something. Because if I didn’t, and something happened to me, I know people would ask questions, not of my attacker, but of my actions: Why was she walking alone? Why did she talk to strangers? Why didn’t she do more to protect herself? The truth is, I would ask myself those questions too: How silly could I have been to think nothing bad would happen to me?

When I was in my first year of university, I took a political philosophy course, and my conception of myself as a female in society exploded. For the first time I actually entertained the idea that I might be oppressed. Not by any purposeful forces, not by any men in my life who were trying to keep me down. But by the simple fact that I had to make different choices from my male peers. I had to have a “buddy system” for walking home from bars. I had to be careful who I spoke to. I had to make sure I didn’t get so drunk that I didn’t have my wits about me (unlike my classmates of the male sex). And, of course, I learned to walk with my keys in my hand. Nothing has hurt me so far, or even greatly inconvenienced me, but it isn’t fair, is it?

Obviously, my anxiety is manageable, and until the onus stops being on me to prevent my own potential assault, it’s just the way I’ll feel sometimes. But I am at the most harmless end of a huge spectrum of threat and violence that spans through muggings and rapes, all the way to the vicious beating and gang rape that left a Delhi woman dead in December. And I want off before I move any further along it.

This International Women’s Day, that is my wish. Take us off. Take us all off the spectrum. This request is from someone who exists on the best possible part of it she could possibly be located on, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to go any further. Actually, I can, a little. Just enough to scare me. Just enough to make me walk with my keys in my hand. And it’s stupid, and I’m ashamed of myself, and I really don’t know why.