So-called “bathroom bills” are all the rage these days, legislation that attempts to regulate what washrooms trans people are “supposed” to use. They often feature rhetoric about predators claiming to be trans women to access women’s facilities, or how women would be uncomfortable around “people with biologically male [sic] characteristics.” This prompted bathroom selfie protests wherein trans folk took pictures of themselves in facilities where they clearly don’t fit in, a move praised by Joe Sands on our own network.
However, this is not the strategy I can endorse to protest these absurd attempts to police washroom access by trans folk.
The bathroom selfie campaign only works because the people participating in it “pass” as cisgender. I don’t mean to say that gender conformity is bad per se, but those of us trans folk who get by on our day-to-day without getting clocked are not and were never the targets of transphobic bathroom bills–not until someone somewhere is Orwellian enough to literally require genital inspections prior to entry to a washroom. We can shock on-the-fencers into seeing, correctly so, that men would be required to use the women’s washroom and vice versa, because those same ignorant on-the-fencers overlooked the rather obvious fact that some trans folk are binarist conformers who are trying to blend in, not stick out.
But the strategy doesn’t work if the person participating either: 1) chooses not to “pass,” i.e. is a gender nonconformist voluntarily; 2) is unable to pass because of intensity or quantity of features that are commonly coded as a gender contrary to the person’s identity.
By only featuring trans folk who are accepted in their identities because their performance conforms enough, we are accepting the cissexist assumption that there is a correct way to “do” gender; conversely, that anyone who doesn’t conform enough is now a valid target for exclusion. The transphobes pushing these bathroom bills, when they’re not talking about predators smokescreening as trans (I hear this has a staggering success rate of 0% for getting someone off the hook), are riding on tired old tropes of the “dude in the dress” causing distress–not for actually harassing anyone–but merely for existing with features they decide should not coexist in a single individual. This was covered by The Orbit’s Zinnia Jones on her gender analysis blog. It’s a good read. (And yes, even in that example, the mother of the kid in question tries to refute the transphobia by pointing out that her daughter is unquestionably female, because of the way she expresses her gender)
Here’s the basic truth: Not every person can or will conform to gender expectations. That doesn’t mean they forfeit their right to access public washrooms and changerooms.
Legislation or not, those trans folk who are clocked are already being harassed, assaulted, and murdered. And while it is absolutely necessary for us to protest these laws which codify and legitimize trans discrimination, it is a pill too bitter for me to swallow to do so in a way that would require throwing gender nonconformists under the bus, simply because they don’t meet cis folk’s arbitrary criteria of what makes a person a person. As someone who hasn’t been clocked in years, who everyone assumes is cis, I am not the poster girl for this witch hunt–and neither are the conformist participants of this bathroom bill selfie protest who perpetuate the notion that a trans person’s respect is contingent on cis standards.
In my next article, I’ll discuss how I think we should be addressing this issue.
Stay sexy and ideally not cissexist, lovelies.