It happened again.
I was at the drive thru at Starbucks getting myself a small treat as I ran errands, in the hopes of waking myself up, when I felt a strong pain in my abdomen. I hoped it would just be pain but as I paid for my drink I felt the painful stirrings that warned me I needed to get to a bathroom fast. I told the cashier that I would pick up my drink inside, pulled my car into a space, and ran inside just in time to see someone step into the free washroom. I danced anxiously, hoping that one of the two rooms would be free soon.
I didn’t make it.
I avoided sobbing audibly when my control was lost and I felt the shameful feeling of losing control of my bowels. I stood there, ashamed. Waiting for a door to open so I could go clean up and finish going to the bathroom.
In some ways I was lucky. My clothing, my body shape, is such that as long as the accident is relatively small, it won’t drip to the floor the way I have seen it happen to others. The mess would be contained to my underwear, which I could remove and clean up in the sink.
Living with a bowel related disability, I am more aware than most of the importance of access to public restrooms. I’ve written before about what it means when that access is restricted for someone like me. Someone with a disability.
It is part of what makes the bathroom bills targeting transgender people so insidious.
The bathroom bill, for those who don’t know, is a name given to pieces of legislation restricting access to public restrooms for transgender people. The laws are usually presented under the guise of protecting people from predators who might try to take advantage of someone by pretending to be one gender to gain access to a restroom. Realistically the laws are a bigoted response to a problem that does not exist.
A Trans woman, using a woman’s restroom, is a woman using a woman’s restroom. She has as much right to be there as anyone else. To deny her that right, is to claim that she is not really a woman. It is an act of discrimination.
When it comes to predatory behaviour and violence, it is not Trans people who are its instigators, but rather, its victim. Using either the restroom of the gender they identify with is incredibly risky for trans women, as is using the restroom of their assigned gender. Either choice can lead to being the victims of violence from verbal assault to outright murder. It’s not cis people who need protecting in bathrooms but Trans people.
The only reason for these laws, is to satisfy the bigotry of transphobic, and particularly transmisogynistic, members of the population. It is because the people making those laws, don’t want to risk the possibility of being in a room with a trans person and want to make the world more and more dangerous for them so that they stay hidden. It is because they assume that all trans people are actually faking it or that trans people are inherently criminal or dangerous or unstable.
That there are laws being made restricting the access to restrooms just goes to show how dehumanizing our society is towards trans people. In these privileged parts of the world, we take access to washrooms for granted. So much so, that when manners make people visiting with others ask to use the facilities, the possibility of refusal is mocked. When we mock people who bring up having friends belonging to a group they are accused of being prejudiced towards, it often includes references to the restroom. “I have black friends, I even let them use my bathroom.” The idea of sharing one’s washroom with someone else is seen as such a matter of course, that the idea that you wouldn’t even if you were prejudiced, is seen as ridiculous. And yet this is exactly what is happening to trans people right now across North America.
Right now in Ottawa, the bill to include gender identity and trans people as protected under the charter, has been attached with an amendment that would make public restroom use by trans people illegal.
These laws are disgusting examples of the bigotry faces regularly on trans people, but they also highlight how often in the rush to discriminate against one group people will trample over the rights of others without so much as a second glance.
Bathroom bills are not just harmful to trans people but they can also be said to actively restrict the accessibility of public spaces to people with disabilities.
When faced with a situation like the one about, I don’t have the time to be concerned about whether the washroom I am using matches my assigned gender or not. If the choice is having a painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing accident in public or using the men’s room, my choice in clear. Laws such as these would make it illegal for me to use to the available restroom. It would limit my access to restrooms when the women’s room is out of order.
Limited access to restrooms, means limited access to public spaces. I can’t physically go anywhere without guaranteed access to facilities, and these laws would make them less available.
In the case of trans people with bathroom related disabilities, this access would be hindered even further since most of these laws effectively bar trans people from all but gender neutral public restrooms.
Discrimination against one groups invariably affects other groups as well. Discrimination against one of us hurts us all.
Trans people have a right to safe and unrestricted access to the washroom of their choice, and I won’t let myself be a complacent back you step on to get to kick them when they’re down.
Edit: I forgot another important way in which these bills affect disabled people. Some people require assistance from a partner or hired personal attendant to use the facilities. In cases where the attendant is a different gender than the person requiring assistance, the attendant would be breaking the law if they did what they needed to do to assist.