Editor’s Note: today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to honor all those who have lost their lives due to transphobia. The following commentary by a Minnesota NOW board member is both a call to political action and a personal plea for compassion as the antidote to intolerance and violence. Links about TDoR and local observances appear at the end of the piece. –Shannon
By Andrea Persephone Sand
The entire concept of public sex-segregated bathrooms is a catch-22 for trans folk in its entirety. If we ask for gender neutral bathrooms, we are a minority demanding special rights at the cost of taxpayer dollars. If we ask to use the bathroom we know is ours, we are sexual predators and deviants who want to watch the “other sex” go potty. If we use the bathroom we were begrudgingly born in to, we risk being ostracized or yelled at, even running the risk of physical or sexual assault. Hell, we run the risk of assault no matter which restroom we use. No matter what happens, we’re in the wrong.
We’re told “just go to the bathroom!” I love my friends, and how beautifully naïve they are, how cute it is that they lack the hate I see every day. I love them so much, because they remind me of the good parts of humanity. They ask “why don’t you just go? Are you embarrassed?” No. I am scared. I just want to go to the bathroom without rolling the dice. Wherever we go, we face persecution just for wanting to tinkle or do things like use the gym, swim in a community pool, or use the restroom of a fast-food chain to do our thing before going about the rest of our goddamn day.
The above video is a report on the case of Chrissy Lee Polis, who was assaulted in a McDonalds bathroom by two teenagers, an unnamed 14 year old and an 18 year old Teonna Monae Brown. The attack ended with Polis on the floor, convulsing from a seizure triggered from the savage beating and the store manager, Vernon Hackett, telling the perpetrators to leave because 911 had been called. The only person who truly stepped in was an aging woman who, for her troubles, was assaulted as well; but if not for her, the teens would have murdered Polis. For what looked an awful lot like attempted murder, the 14 year old received something tantamount to a slap on the wrist. Brown only got five years for first degree assault with the hate crime modifier. Vernon Hackett was not charged at all. Tax evasion carries a five year sentence, too. Hackett alone should have gotten five years for what he did; Brown deserved far, far worse. Are our lives somehow worth less because of who we are and how we were born?
In Chrissy’s own words: “I felt like I was going to die that day. I continue to suffer seizures, bouts of crying, mental anguish and anxiety. I fear being alone. I have flashbacks about the attacks. I do not forgive them for what they did to me.” All this, over a bathroom.
I worked at a beautiful restaurant, and I loved it because the bathrooms, despite being gendered, were single-occupancy, with locks. If I could just get in, I could lock the door and be safe and do what I needed to do. After one shift, I had changed to my cycling get and came out ready to bike it home when I heard a customer, “You know that says ‘ladies room’, right?!” and then I saw it. She, and he. She was shorter than me, skinnier than me, prettier than me, and more attractive; but god was her personality ugly. He was taller, stronger, bigger, and more ready to kick my ass than most people. To say I was scared was an understatement. Our bathrooms were in the back corner of the restaurant; that is to say I was very close to being cornered before running between them and making like a gazelle out the back door after mentioning, “Funny. I thought my license says ‘female’.”
The scariest bathroom moment for me, though, was at a club. I biked there, and I needed to change in to partying clothes [you'd be amazed what a good Chrome bag can hold!]. Walking in, I saw the mens rooms and kept walking. A young man following me in missed it, or just wanted to follow me. As I walked in to the right bathroom, I heard the bartender yelling at me “That’s the ladies room”; what went through my head is “He’s talking to the guy behind me.”, and the guy behind me tried to stop me. I yelled “My license says ‘female’!” and I refused to leave. Hearing the commotion, the other woman in the bathroom peeked out, saw me, and locked herself back in her stall after a look of “what the utter fuck is that?!” I clarified myself, and was dismissed bluntly by the bartender; better than nothing. The look of “oh god what have I gotten myself in to” on his face was priceless though. After locking the stall and starting to change, I could hear the poor girl next to me having what sounded like a panic attack. Labored breathing, unhappy sounds, rushed motions; she was scared, and she ran. Or so I thought.
It took me a few minutes after I thought she left to finish changing [I rock a certain style that takes time and refinement. And bell bottoms.] but when I came out, she was waiting for me. Just standing there, staring at my door. Staring at me as I came out. The notion that I was in there to spy on other people became suddenly laughable to me; other people were spying on me as I did my business, just wanting to do my thing in peace. I was being victimized in much the same way people feared I would do to others. Projection much?
I’m tired of holding it, I’m tired of bladder infections I have to treat myself because of how rude and inappropriate medical “professionals” are. I’m tired of almost wetting myself, and I’m tired of squatting in bushes. I’m so goddamn tired. All I want is some nice porcelain under my ass; is that too much to ask? I suppose that’s why I love some of the clubs I go to; the women there will not only not question me being in there, but watch the stall for me too because not all the locks work [I love you, ladies!] After all the few times I’m using a stall in public I am either in need of place to relieve myself, or in need of a place to be physically ill. I don’t know what gender-conformative people do in there, but apparently I should be concerned because they think I’m doing it.
You can’t have it both ways. You just can’t. You can’t deny us gender-neutral bathrooms that are safe for us and also deny protections for us if we’re harmed for going to pee in a proper public space. There has to be a concession, you have to meet us in the middle.
I miss going to swim, but I know full well I’d be putting myself in harms way if I went to the local community center and tried to put a two piece on. I suppose I could be upset about never being able to go to LA Fitness, but I have a bicycle that works year-round, and I don’t really care about feeling excluded from paying $25 a month to run on a treadmill like a gerbil. The swimming thing though, that gets me. I love swimming, but I’m not rich and I don’t have a home with an indoor pool. YMCA or YWCA? I can’t win, and nobody cares. I agree with Vice President Biden when he calls transgender discrimination the civil rights issue of our time.
We’re still waiting for our Rosa Parks, our Emily Davison, our Mahatma Ghandi, and our Crispus Attucks. Perhaps we’ve already had our Attucks; but this call to revolution is too damn slow and there’s not nearly enough people fighting for freedom. We demand bathroom equality and safety now!
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Transgender Day of Remembrance events in Minneapolis (via PFLAG Twin Cities)
Trans Youth Support Network, Minneapolis