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January 04, 2007

Comments

John G.

Joe,

I think that on some points you are being unfair and on other points your reasoning is flawed. I’m not going to go into great detail on any one point, but just throw some things out there to demonstrate how much more complicated the issues are than I think you gave them credit for in your post.

First of all, the Gender Blind campaign seems much more focused on dormitory policy, as opposed to bathroom policies. Opening up gender-neutral living options in university housing is controversial, to be sure, but would seek to not force anyone into an uncomfortable living situation, unlike current policies which often do that. I don’t see anyone advocating forcing men and women to live together if they don’t want to, but rather to provide an option for those “students who feel uncomfortable with rooming with members of the same sex, intersex students who do not wish to be identified by any sex, and students who feel that they would cooperate better with a roommate of the opposite sex.”

We have housing policies that deny the reality of students’ experience: transgendered students are often forced into the conventional gender binary as they fill out housing applications. Sometimes we force students to into situations in which they are uncomfortable because we think it will be a good experience: Racist students have few options to prevent being placed with a person of color as a roommate, homophobic students have few options to prevent being placed with a gay, lesbian or bisexual roommate, etc. Maybe in the future, we’ll be calling a student who doesn’t want to live with an opposite gendered person a sexist? Lastly, in the real world outside of college dormitories, and even in off-campus housing for college students, mixing genders in apartments and houses is quite common.

Turning to bathroom policy, the focus of your post, I think you’re again misunderstanding the demand for a gender-neutral option with a call to make gender-neutral the only option. While there are many people who really could care less about who is in the stall or shower next to them, I don’t see any call in this campaign to force people who do care to share their bathrooms. When I was in college, I lived in a dorm with only gender neutral bathrooms (it was advertised as such, so you knew what you were getting into when you signed up), and it wasn’t a problem for the students. I felt much more comfortable in a mixed gender situation and out of the hyper-masculinized and often homophobic situations I had experienced in single gender locker rooms, shared showers, etc. in other settings. (Which is where I see a connection between the GLB and T concerns.) I also lived in a dorm that had only single-gender bathrooms, and was advertised as such, and met a lot of students who really valued that option. The campaign is about creating options, not forcing one choice on people, which is what the current system often does.

As for trans people and bathrooms, when we had a gender neutral restroom campaign on my old campus, some of the main movers and shakers of the campaign were butch lesbians who had faced significant ridicule, verbal harassment, and even physical aggression when they had been mistaken for men by other women in the restroom, or by well-meaning individuals who stopped them as the entered the women’s room, thinking they were men. Of the few trans students on campus, those who were seeking full transition reported similar incidents and expressed desire for the option of gender neutral. And then there are the trans people who identify a neither gender, for whom the option is especially appreciated.

As for women fearing rape or other violence in restrooms if they share them with men: I will not deny that women are raped by men in restrooms. It is definitely something that women have to be aware of, and I wish they didn’t have to fear. But how many of the men who rape women in restrooms are there because they are posing as women or are there because the restroom was labeled gender neutral? A man who wants to rape a woman in a restroom does not care what the label on the door says. He feels empowered to enter the restroom no matter what the label and commit an act of violence. I’m not saying that we should force gender neutral restrooms on anyone, just that that specific argument does nothing to convince me that gender segregated bathrooms are better than gender-neutral ones.

Lastly, I am concerned by your efforts to single out trans and intersex people as a very small minority, as if that makes their concerns less valid, and by your efforts to deconstruct the connection between GLB and T. I don’t see how the size of a minority affects the validity of their cause, or how noting the size of a minority is rhetorically necessary for any reason other than to try and undermine their cause. I also don’t see why one would want to separate the GLB from T, as both share the fundamental concerns of questioning how gender and gender roles are institutionalized and forced on us by society. While the actual expression of gender-based oppression is different for a gay man and a lesbian, for a bi woman and a lesbian, or for a trans man and a trans woman, we’re all addressing the same root concerns. To use a cliché that sums up how I feel about addressing concerns that spring from this same root problem but don’t directly affect me in my identity: Either we all hang together or we’ll all hang separately. While I may not be directly affected by oppression of trans folks, I am concerned that gender and gender roles are being forced on anyone.

Well, that’s all the response I have in my right now. But seriously Joe, I find your post unfair to the stated goals of the Gender Blind group and remarkably short-sighted.

joe perez

John - Thanks for your careful and thoughtful response. I think we agree on more than we disagree here.

On "First of all, the Gender Blind campaign seems much more focused on dormitory policy." Yes, but I thought that proposal wasn't worth taking seriously as the unisex bathroom issue (it's really a whole other issue), so I focused my attention on the bathroom issue. I hope that's clear now and thanks for clarifying the issue for anyone who might have been confused by my narrow focus. But since I didn't discuss that issue, I don't see how you can attribute to me the argument that dorm policies would force people to live together who don't want to.

And on the bathroom issue, I think there are advocates of unisex (I quoted one at length) who would advance unisex as the best choice or the only choice, and I disagree with them. I agree with those who prefer a variety of choices of bathroom options, including unisex.

As for your point about mixed bathrooms making some folks uncomfortable, I have a hard time following what conclusions you expect others to draw. It seems you're playing devil's argument, but then it seems that you're actually disagreeing with me. The fact that people in the future may disagree with our opinions today doesn't really seem like a compelling argument for those of us talking about TODAY. How is that relevant? Specifically, if a large number of all women and a certain significant number of all men would be made uncomfortable if their only bathroom option was unisex, and some argued that their very personal safety was at stake, how would you address or fail to address these concerns without being just as "unfair" as you say that you think I may be?

I'm glad you make the points you do on rape; it's an important issue worth considering a variety of perspectives. But what's the upshot? Are you making an argument, or just adding information for consideration? Remember that the Genderblind.org folks are not merely arguing for unisex bathrooms in places where the only activity is the toilet and washing of hands; they're arguing for unisex bathrooms even in dorm rooms--where SHOWERS and nudity are expected. Don't you see a safety issue with het women and men showering together??? Not to mention just a personal comfort issue that ought to be seriously considered!

I disagree with you that the size of a minority community is not relevant, but then that's part of my consequentialist ethical leanings. Remember, I'm sure we agree that T concerns are worth taking seriously, no matter how many transgendered individuals there are.

But let me extend my point a little to see if I can't make it stronger. Public accomodations are generally designed for the majority (right-handed doorknobs, etc.), and minority concerns are only taken into account in a small number of cases that don't really apply to the T/unisex bathroom issue: (a) persons with disabilities, (b) the ability to accomodate the minority preference without inconveniencing the majority, and (c) when cost is not prohibitive. You seem to not get the point that it's foolish for policy to be set based on the needs of, say, 1% of the population (T) if it will make up to 50% of the population (women and some men) at risk/feeling threatened. My approach is to see beyond this, and to advocate a both/and solution. Your efforts to portray the T community's numbers as irrelevant seems very impractical.

Finally, I respect your opinion that you would like to see greater fairness for the T community. But don't assume that I want unfairness because we don't see eye to eye on every detail. I said nothing about marginalizing the T community or stripping them from the GLBT banner, as that's a separate issue entirely and it's unfair to me to lump me in with others unless I actually made the arguments. That said, if we were to discuss the issues in more depth, I do feel we probably disagree and you might conclude I was unfair. I think it's plain that T concerns do NOT always align with the priorities and concerns of G, L, and B folks and that's okay. We don't all have to march in a lockstep uniformity, do we? I will support the concerns of Ts or ANY minority if those concerns are just; I think it would be demeaning to the legitimate concerns of transgendered individual to say that I should support their concerns simply because I share a common "umbrella" connection of GLBT based on supporting each other in grievances. Just grievances will always get my support no matter whose concerns they belong to; unjust grievances won't.

I appreciate your thoughts though and am glad for your comments. I would suggest, however, that instead of playing devil's advocate with arguments that you don't seem willing to stand behind you own your opinions firmly as your own. Especially on the topic of whether you believe that increasing the numbers of unisex dorm bathrooms might introduce legitimate safety and comfort issues for women. Thanks.

John G.

Joe,

I rarely play the devil's advocate without explicitly stating that is my purpose.

But to clarify a few points:

I don't think that expecting men and women to share dormatory bathrooms, including showers, poses a significant safety risk, provided that all parties are aware of the situation when they sign up to live in that dorm. I lived in a dorm with co-ed bathrooms (and showers) for two years, and it wasn't a problem. In fact, in most conversations I had with my dorm-mates, almost everyone found that they liked it more than they expected to and would probably chose a similar situation in the future, should the choice arise. In a side note, a new dorm is being built at my old college, and in student focus groups, both mixed gender and seperate by gender, large majorities pushed for co-ed bathrooms. Obviously they'e not for everyone, but in my experience, there are more than enough people, trans and non-trans alike, who prefer them and justify making it an option.

I also can't express more strongly how much I trully believe that creating gender-neutral options is necessary, for dorms, for office buildings, for public spaces, etc. In my experience having a few single-user gender-neutral bathrooms throughout a building or area can make a huge difference for a lot of people, beyond the transgender or GLB community. After the instalation of new gender-neutral single user bathrooms in the most frequented buildings on my old campus, the Muslim Students Association issued a thanks to the administration, because they appreciated the privacy to perform pre-prayer ablutions. In multi-user single-gender restrooms, they often felt uncomfortable performing these ablutions while people who didn't know what was going on stared.

The real thing I want to emphasize is that I am advocating making the option reasonably available. I am not saying that everyone has to use a gender-neutral restroom, as that would only repeat the problems of the current system that often forces people to use gender-specific restrooms. Also, I speculated in my initial response that as the neutral option becomes more available, more and more people (women and men) will probably become more comfortable with it.

As for the rape argument, I was not trying to dismiss people's (in this case women's) right to safety, but pointing out that in actuality, gender specific restrooms probably don't create a safer environment than gender-neutral ones. I don't know of any study of this, but I'll yeild to statistics if they'e out there. But there is a real difference between accomodating one's need to feel safe and accomodating things that actually make one safer.

And as for the connection between GLB and T issues, while I recognize that the two communities face many different and distinct issues, I believe that the root connection related to gender and gender-role non-conformance strongly like the communities in a way beyond our desire to support anyone with a just grievance. Its a connection I think is being lost as hetero-normativity is becoming more ingrained in the LGB community, and that hetero-normativity and making less space for T and for non-hetero-conformists.

Theres a lot more to unpack on a lot of those points, but hopefully tat clarifies a bit.

DonPato

I can pee anywhere with or without the company of others.


DonPato
http://londongay.info/

pennyjane

joe, unfortunately you make perfect sense. i am one of those women you speak of (albeit trans) who just simply does not feel one little bit comfortable sharing facilities where intimate functions are performed with men. the option of unisex facilities is a very good thing where appropriate but a full conversion would, i fear, turn out to be the nightmare you envision.

i need to say further that the transgender umbrella term is one most of us transsexuals want to get out form under. we don't fit. truth is we don't fit with the glbt group anywhere. all the other affiliations are of a sexual nature, transsexuaism is only about gender. transsexuals come in any and all sexual orientations. sex and gender are exclusive of one another. i fit with the glbt crowd in that i am homosexual, that is i am attracted to member of my own gender, not because i am transsexual.

i make that point to clearify one reason i know why many women aren't comfortable at all with on open interpretation of gender expression becoming a matter of law. as a woman i would never like to share the bathroom with a man who gets off on girls' clothes. that's a sexual fetish and should not be protected by law to act out publicly. that no more then any other sexual act. so, even when dressed, i think the crossdressers and transvestites and shemales should use the facilities designated for their own gender. and, a man doesn't have to be actively masterbating to be having sex. for many fetishists masterbation is the result of the sexual stemulus, not the cause.

yes, in the future folks probably will view us as up tight to the umpth, and they will be right, we are. we as a society are and forcing change is not the way to go about making change, being change is.

so, thanks for the interesting piece, from one gender aware person to another.

Adam Kratt

University of California, Berkeley has had gender-Neutral Bathrooms since the for over 20 years and they have had NO negatve problems arise.

Also the following University of california Campuses have also added Gender Neutral restrooms.. Riverside, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz.

Other Colleges throuth out the nation like the University of Vermont and Harvard as well as American College have had Gender neutral Restrooms with no Problems

Disneyland has Gender Neutral Restrooms which they call family restrooms.. and have had no issues

pennyjane

gender neutral in addition to, not in lieu of........if the facility is to be used by muliple people at one time....give me gender exclusive anytime.

part of the reason why i love being female is that it is not male. i like being different than men, i cherish it...i don't like it being convoluted. i like the difference and i like expressing it.

the women's room is more to a lot of women then just a place to go relieve ourselves...it's one of the very rare places where women have public space that is not accessable to men....that in iteslf can be a great relief to many women.

having experienced the "bathroom issue" from both perspectives, i am in a position to point out that there is a very real, very palatable difference between how men and women precieve the nature of the "powder room." i'd hate to see that denied us on a wide scale. in fact i'd like to see more such space...free of male influence, power and control...not less.

much love and hope. pj

pennyjane

i don't think the "bathroom issue" really is much of an issue for those outside of the "transgender" genre. i'd think that a good 99% of the population in our culture are quite content with the status quo. in that, i count myself.

i have been in transition (mtf) for something over five years now. i'm personally yet to run into any kind of problem...it's not that i "pass" all that well..i don't...but i do always dress respectfully and appropriate for my age and station in life. for those who know the difference i'd never be mistaken for a crossdresser or a drag queen....those who don't just take their cues from how i conduct myself, respectfully and confidently.

all the problems i've heard about come from people who really don't belong in the facility they are attempting to use. there are a couple of notable exceptions, but those are rare...and if i may...i'm not at all certain they aren't primarily the result of the "issue" being made an "issue" of by forces that don't really have standing.

transvestites (crossdressers and drag queens) often have a sense of entitlement that is not comiserate with their actual standing. they are men....wearing the clothing of women does not make them women, it makes them men dressed as women. because they feel this entitlement they can't understand why it is that "women" don't accept them as one of their own. "shoot," they say, "we're all sisters." well, actually...no...no man can be the sister of anyone...by definition sisters are females. the thing they can't seem to get a handle on is that how one dresses speaks nothing of their gender. a man can dress like a woman 'till the cows come home...he's still a man.

women are born, we are not made. the same goes for men....autogynephiles may wish to high heaven they'd been born women, but they get only what wishing gets one. one cannot change his or her gender anymore than they can change species....it's just not possible.

so i fit with the majority here...men...however you dress yourself...use the men's rooms...women...likewise.

Jose

I really like this post, the part that explains something about the bathroom is great, I love this kind of post, I'd like to receive updates of this article, because I love it!

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