Bathroom politics

A couple years ago, as the Hollaback! Mile High site leader, I attended an event with Hollaback! Executive Director, Emily May at Auraria Campus. In addition to the usual regarding street harassment, we ventured into a discussion of trans people and harassment in restrooms on campus. It was heart wrenching.

I’m in and out of bathrooms all day long, #blessed with a pea-size bladder, and all I want to do is sit on a clean seat, not run out of toilet paper, wash my hands, and check my lipstick. It’s truly a… remarkable event. And yet.

Trans women at this event, and trans men, detailed the harassment they face on a daily basis. The stares; the people coming in, backing out and checking the sign on the door; being asked if they knew they were in the women’s room; worse.

Want more definitions? You can find them at
Want more definitions? You can find them at

I asked what we, as allies, could do. What is a good response that can be helpful, as doing nothing isn’t an option? One girl recounted a story about being in a women’s room at a shopping center, and two other ladies walked in. Lady A looked at this girl, and obnoxiously asked if she knew she was in the woman’s bathroom. The girl was stunned and shamed and didn’t know what to say. Lady B washed her hands, looked at her friend, and said, “I think she knows exactly where she is.”

In recent months, we’ve reached a tipping point on the truly hand-wringing, pearl-clutching issue of what bathroom are trans folk to use. The “Bathroom Bill” aka HB2 in North Carolina; the Target boycott; the myriad other bills set up to emulate HB2. We have serious shit to handle in this country and we are worried about people using the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. Seriously, what is with conservatives’ obsession with birth certificates?

The idea that a trans person is more likely to sexually assault someone in the bathroom is laughable. I mean, it’s never happened before, but sure, let’s legislate that anyway. It’s great that cis white men want to protect us delicate lady flowers, but nothing about this helps anyone. Am I going to have to flash my Woman Card every time I need to pee? Or is this really just an excuse to let male cops and politicians examine my vagina to make sure it’s real before I can enter a women’s restroom? I mean, the TSA already gets to do strip searches, so let’s get more agencies in on the action to regulate our collective body. Oh, you haven’t surgically transitioned, but otherwise identify as a woman, including the way you dress? Sorry pal, take your unwanted penis to the men’s room where you actually may be assaulted.


This is to say nothing of the fact that a co-sponsor of a similar Bathroom Bill in Tennessee was kicked out of the Capitol building for sexually harassing OVER 30 female colleagues. Yet it’s trans people that we’re supposed to fear, in spite of all data points supporting the contrary:

  • Approximately 70% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows
  • 97% of rapists are never incarcerated
  • 2 – 8% of rape claims are false (compared with the 50% that college students believe are false accusations)
  • The chance of a prisoner being raped: 1 in 10
  • The chance of an LGBTQ prisoner being raped: 15x higher – with 67% reporting assault

It’s a lot easier to see the boogeyman in a trans person, rather than in someone we know. They’re already an Other, so it’s easier to shift our fears onto them. But obviously that is dead wrong. That revictimizes a group that is already more likely to experience assault. While 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in this country, 1 in 2 transgender individuals will experience it. Transgender individuals experienced nearly 20% of all hate crimes in 2014. 

Transgender people aren’t the problem. This was never about keeping women safe (if that was the case, I’ve got some better ideas that might actually make a difference…). This is about what happens when men like Representative Durham from TN think being trans isn’t really real, and they think #allmen would like to sneak into a teen locker room. It’s about what happens when a rampant rape culture sees women as objects, as property, and as things that can be taken.

This meme going around made me smirk. It's harsh, but pretty spot on.
This meme going around made me smirk. It’s harsh, but pretty spot on.

Instead of working through Title IX to educate young men and women on consent (free and enthusiastic), and instead of testing rape kits, or making hallways to bathrooms shorter and less out of the way, these laws blame the trans community and sow fear, conflating sex offenders with issues of gender identity.

So the next time you see a trans individual in the bathroom, if you can even tell they’re trans, pass the toilet paper, smile in the mirror, go about your day. I’m positive that they know which restroom they walked in to.

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