Friday, March 17, 2017
To pee, or not to pee...
I used an all-gender multi-user restroom. And I liked it. It was this past January in Jacksonville at the annual ASCA student conduct conference. It seemed odd to me that the schedule even noted when the all-gender restroom would be open. Student Affairs as a profession has a very wide tent and is uber-inclusive. So it makes sense that publicizing pee times is important.
The backdrop for all of this is the North Carolina bathroom bill passed in 2016. Essentially, the law holds people to their gender designation as noted at birth. There are immediate problems for those who were born with ambiguous genitalia (one form of intersex condition) and have to make decisions about where they should go. Nevertheless, the main objections come from those who are transgender. For some trans-persons, their sex assigned at birth as recorded on their birth certificate does not sync with their gender identity -- their internal experience of being a man or woman. For other trans-person, their gender identity is non-binary, neither exclusively woman nor man. A person with a penis, but identifying as female in all other ways has to use the men's room under this bill.So too would trans-persons, who have received one or more gender confirmation surgeries. And so too would non-binary trans-persons.
Many find this bill discriminatory, which is why Texas probably decided to consider its own version. SB6 is now working its way through legislation in Texas, despite much resistance. At issue with these laws is that they work to address something that isn't broken, and they discriminate against transgender individuals. Choosing a bathroom where one is comfortable is important. For example, biological males who identify as female are often more comfortable using the women's room. I think I would be.
In my case, in Jacksonville, the stakes were pretty low. I have bathroom privilege and don't have to face these issues. But I wanted to try. The first time I went in no one was in there. I had the joint to myself. The second time, as I was washing my hands... afterwards... a young African-American woman came out of a stall and did the same. She didn't seem to notice me. Which is not uncommon. And so it went. It was kind of liberating.
Then, this week, I continued my new bathroom obsession, using an all-gender multi-user restroom at the NASPA professional conference in San Antonio. Mostly, it was because it was the closest one. There were many women in this restroom, and again, no one seemed to notice or care that I was there. I was getting the hang of it.
Now, these are big steps for me. As an aging 57 year-old, things aren't as smooth as they once were. I am generally not comfortable peeing in front of anyone - especially young college men whose flow is... not encumbered by encroaching prostates.
Those who are pushing the Texas bill and the one enacted in North Carolina say it is about safety for women and girls. The fear is that a man will go into a women's room and become violent or act out in a predatory manner. But this argument has many flaws. Most sexual violence occurs between parties who know one another and there is little evidence that men have or will dress as women or transgender people, enter public restrooms, and commit crimes. (In fact, nothing stops men now from dressing as women to go into "women's" bathrooms.) More importantly, the legislation does nothing to protect transgender people from violence in public restrooms, a much more likely outcome, especially in the "men's" room.
And yet, the other side claims to have at least anecdotal evidence that this kind of legislation is important. For many, sex, sexuality, and gender are all connected. Men and boys should be in one set of bathrooms and women and girls in another. But why? Socialization is probably the main reason. There is really no reason that I should only feel comfortable going into a public restroom with President Anderson, my father-in-law (proud stall man), students, or strange men, let's say. What's the difference between that and stalling next to my colleague Melissa Flowers, my wife, or my administrative assistant, Yvonne? Nothing, really. I suspect that most of the people who support this type of legislation are older people who, like me, are simply not completely comfortable with all of this, though I'm getting there. But we all need to get comfortable, because it's not about us.
All of this has risen to the high courts recently when Gavin Grimm pursued his case legally on these same issues. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a District Court and it is pending. The current administration appears to favor the legislation as it rolls back Obama-era guidance on discrimination.
That guidance is primarily aimed at K-12 schools. Private universities like Trinity can set their own non-discrimination policies and gender discrimination is not permitted on campus. Transgender students may use campus restrooms of choice. But some of my forward-thinking colleagues have set out to identify all gender single-user campus restrooms for those seeking privacy. Of course students, employees, and guests aren't required to use these, but new signs will soon designate such spaces in CSI, the library, Northrup Hall, the Chapel, and several places on lower campus.
The Texas and North Carolina laws are facing major resistance as companies and organizations have withdrawn businesses, events, and conferences from those states. San Antonio could lose a Final Four if the Texas law is adopted. Most see these laws for what they are: ways to further marginalize and discriminate against those who are "not like the others." It is about far more than bathrooms. People like me can pop in and out of various restrooms, and this issue, as we wish to try it on. But others have to grapple with this every single time they are in public places. They have no choice, but to be.
In addition to just generally caring about others and an inclusive world, we should be concerned as a Texas campus as we try to recruit students from out-of-state. As our growing transgender population is increasingly public about their presence and needs, we need to make sure they know they belong here. Even in our restrooms.
Note: Special thanks to my colleague Richard Reams, in Counseling Services, for his assistance in educating me, editing this post, and as is often the case, saving me from myself.