by: Joy Ladin on November 20th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
The annual reading of the names of those murdered in the past year for being transgender is a somber reminder that the United States is dangerous place for trans people – particularly trans women and trans people of color. But the once- or twice-a-week murders we memorialize represent a small fraction of verbal and physical violence trans people experience on a daily basis. And as the campaign against the California law safeguarding rights of transgender school children demonstrates, nothing arouses violently anti-trans sentiment like the specter of trans girls and women using public restrooms.
In a country in which it’s still legal in many states to fire people for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the right to use a public restroom may seem like small potatoes. But as a trans woman who regularly uses women’s rooms at work, in stores, in libraries and other public spaces, the fear of being verbally harassed, physically assaulted or even arrested is a daily fact of life.
Those who oppose giving trans women the right to use women’s restrooms argue that if trans women are legally allowed to urinate behind locked stall doors, wash our hands at a sink or fix our hair in a mirror, women’s rooms will no longer be sanctuaries from male violence. They will be open to anyone who claims to be a woman, including men who come to ogle, grope and rape.
The political and sometimes physical battles to restrict women’s rooms to those who are biologically female testify to women’s craving for safe public space, however cramped, ugly or smelly. But the only documented cases I know of in which trans women’s bathroom use led to violence is when trans women were assaulted by those who didn’t accept their right to be there. And whatever laws are on the books, women’s rooms have never been restricted to biological females. Unless guards are checking chromosomes at the door, my trans sisters and I will be there, risking our lives to use the toilet, wash our hands, floof our hair.