Opinion: Why We Need To Talk About Bathrooms

In 8th grade, a quiet girl in my P.E. class felt uncomfortable changing in front of others and would hide in a bathroom stall to put on her gym clothes. When she got teased for this, several of us joined her in taking our clothes to stalls to change so she wouldn’t feel alone.

In 9th grade, I overheard some girls in the locker room whispering about how a tomboyish girl was “probably a lesbian” and “watching [them] change” into their running clothes. I myself proceeded to change alone in a bathroom for the next four sports seasons.

In 10th grade, I walked into a bathroom before school started to find a girl straightening her hair, her friend beside her putting on mascara. Both of them were preparing themselves in this quasi public-private space.

In 11th grade, I threw up in a bathroom at a school I didn’t know, before sitting to take the SAT.

In 12th grade, I escaped to a bathroom to take a breath after my ex confronted me at lunch, demanding an ultimatum from me: love him or never see him again. I chose the latter but alas was not granted that privilege.

In my first year of college, I hid in a bathroom after spotting a nameless guy who had kissed me so aggressively at a party that my lips were in pain the next day. I had thought I would never see him again after running away that night.

In my second year, I stood in the shower, looking at the bruises on my fists from the frustration I took out on the gym heavy bag with my unwrapped hands, realized I wasn’t okay, and I then returned to seeing a therapist.

In my third year, I quietly retreated to a bathroom stall after getting a text saying a close family member had had a sudden plummet in health. I struggled to see clearly as I read the message, telling of how he no longer showed the signature snarky sense of humour I had known so well growing up.

Why am I sharing these personal moments from my own life? Why are they all centered around bathrooms? Likely as a surprise to no one reading this article, I want to make a point.

If you can connect with any of these emotions I’ve experienced as a cisgender woman (a woman assigned female at birth), then you can connect with the same emotions a transgender person (someone whose gender identity does not align with their assigned gender at birth) may have experienced in their lifetime; they too have felt scared, ashamed, and lost at times, but also safe, proud, and connected at others.

The key difference, in this case, is that I have never been made to feel unwelcome in a bathroom. Bathrooms have always been a safe place to escape to when life became a little too intense.

This issue has become a hot topic in the ongoing battle over gender-identity rights.

A recent legal case in the spotlight involves Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student in Virginia, who was denied access to the boy’s bathroom by his school, largely due to strong backlash from several students, parents, and local community members.

The narrative of trans people being “sexual predators” or otherwise causing harm in bathrooms is statistically invalidated; they are much more likely to be on the receiving end of aggression and violence.

In fact, about 70% of trans people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted, or harassed while trying to use a restroom, according to a 2013 Williams Institute report.

Tell me why a trans person should ever be made to feel unsafe? Tell me how they are looking for anything beyond decency, respect, and the ability to use the damn bathroom in peace? I wish this wasn’t something we had to fight for, and I wish they could just exist without it becoming part of a political narrative that, above all, seeks to reduce their humanity.
But the reality is that this is not a universal wish, and in many ways, transgender and gender non-conforming people have to fight for some of the most basic rights that most people will take for granted.

Now, maybe you find this an ill-fitting audience. Why would Olin, a seemingly progressive and accepting campus, need to talk about these issues? My opinion is that it is simply not enough to tolerate and passively accept.
We need to have a dialogue on these issues and make it known that we care and are here to support those who are being silenced. Note that this doesn’t mean interrogating the trans and gender non-conforming people in your life, but instead looking for ways you can support them.

Massachusetts Question 3 on the November ballot, which questioned whether laws banning discrimination in public spaces based on gender identity should be upheld (you may have heard of the “Yes on 3” campaign which sought to protect transgender rights), passed with just over a two-thirds “Yes” vote.

This is a sigh of relief, and a win for transgender and gender non-conforming people everywhere, but also a great concern that it was even called into question.

As a community, these are the kinds of issues that we need to be vocal about to show people that we will be here to support them no matter what happens. Stay informed about what’s going on in the world, especially with respect to executive declarations that specifically target minority groups and seek to incite fear.

Think about the topics that you’re prioritizing in your everyday conversations and how interpersonal interactions can be just as, if not more, important than group projects and technical assignments. I am by no means doing enough and am writing this not just to the Olin community but to myself as well.

I really hope Olin can overcome its aversion to political discussions in order to take action and show support for people that may otherwise feel disenfranchised by the world around them.

P.S. I chose to publish this anonymously so discussion will be focused on the issue itself and not sidetracked by my own experiences. I am well aware that this is not my own issue and I was originally tentative to speak up about something that I have not personally experienced.

However, I believe this is a case where conversation about how we can do better as a community is necessary, and I want to use this opportunity to bring it up.

I hope this can be taken as an appeal to each of us as part of the Olin community to make a space for honest and well-intentioned discussion, so we can better support the global community by starting with our own.

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