Imagine this: You’re a transgender teen and you have to pee. Sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, for a lot of trans people taking care of this basic need isn’t. That’s because the majority of public bathrooms are specifically designed for either men or women, and a trans person whose appearance or body doesn’t conform to what people think of as male or female may run into trouble tying to use either restroom. In fact, it is often against the law to use a bathroom designated for the opposite sex!
What’s the Problem?
The Transgender Law Project did a survey of this issue a few years back and talked to people about their bathroom experiences.
Here are a few things they heard:
From transgender people who do not identify as female or male:
“Security chased me,” “I run into problems 80% of the time,” “This is a problem every day.”
From ftm/male and mtf/female identified people:
“Yelled at -- ‘you’re using the wrong bathroom,” “I have been slapped, pushed, and dragged out by security guards,” “got physically pulled out,” “I have spent so many hours avoiding public multi-stall bathrooms that I have damaged my bladder and put pressure on my kidneys,” “The problem was a daily one. I’d think about where I was going, what bathrooms I’d have access to, how much I drank during the day, whether I’d be with people who could help stand guard...”
This is a serious issue for a lot of people, whether they identify as trans or not. For example, gay and lesbian youth who may not look "typically" male or "typically" female may get comments, or worse, when going to the bathroom.
Using Public Bathrooms Safely
Here are some tips for trans and gender non-conforming people who want to use bathrooms that aren't associated with their birth sex.
- Learn the gender code of male and female bathrooms (for example: in women’s rooms it is “okay” to chat with strangers, in men’s rooms it generally is not).
- Go when it isn’t crowded.
- Act like you have a right to be there (which you do!).
- Go with a buddy who can look out for you.
Creating Safe Bathrooms for Everyone
If you or your friends have had problems with bathrooms, a good resource to check out is Peeing in Peace: A Resource Guide for Transgender Activists and Allies.
This organization is striving to help make bathroom use safe and accessible for everyone. Sadly, there is still a long ways to go before this happens. So until then, you might want to consider talking to someone at your school about bathroom use. Some schools will let you use a gender neutral bathroom, say in the nurse's office, or in another location.