[Image: A sign with multiple gender symbols and the words “Inclusive restroom.”]
Content warning: Rape and childhood sexual abuse.
I’ve been quiet for a few days because I’ve come down with yet another cold. I’ve been sick so often lately that I’m worried about my immunity, and wondering if my physical as well as mental health is being affected by all the transphobia in the news lately. This is news that I can’t ignore, as it affects me personally whenever I leave my apartment.
I’ve been collecting links on the bathroom battles, and this latest incident made me angry enough to break my posting silence. In short, a cis woman using a restroom at Target was spied on by a self-appointed restroom policewoman who was concerned about “men and homosexuals” being in there, and was “making sure you were a woman.”
If this sounds scary for a cis person, imagine how a trans person would feel in that situation. I might be less likely to be subject to such treatment when using a men’s room, but it is still a terrifying thought every time I use a stall. I hunch over and get my business done as quickly as possible, being careful not to make eye contact with anyone on my way in or out. The transphobic wave of hate and fear-mongering has now made me feel even more like a furtive criminal rather than someone just trying to take care of basic bodily functions.
Some insist that they aren’t against “real transgenders” using the restrooms appropriate to their identities; they are just trying to prevent (cis) men from pretending to be women in order to gain access to these spaces. It’s been pointed out in many other articles (which I don’t have the energy to search for and link to right now) how unlikely this is, how a sign on the door won’t keep predators out, and how most victims of sexual assault know their attackers. And yet, the fear-mongering continues.
What these bathroom police can’t or won’t understand is that sexual assault thrives not because of gender-inclusive spaces, but because of rape culture. As this essay on Medium points out, the possibility of a woman being attacked by a “man in a dress” in a restroom is just about the only time women are not being blamed for their own rape. Everywhere else, it’s their fault for dressing too seductively, or being out too late, or they’re shamed for ruining the reputation of their rapist.
While I’m not a woman, I lived as a girl/woman for 43 years before my transition. And like many girls, I was the victim of sexual assault by someone I knew; a member of my extended family. My attacker wasn’t a trans woman or a man in a dress, and he didn’t assault me in a public place. He was a cisgender man, upper middle class, conservatively dressed, and respected in the community. I was sexually abused in his own home, for years, nearly every time I visited without my parents.
As I wrote in my blog about this abuse, the repercussions of how my revelation was handled ultimately resulted in me distancing myself from my entire birth family, likely permanently. This has made days like today, Mother’s Day, a particularly painful time to be on social media. Regardless, my point is that my experience is much more typical than the hypothetical man lying in wait to jump on a woman or girl in a public restroom.
If you really want to stop men from raping women and girls, do it by teaching them not to rape, not by punishing trans people for using public facilities. Listen to victims (and survivors); take them seriously, don’t automatically take the side of the abuser or preach about forgiveness. Stop blaming trans women for what cis men are getting away with in your own homes, unchecked and unchallenged, year after year after year.