[Image: lauren Ornelas, Pax, and Aph Ko at the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary party, April 2017. Photo by Deborah Svoboda.]
Yesterday my friend lauren Ornelas, founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project (a vegan food justice organization), posted a blog entry about a simple but important act of allyship; please read her post before continuing. I want to express my gratitude and explain the significance of this action, especially in an era of trans-antagonistic “bathroom bills”.
As a transgender person of color who attended the Food Empowerment Project 10th anniversary celebration, I wanted to highlight the importance of labeling the restrooms as gender-neutral. I last visited the Mission Cultural Center in April 2014, when I was performing there with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. At that time I had only been on hormone therapy for a short time, and was very frequently misgendered as female. (While I identify as agender, I have transitioned from female to male for legal and medical purposes.) This caused me a great deal of stress whenever I needed to use a restroom.
Once I began my hormonal transition, I decided to use mens restrooms exclusively in places where no gender-neutral facilities were available, such as the Mission Cultural Center. So I stood outside the mens room there, literally shaking with nervousness, waiting until no one was coming in or out before entering. I stood there for a good ten minutes before finally working up the nerve to enter that restroom. I finished my business without incident, fortunately.
To this day, three years later, I am still nervous when using a gendered restroom, especially in an unfamiliar place, even in San Francisco, where people are legally entitled to use restrooms matching their gender identities. (As of March 2017, California law mandates that all single-occupancy restrooms be gender-neutral, but this venue had only multiple-stall restrooms available to the public.) So I was delighted when I attended the F.E.P. party to see the gender-neutral signs on both restrooms. I still used the one that was ordinarily designated for men, but I felt safer knowing that whichever one I chose, I belonged there.
Ally is a verb, as lauren and her staff at F.E.P. demonstrated at this event. I am grateful for their act of allyship.