Where Can I Pee?

By Diane DeLapRestroom Sign

“Where do you expect me to pee?”

On February 17, 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick issued an executive order banning discrimination on the part of the state or its contractors against transgender employees of the state government. As a state employee at the time, I was present at the official signing ceremony the following day.

At that time, legislation was pending in Massachusetts to extend non-discrimination protections to all transgender citizens. The issue of public accommodations for transgender people like myself – including restroom use – was a major stumbling block for many legislators. I visited several of the legislators during this period to urge that legislation including public accommodations be passed. At one point I was in the office of one of the legislative assistants, and I posed the question at the head of this article to him. He stared at me blankly and never responded. At that time I was approaching 70 years old. His position was that we should use the restroom corresponding to our birth sex. How could he tell an elderly woman that she must use the men’s room? He had no response, because he knew that his position would put my life in serious jeopardy.

The legislation finally passed on November 23, 2011 however, with legislators caving to the now familiar fear -mongering “restroom bill” charges, the important public accommodations portions were tossed out. Finally on July 7 th this year the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill with public accommodations protections for all transgender people.

Through the years, right wing fear mongers have found the “restroom bill” meme a useful tool to further oppress the transgender community. Even those who we would think would be allies raised this issue. In the early 2000s I was on the board of an LGBT organization in the Boston area, and was told the following account by a fellow board member. The board had sent a group to speak with Barney Frank to encourage his support for Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation pending in Congress. He told the group that he would never support ENDA legislation that included protections for the transgender community. He angrily told the group that Congress and businesses would never support legislation which would put trans-women, who he described as “men,” in  women’s restrooms and locker rooms.

Frankly, as a Trans woman, I don’t want predators in the ladies room either. One of the problems is that I am identified as a predator. This is one of many false arguments presented to prevent trans people from using public restrooms that correspond to
their true gender identity. Historically, there are so few examples of transgender persons engaging in predatory behavior that it renders this argument false. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder wrote in an August 26th decision that “... the record suggests that, for obvious reasons, transgender individuals generally seek to avoid having their nude or partially nude bodies exposed in restrooms, showers, and other similar facilities.” Also he writes, “on the current record, there is no evidence that transgender individuals overall are any more likely to engage in predatory behaviors than other segments of the population.”

Much of the fear mongering results from a misunderstanding of the transgender condition. Often the argument is presented that laws permitting transgender access to public restrooms will allow a man to decide to wear a dress to gain access to women’s restrooms. The transgender condition is not one that can be turned on and off at will. It is a life-long condition.

I always knew that I identified as a female. I didn’t understand what those feelings meant. I just knew that my life was out of sync. I finally concluded that I needed to transition to live my life as a female. My transition resolved the “out-of-sync” feeling and I would never revert back to live as I had. When I enter a ladies room it is to take care of personal needs, and I am always concerned that stall doors are closed and my privacy is maintained. As Judge Schroeder notes in his decision, existing “laws against indecent exposure, peeping, and trespass protected the legitimate and significant state interests of privacy and safety.” And “there is no indication that a sexual predator could successfully claim transgender status as a defense against prosecution under these statutes.” When anyone enters a public restroom with predatory intentions, they are violating existing laws. As a Trans woman, I need to be able to pee in peace when I am in a public ladies room.

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