Tuesday, 23 November 2010

You Can't Win Department

When it comes to restroom usage.

From CBC News:
A transgendered New Brunswick student says (s)he was struck in the face at St. Thomas University in Fredericton because (s)he entered a women's washroom.
(S)he said a female student in the washroom asked her(him) to leave, and Rayner attempted to explain that (s)he's biologically female.

"She got irate and took a swing at me, called me several names that were very derogatory, and she just caught me in the lip," Rayner said. "So, I staggered out, I apologized for the incident, and I left.

And in Texas, from FOX 26 News:
Tyjanae Moore is the transgendered woman who was cited and thrown behind bars by a Houston police officer because she was caught using the ladies restroom. "I felt so belittled going to a jail over something so simple and stupid," says Moore.

A 26-year-old native of Minnesota, Moore moved to Houston to be closer to family, but after a year in Texas, she is ready to move back.

Moore was arrested Nov. 17 at the Houston Public Library in downtown. The offense? Police say despite being a transgendered female, she is still officially a man -- a man who was caught using the ladies' restroom.

"When I came out, the female told me I wasn't supposed to be and I asked if there was any particular reason why not. She said I'm a transgendered female and I was really shocked that they even stopped me for this," says Moore.

Even though she is seen as a protected class by the City of Houston, Moore entered a guilty plea.

Regardless of the direction of transition, and regardless of any legal protections... we face assault, arrest, or both, no matter what restroom we use. And all the time, religious groups mount blatant scare campaigns, projecting us as the transgressors against all that is Good and Holy, and labelling us as freaks, perverts, degenerates and sexual predators.

Of course, if we "pass" sufficiently well - or sufficiently poorly, when using the restroom of our assigned sex, we're relatively safe from these Xenophobes. It's not about any actual danger - for there is none. It's all about appearances.

It's about how our appearance, or even our existence, makes others uncomfortable - and thus granting them them the God-given right to persecute us.

I've never had a problem, though I have no illusions about my un-beautiful appearance. I have "passing privilege", the ability to appear unremarkable, no matter how outrageously freakish my biology is, far more unusual than either the trans man or the trans woman in those two stories.

I make no apology for this. But I do think it gives me a certain responsibility, whether you call it Karmic Balance or just sheer outrage at injustice, to do whatever I can for others not so privileged while living my own life, bringing up my boy, doing my PhD, going to International conferences...

And knowing that I could be next. The next to be arrested (for after all, my UK birth certificate still says "boy" so in Texas I may indeed be "legally male"). Or assaulted, by someone who recognises me from TV appearances. Or murdered, though the only person who I've been advised by medical professionals is a definite threat is on another continent. Privilege has its limits though, and if Ms Moore, who looks heaps better than I ever could, can be arrested, then I'm not safe either.

C.L.Minou puts it better than I ever could, over at Feministe.
The fact of the matter is that at any moment, I could be at risk simply for being trans. Simply for being me. This is something all marginalized people face–certainly, it’s something every woman in the world understands. But just as it’s possible for the shielded women of the world to sniff at the poor and unprotected and blame them for their own misfortunes, so its possible for the lucky trans people of the world–the professors with tenure, the software engineers with rare abilities, the fortunate few who have managed to avoid most of the ways society turns people into others, to disclaim connection with the rest of the trans world. Rape happens only to people who live in slums, and transphobic murder only to prostitutes turning tricks for street ‘mones.

Except when it doesn’t.

So I will Remember today. I will remember because that body lying somewhere unmourned could be me. Because it is me. I mourn because remembering makes me angry, energizes me to fight again. I mourn because we don’t have all that much to celebrate today, not really, not when even the most elemental of basic protections elude the vast majority of trans people the world round. I won’t shrug or carp about how there’s so much death brought up today. Because there is a lot of death. And that needs to be remembered, to be brought up, to be shoved in the face of those who are indifferent to it until something changes, really changes, and trans people are allowed to join the human race.
Being one of the "fortunate few", the risk is less. But I treat "less risk" as "no risk" at my peril.

I think all women have insecurities about their appearance. Mine though has real reasons for it; if I look too odd, too different... it could kill me. So while I mustn't over-dramatise, yes, the threat is real for me too. Only the degree differs, and possibly by less than I'd like to believe.

What an Insane situation. And somehow, I think that explaining "well, I'm actually not Trans, I have a rare Intersex condition you see..." might not do a lot of good. Just a hunch, mind you.



Lloyd Flack said...

What is the effect on transsexuals, especially pre-op ones, going to be of the US Transport Security Agency's new scanners and their "enhanced pat downs", err, I mean groping? I can see the potential for a lot of abuse.

Zimbel said...

The ACLU's write-up on what the TSA claimed would happen:


The patterns they noticed, hundreds of complaints later:


NCTE's article on the matter:


And their paper on scanning:


NotSo said...

very interesting post!

just a quick point on the 'appearance' thing where you say

"It's about how our appearance, or even our existence, makes others uncomfortable - and thus granting them them the God-given right to persecute us."

i don't know about the existence thing but appearance is a very significant factor. if someone who *appears* to be a man, or *appears* to be a man-dressed-as-a-woman enters a female restroom, the women in the restroom are obviously going to feel uncomfortable or threatened because they have GROWN UP being taught FEAR of strange/unknown men etc. it's not about persecution, it's about PREVENTING PERCEIVED persecution (i.e. rape).

you simply must MUST understand that women feel this threat CONSTANTLY from the minute they are old enough to tell girls and boys apart. it is not fair to judge them as "persecutors" for feeling uncomfortable/afraid. how are they to know whether a man in a dress is a trans woman or merely a deranged 'straight' man out to exploit any loophole in order to rape/hurt women?

just a thought. love your blog otherwise!

Zoe Brain said...

Good points, NotSo - but what about the case of Khadijah Farmer? Or that of Tanya White?

It's not just Trans and Intersexed people who suffer, you see. Actually suffer, not just "frighten the horses", but are subject to assault and arrest because they look different.

The laws that are proposed to discriminate against Trans people, to remove the perceived (though not actual) threat have exactly the opposite effect from the one supposedly intended too.

See this flyer for example.

As late as 1974, Chicago had a law on its books that stated:

No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense. -- Chicago Municipal Code, sec. 36034

I don't think such a law would be remotely acceptable today, no matter how much discomfort those who are disabled might cause to others by their existence. We've come a long way in some respects. No more "colored only" restrooms. But not so far in others.

The obvious solution is to provide a 3rd restroom, single-stall, with facilities for wheelchair access and changing facilities. Those who are upset by having to share a restroom with a Jew, or a Black, or someone Intersexed or disabled, or who speaks with a funny accent, can use that.

In the meantime - are we to "understand" irrational bigotry by catering to it, or by stating unequivocally that it's not in society's best interests to pander to persecution and prejudice?

Zoe Brain said...

how are they to know whether a man in a dress is a trans woman or merely a deranged 'straight' man out to exploit any loophole in order to rape/hurt women?

Maybe because... it's never happened.

Not in 35 years. Not in the 40% of the USA covered by such legislation. Not once.

If it had, no doubt Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Liberty Council etc etc would be trumpeting it to the stars. But the fact is - there is no "there" there.

Whereas there have been dozens of actual, not theoretical, assaults on, and rapes of, trans people no matter which restroom they use. Quite a few every year.

I feel a bit of a hypocrite here. I had to use Unisex restrooms in Europe - and was never comfortable with that. Women who are Trans or Intersexed have exactly the same fears of assault and rape as their cis sisters. Ones even more well-founded, as the likelihood of police action is reduced, and that of help from bystanders negligible.

NotSo said...

Wow. To think that happened to women who were FAB just because they looked like men. So it's not just trans-phobia then. It's essentially anytime a woman *appears* to be a man.

As you said in the post, if you pass successfully as a woman - no trouble.

This ties in interestingly with one of your comments, i.e:

"In the meantime - are we to "understand" irrational bigotry by catering to it, or by stating unequivocally that it's not in society's best interests to pander to persecution and prejudice?"

Considering we've just been discussing the female restroom, I'm going to talk about your comment here in terms of the female restroom.

What is 'irrational' about a woman fearing someone who APPEARS to be a man entering the female washroom? This sounds a lot like how men label and dismiss female 'hysterics'. There is no 'bigotry' here to the extent that the women thought there were MEN in the restrooms, not TRANS WOMEN.

You are right about the prejudice to the extent it seems likely that security and guards etc over-reacted by ignoring all ID/proof of FABness presented, but that's something MEN did, not women. That is the MAN's irrational dismissal of woman, yet again.

You know what - I completely agree with you about there being a third stall for trans/intersexed people. Are any trans people working on and lobbying and such for that getting passed into law?

Zoe Brain said...

The thurd stall isn't for transsexuals - it's for transphobes.

Also racists, who are uncomfortable sharing a restroom with someone of a different colour. Why should they have to do be put in peril of being uncomfortable?

By making the stall "family friendly", with more rather than less facilities, it's made clear that they're not being "punished" for their racism. Or transphobia, or whatever.

For example, a woman of colour who's been raped by a gang of whites might not feel comfortable amongst any white people. Such a stall, one that is separate but deliberately unequal, better in fact, would be a humane answer to a real problem.

The alternative is to go all Saudi, with morality police making sure the genders are suitably distinguishable from one another, to avoid discomfort to some.

And of course the Intersexed, already a minority with real medical issues, are out of luck. Perhaps a new law confining them to home detention would be required, as Chicago had until the 70's.

Zoe Brain said...

I guess you have to weigh two considerations: an irrational fear (and only irrational on the basis of the evidence, had there been a significant number of assaults by cross-dressed perverts, the fear would be completely rational) on the behalf of a priviliged majority of women, or an actual, provable, real danger of rape to a minority of less privileged women.

Ideally, we'd like to address both issues. Just because a fear is unjustified doesn't mean it doesn't exist, whether it's racism or transphobia.

As I said, I feel uncomfy in Unisex loos too. I'm not exactly rational myself in that regard. I don't have to "understand" your feelings as an outsider, I experience them. 1 in 3 women are raped at least once (and for trans women, you can double that rate). To be unafraid is too dangerous.

That was one piece of Male Privilege I had, and lost. I still have the instinct if I hear someone screaming to run towards, not away from, keys or pens in my hand to use on eyes and throats - and dialling 000 on my mobile phone.

It's only happened once, and a false alarm. I think, if I'd been a standard factory model, a FAB... I'd still do that. But be better at it, more well-prepared.

NotSo said...


Are you really equating racism to fear-of-men-due-to-rape? Way to delegitimize/dismiss the majority of women's lived experiences.

Please tell me: if someone APPEARS to be a man (as White and Farmer did even though they were FAB WOMEN and NOT TRANS WOMEN) then how can a girl/woman in the restroom tell if they are or not?

This is not TRANSPHOBIA - this is fear-of-men-due-to-threat-of-rape (and I wonder if there is even a word for that, which is telling).

Also, patriarchal societies EVERYWHERE (including the US, the UK and Australia) ensure that the two genders are distinguishable from each other with gender constructs. What's so special about Saudi Arabia?

NotSo said...

Okay just saw your latest comment, will have to reply when I get back it seems to be dealing with what I wrote in MY latest comment.

But have to rush so will reply in a couple hours.


Hazumu Osaragi said...

It took me a while to figure out "FAB" - and I wanted to, since I could see in context that NotSo was using it that it was a desirable or superior distinction to be sorted into.

I could also sense that transwomen were not "FAB" (I'm deliberately using Scare Quotes here.)

But nowhere was it first spelled out, so I had to really think hard about this "FAB" distinction that was being made.


If this topic were formatted as a military/government memorandum, first-use would have used the acronym-to-be thusly:

Female at Birth (FAB)

Also, thank you, Zoe, for pointing out that the private stalls are for those in the minority who feel uncomfortable with sharing the public restrooms for whatever reason they feel uncomfortable with sharing.

I heartily concur that they should be used only in self-exile, and not for the purpose of exiling an undesirable 'other' from the group.

By the same token, I'd like to see private changing stalls available for locker/changing rooms, with the same rules - self-exile, not banishment of 'others'.

NotSo said...

@ Zoe.

You mentioned in your post that you are someone who passes with relative ease, and therefore, I'm guessing, do not have much trouble when using the female restroom.

I doubt many trans women who 'pass' have any real trouble using the female restroom.

So we can agree that it is about APPEARANCE, correct? If someone APPEARS to be a man and enters the loo, women will be scared of being raped/hurt/violated in some way.

However, I'm concerned with the idea that women being afraid of men in female restrooms is an "irrational fear".

If you are really suggesting that women stop being afraid of (what appear to be) men-dressed-as-women entering what is supposed to be a female-only space then you are failing to understand the most basic reality fab women grow up with i.e. strange men are not to be trusted, all strange men are potential rapists, strange men will use any manner of enticements/tricks to gain access to women.

Also, let me ask you something:

What is so damning about a trans washroom for trans women?

Do you not think that your experiences as a trans person are uniquely different?

Why are so many trans women desperate to limit themselves in the category 'woman' instead of, say, drastically expanding and furthering everyone's understanding of sex/gender? If that means a third washroom for trans women then great! You're really putting yourself on the gender map as people who merit their own washroom (previously limited to only male and female persons).

P.S. Your racism analogy is false. A black woman who has been raped will eventually, hopefully, be able to manage and get past that fear through therapy and counselling and justice. This is why another restroom is not required. You're suggesting that trans women can also similarly be 'fixed', which is certainly not something you believe, right?

NotSo said...

P.P.S. Let me state categorically that I am not transphobic, that I do not hate nor fear trans men and women and that I wish them every success and happiness in the world.

Also, this is an interesting read:


Cheers and all the best to you!

Zoe Brain said...

Hi NotSo

You're suggesting that trans women can also similarly be 'fixed', which is certainly not something you believe, right?

No, but I think transphobes can get over it. They don't even require therapy, just some time to get used to the idea. As I said, the separate single-stall restroom is for those who are transphobic, not trans.

Remember, such legislation is already in place in 40% of the USA, all of the UK, Australia, etc. The evidence is that it causes no problems - when enforced.

I don't think that two additional separate restrooms - one for butch lesbians, unpassable trans women, intersexed women and other females who do not conform to the patriarchical ideal of female appearance, and another for swishy gays, unpassable trans men etc is a good idea. Who polices it? Who decides and says "Sorry ma'am, you're too ugly to use the female restroom like real women, because you might be taken for a man"?

I don't think you've thought this through: because if it's solely about appearances, then butch FABs would be affected too.

BTW I'm Intersexed, not Trans. Women with non-standard genitalia (and often appearance) have been using female restrooms for years, quite legally. All they have to be is assigned Female At Birth.

As for my looks - see this gallery.

Zoe Brain said...

BTW NorSo - I really appreciate the tone you're using. We're disagreeing, but you're going out of your way to distance yourself from the Raymondite call to mandate trans people out of existence, and the Daly idea that the solution to the Trans problem is the Final Solution.

Your link was most useful - and here's one in return. It's derailing for dummies, and shows just how stereotyped privilege can be - privilege that permeates that article, though the author is completely unaware of that.

Getting on to my personal experiences, this bit is quite true:
There are some experiences you will never have, and there are some things that will never quite match up between your experiences and those of girls who were raised as girls. I understand well this is a sore point for many transwomen, who feel they have missed out greatly on something very special, and maybe they have - but the fact remains that they did not have these experiences...
This but, not so much and many of the bonds between women who are born women are based on the assumption of shared experiences.
Those bonds are not based on past history (or herstory), but on the way one behaves now. Women differ! There are all sorts, from butches to astronauts to clothes horses to geek girls.

We - for I include myself here in the Trans category, regardless of my female biology, I was brought up as male - did miss out on a lot. Sometimes that comes out in conversation with my G/Fs, a jarring dissonance, as they forget that my experiences as a child were not theirs (though more similar to theirs than a boy's would be).

But consider a woman who's a refugee from some 3rd world hellhole: her experiences while growing up were even less like your own as a western FAB than mine were. The degree of patriarchal oppression she was subject to is likely to be far worse than either of us can conceive. Should we reject her because of that?

Lest you think that my point about butches is hyperbole.. please see this post.

Which of the two would you feel more comfortable sharing a restroom with? The Female At Birth founder of the New Radical Lesbian Feminist Front, dedicated to keeping Trans women out of women's space, including rape crisis centers and restrooms... or the Trans woman?

Which restroom should the FAB be forced to use in your schema - the one for "real women" or the other? And if the other - are you not enforcing a gender stereotype in a most patriarchal fashion?

I'm sorry to put that question to you, but I'm trying to help you figure out whether the objection is transphobia, or about appearances. Do FABs who look mannish get a pass, while Trans women who look no worse are "othered"?

If there had been a significant number of cases of Trans women, or men claiming to be Trans women, being a danger, a genuine threat, then the question would be quite different, and my opinion would be different too. There would be a conflict between rights to be safe.

But when it comes to a conflict between one group only feeling safe, and another actually being safe, then I think reality has to trump illusion.

Finally (at last!)

What is so damning about a trans washroom for trans women?

No worse than three washrooms - one for male humans, one for female humans, the other (unisex) for blacks.

Because that would attack the idea that blacks are human, just as a special unisex trans bathroom would attack the idea that trans women are women, and trans men, men.

And no, you're not racist, and I accept that you're not transphobic either. I know transphobia, and you're not exhibiting it.

Cis Privilege though... yes. Just as we both exhibit western privilege, unconsciously, while doing our best not to.

Zoe Brain said...

Rats, forgot the most important thing.

Thanks, NotSo. Thanks for the best wishes, and the kind things you've had to say about my blog.

Thanks for disagreeing with me in a rational fashion, without a hint of malice. That's far too rare... and is often answered by aggression and hatred in return. I hope that my tone has been appropriate, and not too strident.

All the very best, Zoe

Zoe Brain said...

For the kind of thing we sometimes get from RadFem Separatists... see here.

The original was over at the magazine project, but was deleted because of its resemblance to "Mein Kampf". Sorry, for being "insufficiently trans-friendly".

The comments are there though. Please read the article, and the comments in support, to see the kind of environment we face.

NotSo said...

Well thank you too for your kind words, patience and civility! And for the links, which were fun to deconstruct. (Derailing I had read earlier during my first foray into understanding feminism.)

From what I can tell of radical feminism, these women believe that women as a class are oppressed by men as a class, based on biological sex - and that a patriarchal society is one set up in this way. Seems logical enough on the whole although I have not read any books on this topic. So a female, or female-assigned-at-birth will be brought up like a girl/woman, a male/male-assigned-at-birth will be brought up like a boy/man.

Different upbringings means male privilege for boy/man and some kind of systematic oppression for girl/woman. (As far as I can tell so far.)

I get how society (I'm from the Subcontinent btw) defines women here i.e. long hair, makeup, heels, form-fitted clothing, domesticated, mother-as-highest-calling-in-life, generally submissive to men (which I am NOT!) etc.

How does your society define women in Australia? (You're in Australia right?)

How do transwomen define themselves as women?

Also - if you are Intersexed but female-assigned, you grew up identifying as a girl/woman? What does that mean?

(I grew up with two loutish brothers - I think I'm still worried/confused about what being a 'woman' is really all about. I don't like dressing up/wearing makeup/heels etc, that shit is HARD and BORING. And I don't want kids. Hence the confusion.)

Also - I'm pretty tall so I've gotten flak quite a few times (when I had short hair) for using a female washroom. That's why I'm going on about appearance and I assumed that most trans women still look 'mannish' because they haven't had surgery etc and that's why they would scare women (the way some male-looking women do).

How many trans women have had surgery btw? How common is that? I tried looking up the stats but could not find any - you seem to have lots of figures and stats on your website so I thought you may know!

Also, if you don't mind - what is your tip jar for? Sounds funny ^_^

NotSo said...

Hey, I'm pretty sure I posted a comment here yesterday and saw it on the website but I can't see it anymore. Did you delete it? I hope I wasn't being offensive in any way!

NotSo said...

Also - I came across this link recently:


I was wondering what your take on it was.

Also, what IS the biological basis for gender in the brain? (There is one right? I haven't been able to find it, beyond some 'males are good at spatial something tumpty-tum' and the link above sort of brushes away what I found on Wiki or anywhere else on the net, so kind of at a loss.)