Girls just wanna have fun; and pee in the right place. For some reason, a whole lot of people seem to have a whole lot of problems with that when those girls are transgender. A raging debate from coast to coast over whether trans women and girls should be allowed to use the women’s room has sparked lawsuits, changes in school policies, and much, much more. Often, trans women and girls are the losers, but not in Maine, where a court just ruled on the side of a student who claims she was discriminated against because of her gender.
Why do people care so much about who uses which bathroom? It’s a bit of a question for the ages, but the short version can be summed up in one word: transphobia. Those who believe that trans people shouldn’t use the restrooms most appropriate for their gender (trans boys in the boys’ loo, trans girls in the ladies’ room) are usually cisgender, and they usually have hateful, outdated, and incorrect attitudes about trans people, especially trans women (this is known as transmisogyny). They think that trans women are “men in dresses” or sexual predators, and that allowing them into women’s restrooms will cause disruption or expose cis women to sexual harassment or assault.
This simply isn’t the case: someone who wants to sneak into a women’s restroom to hassle women isn’t going to go to all the trouble of coming out as trans, taking hormones, pursuing gender confirmation surgery, and enduring years of harassment and abuse. Meanwhile, transgender people are in danger every time they leave the house for an extended period of time, because finding a bathroom can be a fraught experience — those who are accused of using the “wrong” restroom may be harassed or assaulted. Consequently, some trans people develop infections from trying to hold it in until they can get home, limit their social lives to avoid situations where they might have to navigate bathroom panic just to take a pee, or get beaten or worse for daring to use the right restroom.
Nicole Maines, a transgender student in Maine, just wanted to use the bathroom at school along with her friends — hey, we feel you, Nicole, eight hours is a long time to hold it! Bizarrely, the grandfather of a fifth grade boy at the school complained about Nicole, and staff told her to start using their restroom, in a form of “separate, but equal” treatment that Nicole’s parents decided to take to court, offended that their daughter couldn’t use the bathroom like everyone else.
The court’s decision is great news for the trans community in Maine, as it clarifies antidiscrimination laws and sets a precedent to use in other cases. However, it’s a narrow one, as the court itself noted in its findings: “[W]e do not suggest that any person could demand access to any school facility or program based solely on a self-declaration of gender identity.” In other words, trans students who want access to the right facilities and programs will need to be able to show evidence that they are not only in treatment for gender dysphoria, but that they have been categorically diagnosed as transgender — which is a problem for those who can’t access treatment or are just starting to explore their gender identity.
Meanwhile, in California, a new law finally allows transgender students to select bathrooms and sports teams on the basis of their gender, creating a clear state-wide precedent that may act to stop some discrimination in the act. And in several cities across the country, schools and public agencies are designating gender-neutral restrooms or making anti-discrimination policies clear. While gender-neutral restrooms aren’t an ideal solution, they’re a step in the right direction when it comes to being free to pee.
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