by Ace Hillard
As college students, we are sometimes stuck navigating campus upwards of seven to ten hours a day. We have class, work, student organizations and the casual breakfast and lunches, before we head home for dinner (if that fits into our schedule for the day). Now, who reading this has experienced the need of going to the bathroom during or in between any of those times? I am pretty sure everyone has! Everyone needs that relief in order to go about doing their daily tasks. The average healthy individual goes to the bathroom anywhere from 6 to 10 times a day.
Wait. That all sounds great, until one realizes how binary bathrooms are. If you are reading this and identify as a cisgendered individual, meaning your personal identity and your gender corresponds with your birth sex, then it’s likely that you will always find a bathroom to use and the people in that bathroom will accept you for who you are. Like any regular human, we walk in, do our business, wash our hands (hopefully), and then leave. Simple enough right? Well…not really.
For certain demographics, this is not the reality. Specifically, transgendered individuals have been uncomfortable going to the bathroom for a while now. Why one may ask? Well, there are a few reasons. Let me break a few down for you, as this can go on forever:
Bathroom laws have been huge (especially as of recently)! Most places, including educational institutions, make it mandatory that one must go to the bathroom of their corresponding sex on their birth certificate. In the trans world, this means: Hey buddy, even if you are a female transitioning to male individual, you still need to go to the women’s bathroom because, you know, you have female stuff “down there.”
For years trans people have been going to the bathroom ,but fear has always present for this reason. Some trans people go to the bathroom of their gender (not sex), but will always deal with this lingering fear. What if I get caught? Will I be physically harmed? Will I be sexually assaulted? Will I get in trouble with my institution/ workplace? There is always this underlying anxiety that if someone “found out,” then repercussions would surely follow. Over the years there have been many reports affirming the aforementioned thoughts as true. People have been sexually assaulted in bathrooms, people have been let go from their jobs, people have been being verbally assaulted, and even removed not only from the bathroom of the location, but escorted out of the building.
Things are complicated for trans people, huh? Going to the bathroom for one demographic is normalized and an easy, harmless routine. On the other hand, another demographic gets a horrifying and objectifying situation. Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair. The sad thing is that it’s not going to get any easier from here. A recent change has been overturned and this has created huge threats for trans people. In case you were wondering what that was, here is a very slight breakdown.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
That’s what we call Title IX. It applies to every public and private institution that receives federal funds. If your institution gives out federal financial aid, then your institution has to abide by it. Why is this statement important right now in this conversation about bathrooms? Good question.
Title IX, as of May 13, 2006, The Obama administration let everyone know, that those who are required to follow Title IX, need to now understand that they will have to respect trans students as students, for the context of bathrooms. This can be better understood as, if you are a trans person and you identify as a man, please proceed to the men’s bathroom, do your manly stuff without harm or interrogation, and go about your day just like any other cisgender person does on a day to day basis. This means that one cannot be discriminated against because of how they identify, compared to what is on their birth certificate, their gender representation, or how others may view them. In the simplest of terms this said: Be who you feel you are and we are here to support you.
The issue with this now (and the reason for this piece) is the fact that President Trump has rescinded this on the federal level, and is putting these determinations in the hands of each individual state. Plainly meaning: Trans people, your rights are not important enough to MAKE schools do it, they decide if they want to or not.
Trans students across the country took so long to come to terms with themselves (myself included), and the few victories we have won over the last 8 years have been beacons of hope that gave us many more reasons to demand to be seen, heard, and respected in education. We deserve the rights of our fellow cisgendered peers and classmates. There is no reason why the person to the left and the right of me, can go to the bathroom in peace, without weighing the pros and cons of going to either gendered bathroom while myself and other trans people alike must. At UW Madison, finding a gender neutral bathroom is like finding a class that is a majority of students of color; close to none. And when one does find one, it’s one bathroom, on one specific floor, for the entire building. This is outrageous. We should not have to go to “alternative bathrooms” or go to gendered bathrooms and feel the fear of discrimination, bias, hate or one’s own safety.
As the great Trans Activist, Laverne Cox once said “Do not reduce us to body parts. We are more than the sum of our parts.” Let us have the same rights as everyone else. We are not what is below our waist. We are students, faculty and staff, who are here for the same reason as everyone else: to get an education and to learn how to become critical beings of the society we live in.
Ace Hilliard is a genderqueer masculine centered person of color, currently attending UW Madison for Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He is also a proud Trans Brother of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. hailing from the Kappa Gamma Chapter at UW-Madison.