Story by Catherine Newman
Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht
The governor of Texas is calling lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session that begins on July 18th. The agenda is set to include a “bathroom bill” that would restrict access to the bathrooms transgender people can use in the state’s public facilities. What would a “bathroom ban” — if passed — mean in Texas or in any other state to a transgender adult or child?
“There is always this aching fear that someone is going to pick on you. Bathrooms are just to do your business and get out. I don’t want to have to explain anything, I just want to go. I used the bathroom only one time in the whole first five months of school (until January). That time I designed this whole process to help make me feel comfortable. I went into the stall and if someone came in, I picked up my feet and counted to five after I heard them leave. I know we are supposed to be paying attention to the classwork and all that, but for a trans kid, going to the bathroom safely takes a lot of courage and planning, especially if you have to go to the wrong assigned bathroom.”
“For me and a lot of other trans people, we try not to go to the bathroom because of the fear of being called out or forced to use one or the other that doesn’t really align with the person who we are. So I try not to use the restroom, which is not exactly healthy, but it’s a way of living that most trans people that I know live. Trans kids already try their hardest not to use the bathroom. To have this one extra step — a law about it — is just too much. Kids won’t do it, and I don’t blame them. I have to bring my birth certificate to potential employers, and that’s already embarrassing enough — it’s got my birth name, my birth gender. But having to show a teacher! I couldn’t. Being outed or being told that you can or can’t use the bathroom that makes you feel like you’re being yourself—having someone else tell you that your body doesn’t match your brain? That’s a stab in the heart.”
“Who’s in this stall next to me? Who cares! Go in, do your business, and leave. You’ve been in bathrooms with transgender people and you didn’t even realize it. If you’re in there looking for people, trying to figure out who’s who in there, you’re the problem. My main concern when I go in the restroom is, is it clean? Is there tissue? But I’m an adult. I know my rights. I know how to speak for myself. The children are more vulnerable. They’ll just not use the restroom. Bathroom laws? It’s legalized bullying. We’re going to make your life a living hell while you’re here at this school. Who’s going to enforce these laws? Are we going to use public funds to hire someone to stand in front of bathrooms to check birth certificates? Is there going to be a scarlet letter ‘T’ on trans people so that everyone knows they’re trans? Are the kids going to drop out? Are students going to hold it all day, until they get home? That’s going to make them sick.”
“I was at a casino a couple months ago, and I used the bathroom, just like I do everywhere — the women’s bathroom — and when I came out, a casino guard who was waiting outside asked for my ID. I legally am female, so I gave her my ID and nothing happened. The problem with that was that it singled me out for attention and made it more likely that I would experience violence. I went to an advocacy organization in that area, and they filed a formal complaint. We wound up getting an apology from the casino, and they instituted a bathroom policy where people wouldn’t be harassed for using the bathroom of their gender presentation. With children, it’s heartbreaking. Even if they’re accepted by their family, a high percentage of transgender students report being attacked verbally — and physically — in high school.”
“I’m genderqueer: my pronouns are they/them, and I’m biologically female, but I don’t identify as either a man or a woman. My gender presentation is overwhelmingly masculine, but I am only comfortable in a women’s restroom or in a gender neutral restroom. I’m not a male — I’m not physically safe in the men’s room. But a wide range of things happen to me when I use the women’s room — from [someone] pointing at the sign to suggest I’m in the wrong restroom, to actually bullying me. Everything about my physical carriage I change when I use a women’s restroom. I change the way that I walk. I don’t make eye contact. I make myself smaller. I cross my arms across my chest. I try to be as nonthreatening as possible. But then one time this drunk woman in a small, crowded restroom decided to bully me into a corner, behind the door — sidestepping and pushing me with her shoulder. It’s things like that that happen.”
Catherine Newman is the author of the memoirs Catastrophic Happiness and Waiting for Birdy. Her first middle-grade novel, One Mixed-Up Night, will be published by Random House in fall of 2017. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, with her family.
Karen Pulfer Focht took the cover image of Kayla Gore. Focht is an award-winning photojournalist and was staff photographer for The Commercial Appeal newspaper from 1988 to 2014. LensCulture named her one of the world’s top contemporary photographers in 2017. The Chicago native is currently self-employed and based out of Memphis, Tennessee, where she brings her photojournalism style to whatever assignment she is on. Karen has a diverse client list but she specializes in long-term projects and editorial photography for the Associated Press, area magazines, national and international newspapers, wire services and other publications.
Editor’s Note: Answers have been condensed and edited for length.
Copyright © 500 Pens. July 2017.