BY ZOE AMOS
Not long ago I attended a salon. A lesbian group of all ages and several ethnicities sat in a circle around the living room. There was a piano, but we weren’t entertained with music.
The attraction was a discussion on violence against women led by a retired military woman.
As you might guess, the figures she quoted in her presentation were appalling and most of us shared like-minded views. There was a lively discussion about how women have been treated during the course of our lives and in preceding generations, the probable causes of continued violence, and the unfortunate reality of lesbian domestic violence.
There were mixed comments about how to approach solving the problem. No real surprises, except one.
During our conversation, one woman wandered off topic twice and commented on how vehemently she was opposed to trans women using the women’s bathroom. On both occasions, someone else in the group quickly redirected the conversation. Though curious, I didn’t have an opportunity to ask why this was a problem for her.
I was baffled that an educated lesbian would hold this view. The fear and anger in her voice were unmistakable as she was frothing at the mouth about safety. I would describe this woman as close to 70 years old and of the radical feminist era that came to be in the 1970s when women took to the streets to “take back the night.” I subsequently learned that there are enough women who hold similar views that they earned the moniker “terf”—trans-exclusionary radical feminist, though not having spoken to her, I admit to the assumption. Terfs do not see transwomen as women. They also see transwomen as a threat, which many lesbians recall was a notable point of contention at Michfest, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. For more information, read this New Yorker magazine article.
Separate from politics and beliefs, my thought is that anyone who understands the mindset of a transwoman would understand why she needs to use the ladies room. It may be interesting to note that while a tiny minority of self-critical transpeople exist, it still doesn’t presuppose their desire as to which bathroom they feel is most appropriate or safe. I’m not aware of any cisgender woman being attacked in a bathroom by a transwoman. On the contrary, I’ve heard reports of transwomen being verbally harassed or assaulted. I’m also aware of butch women who were asked to leave or somehow prove their womanliness.
No one would mistake me for a guy, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever experience this behavior.
It’s not difficult for me to imagine how I would feel if an emotionally abusive woman decided to lash out with an ignorant outburst while I was washing my hands. And the irony that a person like that creates the same type of hostility she seeks to avoid would likely be lost in translation, and I wonder what her reaction would be if the tables were turned.
Who decides where transwomen and transmen should go to relieve themselves is an ongoing topic. Schools, businesses, and community leaders who control public places with multi-stalled restrooms need to update policy to address this issue to settle the unease of their communities while providing safety. It galls me that fear, ignorance, politics, and beliefs—as is often witnessed through knee-jerk reactions—dictate policy until saner heads prevail in the name of public safety and not only to disallow discrimination.
It can be convenient for individuals, though costly to business and government, to have private rooms where one might perform any manner of personal attention, whether it’s peeing, putting on makeup, changing clothes, or changing a baby’s diaper. Instead of having two separate rooms marked “men’s” or “women’s”, some have posted bizarre new graphics that purport to show mixed gender on the door. Is a picture of a toilet or sink too offensive? What was wrong with “unisex?” Or “humans?” Then anyone could go in and pee in quiet privacy and safety without having to take issue with a particular word, graphic, or bias.
Transwomen have the same needs as other women and men, or whatever designation one chooses to call oneself; they need a safe, private place to pee. Why is that so hard?
Zoe Amos brings her lesbian point of view to articles and stories on diverse topics. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Read her stories on Kindle and Nook. Check out her other life at www.janetfwilliams.com