By Lorian Dunlop (originally published at feministmormonhousewives.org)
I was driving home from dropping my daughter at school this morning. When I passed the local park, I saw a sign by the road inviting people to come to the parking lot to sign a petition to stop our schools’ restrooms and locker rooms from being changed to “non-gender.”
So, I turned into the parking lot, got out of my car, and approached the two smiling moms running the petition drive. The sign on their table announced that, as of January 1, our school locker rooms and restrooms would all be non-gendered, and anyone would be able to use whatever restroom or locker room they wanted, and if people wanted to stop that, they should sign the petition.
I walked up to the woman who seemed to be in charge and asked her, “What are you afraid of?” She told me she wasn’t afraid of anything. I asked, “Then why are you circulating this petition?” She replied that she just thought people should have the opportunity to *vote* on a law like this and not have it forced down their throats by the legislature.
“But what,” I asked her, “do you think will be the effect of the law – why do you think it needs to be voted on, and maybe overturned? I see that you’ve written on this poster that restrooms and locker rooms won’t be designated for ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ anymore. Do you seriously think they are going to just take down the signs and tell kids to use whatever locker room or restroom they want to use?”
Well, no, she didn’t really think that, but she thought maybe a boy who wanted to rape a girl might be able to come to school that day and announce that he “felt transgender today” and wanted to use the girls’ locker room, and then go in there and rape whomever he pleased.
I started talking to this woman. I told her about my friends who had identical twin boys about 8 years ago. One of the boys, as a toddler, began identifying with all things “girl.” The child wanted to dress in sparkly pink clothes, play with dolls and wanted to be thought of and referred to as a girl. My friends thought it might be just a stage until at about age 4, this child became so gender dysphoric that he started crying and demanding a knife so that he could cut off his penis, because he was certain it didn’t belong on his body. He begged to be taken to the doctor to have it removed. His emotional distress became so severe that his parents had to make sure that all sharp objects were locked up for fear he would do harm to himself.
They took their son to a pediatric specialist in gender identity issues, who, after considerable evaluation and testing, told them they should take their child’s situation very seriously, and recommended they allow their child to begin dressing and expressing herself and living as a girl. The child was about to begin Kindergarten, so my friends went to the school, explained the situation, and, with the school’s wholehearted cooperation, allowed their child to begin her school career as a girl.
They now know that they have a son and a daughter, not two sons. Their twins are, I believe, starting third grade this year, and their daughter has been living as a girl for several years. They love and support her and want only her safety and happiness. If she continues to identify as female into puberty, she will be allowed to undergo the hormonal treatments which will permit her body to remain unaffected by male hormones, and eventually mature as a female so that, when she is 18 and can decide for herself, she can undergo surgery, if she wants, to completely transition to the woman she has always recognized herself to be, without having to go through the trauma and suffering of trying to “correct” secondary sex characteristics such as beard growth, Adam’s apple, heavy bone and muscle structure, body hair, etc., which is so distressing to many transgender individuals who are not able to begin their transition until they are adults.
If at any time her self-perception changes, and she decides that she was mistaken, or no longer identifies as transgender, she will still have the opportunity to change, to forego hormonal treatments and develop with the masculine body into which she was born.
As I told the woman about this child, and the distress she and her family had gone through, and how much happier she is now, living as the gender with which she identifies, I could see that the woman was affected by my friend’s story. The woman said that she *did* want people like my friend’s daughter to be safe at school and not suffer stigma, but that my friend’s daughter could just use the restroom in the nurse’s office. I pointed out that this placed an unnecessary stigma on the child in front of her peers, if, every time she needed to use the restroom or change clothes, she had to go to the nurse’s office. The woman said that transgender people only made up a tiny percentage of the population. I said that, while that might be true, still, as acceptance and understanding grow, there will be more children in my friend’s daughter’s situation, able to recognize themselves and be treated as the gender with which they identify even in childhood, and there will be more children in schools who will need to use facilities designated for the gender with which they identify, but whose bodies do not yet conform to the expected genital configuration for that gender.
I told her about my friend Greg, my next door neighbor growing up, who was among the first transgender individuals in the country to have gender reassignment surgery. She became Greer when she was in her early twenties. Unfortunately, she had to go through High School as Greg the Queer. Greg was brutally bullied by his peers on a regular basis. He was beaten up in the boys’ locker room, shoved into lockers, and urinated upon by his peers. He didn’t have the advantage that GLBT kids today (sometimes) have, of being more protected by school administrators and school policies which make it safer and easier for them to live as the people they were created to be. Sadly, despite finally being able to live as herself and transform her body into one that was consistent with her understanding of who she was, Greer was too damaged by all the things she had suffered growing up. After a successful career as an artist in Chicago and Greenwich Village, Greer succumbed to her lifelong battle with depression and drugs, and died of an overdose in 1996, at the age of 38. She was a beautiful soul.
I also told her about another friend of mine, who is beginning her transition in her fifties, after having to live much of her life in a body that contradicted her feelings about herself. This friend is well over six feet tall, has the broad shoulders and general build of a football player, and a deep, masculine voice. She didn’t have the option, when she was young, to grow up identifying as the person she felt herself to be, and to have help in retaining and developing the body shape and size, and secondary sex characteristics with which she would have been comfortable. She is courageous and determined to now be who she is and allow herself to dress and live in a manner consistent with the person she knows herself to be, but her road always has been and continues to be much harder.
I told the woman that I want people like my friend’s daughter, and my friend the very tall woman, and my friend Greer, to be safe and comfortable in their lives and in their schools, and not to be stigmatized and harmed by being singled out as “other.” I said that by the time my friend’s daughter reaches high school, she’ll likely be indistinguishable from the other girls with whom she will share the locker room, since no one takes off their underwear in the locker room as a general rule, and if we were to force her to go to the boys’ locker room to change out, she would not be safe. Nor does sending a line of transgender kids to stand outside the nurse’s office taking turns using the restroom there to change out each day make good sense to me. We might as well make them wear an “I’m transgender” sign around their neck. We want to make their lives as easy and as “normal” as possible, not single them out for abuse or harassment.
The idea that the captain of the football team is going to decide he wants to rape someone today, and so he’s going to announce to his buddies that he feels like a girl today and waltz over to the girls locker room to rape someone before second period is really pretty implausible, as far as I can see. Yeah, kids get raped in school (as the ladies with the petition pointed out), but that’s something that already happens, and this law isn’t going to change that fact in either direction. If someone wants to rape someone, they’ll find a place to do it just like they always have. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to not protect our transgender kids and give them a safe and respectful space to use the restroom and change out for gym, without singling them out as “other.”
I told the woman that I didn’t want to see measures like this subjected to a popular vote because the average person is not going to stop and think about kids like Greer and my friend’s daughter. They are going to see signs like the one this woman put up, claiming that locker rooms are going to become a non-gendered sexual free-for-all, and panic, and then kids like my friend’s daughter are not going to get the protection and privacy they deserve. I thanked her for hearing me out, shook her hand and left. I hope and pray with all my heart that she will rethink her petition.