A Threat To Bathroom Rights Is A Threat To All Transgender Rights

ELLE's transgender columnist breaks down the psychological consequences of being denied these sorts of basic rights

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When I was at school, I hated the male changing rooms. That heady mix of pre-adolescence, testosterone, body odour and Lynx deodorant made me convulse and want to hide in the corner between parka jackets. It was, as you might expect, the place where most of the bullying occurred. I was often taunted and teased, and I saw many other femme boys subjected to the same insults.

Transgender children leave school earlier than any other group, and a recent survey has shown that 25 per cent have attempted suicide, and a further 25 per cent have considered it.

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And being forced to inhabit the cruel, unmediated environment that male changing rooms can be, is in no small part to blame.


If you don't know it already, Trump is coming for transgender students' rights, by reversing a decree that would allow them to use the bathroom according to the gender they identify with.

There has been uproar, of course, about this and there has been the predictably extreme transphobia from people who would strike us from the face of the earth, but there has also been a loud contingent of people who are asking, 'but are bathrooms really a big deal?'

And here is what I have to say to that...

I'm deeply concerned for the future of LGBTQIA youth in America.

President Trump's decision to revoke transgender children's bathroom rights will have ripple effects which threaten every measure to protect transgender students.

Originally put into place by Obama, the guidelines called 'Title IX' allowed students to use the toilet which represented and corresponded with the gender they identified with, rather than their biological sex.

Trump's plans are to revoke Title IX, in favour of making trans students use the bathroom according to the genitalia they were born with.

In other words, if like me you identified as a transgender woman, under Trumps plans you'd be expected to use the gent's bathroom as opposed to the ladies'.

If that privilege was taken away from me, I'd be really anxious and concerned for my safety. If I was forced by law to stand at a urinal and urinate it would be really damaging for my mental health.

I'm a mature trans woman, but imagine that same scenario for a 9-year-old child questioning their gender identity, it's a daunting reality.

Having access to the toilet of your choice, which is the one that matches your gender identity, is crucial in translating who you are, non-verbally, to those around you.

It also allows you to begin processing your own identity yourself. It's also the government's way and society's way of letting you know that who you are is acceptable, that you are welcome.

The same goes for allowing a trans kid to dress in clothes which they feel comfortable in. It brings their appearance in line with how they feel internally.

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Let's go back to the start.

The truth is, no-one is given a fixed gender when they are born.

In the words of the iconic drag artist Ru Paul – 'We are all born naked and the rest is drag'.

Take me for example - I was born with a penis, so it was expected that my gender would follow suit and I'd grow up to be a man.

When I was growing up, the labels 'male/boy/man' didn't always feel comfortable, but I wasn't given the opportunity to explore a safe alternative.

I was a child of the 1990s and back then girls were girls and boys were boys. If you experimented with your identity and crossed dressed, you were considered 'gay' and even that was still seen as a crime by a lot of people.

It was considered abnormal to want to be the opposite sex and 'transgender' visibility was non existent.

Being a trans kid at school demands courage and determination. Transgender children are a particularly vulnerable group.Stonewall UK reports in 2014 that Metro Youth Chances surveyed more than 7,000 young people, including 956 trans people and found that: three quarters of trans young people say they have experienced name-calling and 28 per cent have experienced physical attacks.

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According to a study commissioned by the Home Office, roughly 70 per cent of children that experience confusion about their gender identity are bullied at school.

The problems are caused by other people's reactions and society's attitude towards people who don't conform to gender norms.

Going back to that picture of me hiding between parka jackets in the male changing rooms. Part of the problem was, school toilets were always un-staffed which is why this level of bullying and abuse was allowed to happen.

Essentially, I was thrown into a pit of taunting and bullying with nobody there to mediate.

I wasn't allowed to play netball with my female friends. Instead, I was forced to run around a frozen rugby pitch in the middle of winter with the people who were nasty to me. It was a distressing experience and my least favourite part of school.

A way around this was that I often played truant and missed the lesson. The consequences of my actions always resulted in detention, but this was much easier to deal with than being bullied.

But I wasn't alone. It's no surprise then to hear that Mermaids UK reports that transgender children leave school earlier than any other group, and a recent survey has shown that 25 per cent have attempted suicide, and a further 25 per cent have considered it.

These statistics are shocking, but I can totally relate.

It's incredibly damaging for anyone to be subjected to that level of abuse on a regular basis. It took me 30 years until I was comfortable within my identity and made the decision to transition. If I was encouraged and supported when I was younger, the decision would have been easier and quicker to accept.

We should sympathise and support anyone who is effectively 'outing' themselves to their school community as trans, especially those which experience conflict about their identity.

Transphobia can take many forms including direct or indirect pressure on trans people to conform to their perceived sex.

When trans kids are directly told 'You cannot use the bathroom of your choice' it doesn't just prevent them from going to the toilet, it prevents them from participating in life.

The revoke in these guidelines goes beyond it being just a trans issue. This issue to actually about human rights, and the consequences are huge.

We need governments that will stand up for us, not prevent us from flourishing into the amazing, creative and powerful, equal members of society every person so rightly deserves.

Trans or not.

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