24 Mar 2013

Queering Arizona's Toilets

The Arizona state legislature is considering passing a bill that would prohibit a person from using a restroom that is not associated with the sex listed on his or her birth certificate. A large part of me feels like this is too stupid to bother blogging about. Another part of me can't stop laughing. My serious side is extremely concerned by the fact that, if this bill was to actually pass, transgender men and women in Arizona would likely face an increase in violence.

Perhaps a visual would help. Below is a photo of Buck Angel, a transgender man. Representative John Kavanagh, the genius behind this piece of legislation, is insisting that men like Buck should use the women's restroom.

By Buck Angel (Buck Angel Entertainment) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Buck Angel

The basics of the proposed legislation is this: if you go to the "wrong" potty and get caught, you could be jailed for six months. The idea is ridiculous for a number of obvious reasons. Who will police and enforce this law? Will people have to show their birth certificates (not just their driver's licenses, even!) before they can pee? Yes, we could joke quite a bit here about the "potty police".

The terrifying aspect of this bill is that it would force already vulnerable trans women to use men's restrooms. As Ida Hammer from the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project points out, violence against trans people is almost always committed against trans women. In 2009, 50% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) murder victims were trans women. However, trans people only make up 1% of the LGBTQH population. Obligating trans women to use men's washrooms is asking for trouble – this forces them to out themselves and highlight their transgender identity in order to pee.

It is evident that Representative Kavanagh has no knowledge of the transgender community. He reportedly stated that "this law simply restores the law of society: Men are men and women are women." I believe that he thinks all transgender people are trans women in the midst of transition or who do not pass easily.

Kavanagh wants these women, the intended target of his legislation, to use men's facilities, presumably because he thinks that they look like men and are "actually" men. What he doesn't realize is that there are many trans women and lots of trans men who no one would ever suspect as being trans. For example, if I walked into a women's bathroom today (under Kavanagh's proposed law, I would have to – my birth certificate says female), I'm sure the women there would be rather surprised. The effects of testosterone therapy (facial hair, male pattern baldness, thickened vocal chords resulting in a deep voice, etc) are extremely powerful for most trans guys, who virtually always pass as male. Even though I stopped taking testosterone a couple of years ago to have a baby, I still pass (and identify) as male at all times.

Kavanagh's bill would result in queering washrooms, not straightening them out. Trans men who are indistinguishable from cisgender (non-trans) men would have to use women's bathrooms. Hence, Kavanagh wants Buck Angel in the ladies' room. In a certain way, I think this could be great! If trans men were to obey such a law, the general public would suddenly realize just how many trans people there really are and how "normal" we look (not to mention that we all have to pee, just like everyone else). It's hilarious to think that Kavanagh's bill would inadvertently turn restrooms into mixed gender spaces. I've often thought that doing away with gender-segregated restrooms would be nice.