Owning Jessica Hambrook

In the wake of the Alliance Defending Freedom-sponsored bathroom bills being considered in many states, and passed in North Carolina, many people responded that there have been no documented cases of trans people assaulting women in bathrooms. I may well have been the first to point out, a decade ago, the conspicuous lack of news reports of any such assaults.

It’s important to be clear about what this fact means. It means that a tiny minority of rapes happen in bathrooms, trans women are a tiny minority of the population, and a tiny minority of us are rapists. A tiny minority of a tiny minority of a tiny minority means that there’s so little chance of this happening that it might as well be zero.

Here’s what this does not mean: that trans women can never be rapists. It does not mean that none of us has ever raped anyone. It just unlikely, especially in a public bathroom. There are a lot of other things to be worried about, like getting hit by a car on your way to the public bathroom.

We need to be clear on this point because there is always a chance that at some point, someone will get raped in a bathroom by a trans woman. In fact, there is a group of radical feminists who collect and circulate news reports of trans people harassing and attacking women and girls.

These lists are not a systematic investigation of these issues, and they do not constitute a sound argument for banning trans people from women’s bathrooms. The argument rests on exactly the same profiling fallacy currently being promoted by Donald Trump, Jr. But the incidents are well-documented, and if we ignore them or dismiss them out of hand, we look like liars.

In February 2012 a trans woman, Jessica Hambrook, was arrested based on reports that she sexually assaulted two women in two different homeless shelters in Toronto. Psychiatrists, no doubt working in the sloppy theories of Ray Blanchard, “concluded Hambrook is not transgender.” The Toronto Sun reported in February 2014 that she was locked up for life as a “dangerous offender,” based on guilty pleas in these cases and convictions in two previous ones. They apparently considered themselves freed by the psychiatrist’s judgment from the responsibility to treat her with any dignity, and consistently referred to her with a male name and pronouns. They printed a brief statement from the defense attorney admitting Hambrook’s crimes, but not addressing the question of her transgender status.

When challenged on the Hambrook case, trans activist Toni D’Orsay simply took the word of the psychiatrists that Hambrook “falsely claimed” to be trans. The rest of our “trans community leaders,” normally eager to defend one of their own and insist on the “correct” name and pronouns, has been silent on this issue, apparently unwilling to risk even the possibility that she is just as trans as they are, and might therefore taint all trans people with her crimes.

This is bullshit – and it’s exactly the No True Scotsman fallacy. Every population includes some people who are mentally ill, people who are sexual predators, and people who are criminals. It is preposterous to think that trans people are somehow immune to this. If this convicted serial rapist Jessica Hambrook is not “really trans,” there is a rapist somewhere who is. We discredit ourselves by ignoring this certainty, and the radical feminists are simply attacking us with the weapons we have handed them.

What if you don’t have a gender identity?

Side-by-side close-up images of the author presenting as feminine and masculine.

I believe that President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta sincerely want to help all transgender people. I commend their courage for doing what they think will help. But I’ve read Lynch and Gupta’s remarks and read the brief that Gupta’s office filed in response to the North Carolina lawsuit over bathroom access, and I’m feeling worried. Where do I, and all the other genderqueer and genderfluid people, fit in this? Will we be left out?

Paragraph 31 from the brief defined gender identity as ” gender identity, which is an individual’s internal sense of being male or female.” Paragraph 36 states, “Gender identity is innate and external efforts to change a person’s gender identity can be harmful to a person’s health and well-being.”

That’s great for someone who lives through childhood as a girl, transitions in high school and lives the rest of their life as a man. It’s great for someone who lives as a boy and then a man, and transitions to living as a woman during a midlife crisis. It’s especially good if they are comfortable interpreting their feelings of discomfort, desire and excitement in terms of innate brain genders despite the shaky science involved in those constructs.

Paragraph 36 is less great for someone who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into any gender, or for someone who feels like they’re in between, or a mix of genders. It’s not so good for someone like me who sometimes feels a desire to be a man and sometimes a woman, who sometimes feels uncomfortable with on gender, or the other, or both. It’s especially bad if we’re skeptical of any kind of pat answers, especially about gender.

There is a straightforward case against North Carolina’s HB2 law: just as it’s illegal to deny a person public accommodations or require her to wear a skirt because she has the legal status of “female,” it’s illegal to deny a person the right to use the women’s room because she has the legal status of “male.” It’s a pattern of sex discrimination.

I can understand why Lynch and Gupta don’t want to use the straightforward argument, though, because it makes a bald-faced case that people should be allowed to use whichever bathroom they want, even if they’re not trans. Gupta doesn’t think the American people are ready for that. Instead, here’s how she puts it:

Transgender people are discriminated against because their gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. H.B. 2 denies transgender people something that all non-transgender people enjoy and take for granted: access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity.

For years, whenever anyone talked about “gender identity” I just thought of it as some weird feeling that trans people who transition full-time have. But then people started insisting that everyone has a gender identity, and that because I chose not to live as a woman full-time I must have a masculine gender identity. They’re wrong; I don’t. I just dress like a guy most of the time because it’s the easiest thing to do. It’s not just me, either: I’ve known people who’ve transitioned and don’t have a gender identity.

Nobody knows what my gender identity (or lack thereof) is unless I tell them, and yet they do occasionally discriminate against me, like when the woman in the Burlington Coat Factory on Sixth Avenue sent me to the men’s changing room. She had no idea whether my gender identity matched the sex I was assigned at birth; she simply decided I was a man despite the fact that I was wearing makeup and a skirt, and discriminated against me based on her judgment.

Similarly, the people who confront trans people for their choice of bathroom have no idea what gender identity their victims have. They aren’t discriminating based on a gender identity mismatch, they’re discriminating based on their gender classification. I can’t believe that on some level Gupta and Lynch don’t know this.

I don’t want access to restrooms consistent with my gender identity, and I don’t think most other trans people do either. I want access to restrooms consistent with my gender expression. It’s pretty simple: if I’m wearing makeup and heels, I want to go into the bathroom where people with makeup and heels go. If I’m not wearing makeup and have visible facial hair, I want to go into the bathroom where people with no makeup and visible facial hair go.

I don’t vary my gender expression for fun. I do it because through many years of experience I’ve concluded that my mental health suffers if I don’t. My need is just as real, and just as unchangeable, as any other trans person’s. I’m just not confident enough in my understanding of my own mind, or in the state of neuroscience, to assert that this is a result of some innate sense of self.

So here’s what I want to know, Attorney General Lynch: if I don’t have a gender identity, innate or otherwise, and I’m not prepared to assert that my state is innate, do you still stand with me? Do you stand with the genderqueer person who doesn’t really pass in any bathroom, and decides which is the safest on an ad hoc basis? If I got arrested in a women’s room in North Carolina, in makeup and a dress, would you do everything you could to protect me? Or is safe access to restrooms only for people with a gender identity?

Update: Cristan Williams points out that the Justice Department is suing North Carolina because they received grants under the Violence Against Women Act that are conditioned on states not discriminating on the basis of gender identity. But as I pointed out shortly after the Act was reauthorized in 2013, the definition of gender identity is “actual or perceived gender-related characteristics,” which is a lot more inclusive and effective than the faith-based definition. So why are Lynch and Gupta using a definition of gender identity that’s so radically different from the one in the law?

Skepticism, faith and fearmongering

I’m frustrated. I just put together a draft post about how it’s hard for me, as a trans person who tries to be skeptical, to believe in gender identity. Now, television psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow has written that he doesn’t believe in gender identity, and uses that in an argument that children shouldn’t be allowed to choose the gender of the bathroom they use. And then professional troll Bryan J Fischer picks up on it, citing “the truth that we find in the Scriptures.” Great. Well, let me deal with these guys first.

Screen capture by Media Matters
Screen capture by Media Matters
There’s not much to say about Fischer. Despite centuries of trying, nobody’s yet found scientific proof of the existence of God, or Satan, or the “truth” of the Bible, or the effectiveness of prayer. If you’re going to believe in those, you might as well believe in gender identity, the True Self, the Authentic You, and the Two Spirits. Or not.

Ablow (who in happier days provided a national platform for Betty Crow to declare her transition) has an argument that’s a bit more challenging because it’s not so obviously faith-based. Yet, right at the point where he begins to challenge bathroom rights, he admits that “data is sorely lacking” to support the idea that if kids are exposed to other kids with female anatomy who are treated like boys it will “do harm to their own developing sense of self.” And yet he feels that the possibility is so strong that we need to protect kids from it.

Later he claims, with absolutely no supporting argument, that he doesn’t see “anything but toxicity from the notion of a person with female anatomy feeling free to use the urinal in the boys’ rest room while a boy stands next to her and uses one, too,” and warns that bathroom rights will create “completely unnecessary anxiety related to whether they should be doing some sort of emotional inventory to determine whether they’re really going to turn into men, once and for all, or find out they’ve been suppressing the truth that they’re actually women.”

There is a coherent argument in the piece: that it is a lie to say that the question of gender identity is settled to the point where we can simply take someone’s word about what their gender is. So far, that’s a solid skeptical observation: the whole business with uterine hormone baths and the bed of the stria terminalis is pretty shaky science, but trans dogmatists claim that it’s The Established Truth. It’s pretty strong to say it’s a lie; it’s more like wishful thinking.

Now, it is this “lie” that Ablow claims will harm the children’s sense of self more than the gender stuff. But if you think about it, that’s a really weird idea. Kids are constantly being lied to by adults about everything from the Easter Bunny to Moses parting the Red Sea. Did I miss the editorial where Ablow denounced the threat to kids’ sense of self posed by the myth of hairy palms? Where did he call for the impeachment of President Bush for “a powerful, devious and pathological way to weaken them by making them question their sense of safety, security and certainty about anything and everything” – this myth of the War on Terror?

It’s pretty clear that this argument about “a lie that can steal their ability to trust adults” is bullshit. Ablow doesn’t actually believe that adults lying to kids is that big a threat. His skepticism about trans dogma is just a fig leaf for his true concerns (completely unsupported by any evidence) that kids will catch the trans from their classmates.

A true skeptic who was genuinely concerned about this issue might call for a temporary moratorium on bathroom rights, but would want to see the issue explored as soon as possible. After all, it’s obvious that the kids who want to live as the other gender aren’t being well served by the current system. It’s a testable hypothesis, this idea that kids can catch the trans by being around other kids whose non-normative gender expression is tolerated by authority figures. You might expect that a freethinker like Dr. Keith would want to investigate this hypothesis. For some reason I’m skeptical.

Anybody but Christine Quinn for Mayor

Some trans activists fight for easy name and gender changes on official documents. Some fight for access to responsible, professional medical care, or for hormones and surgery to be covered by insurance or government programs. My main goal is for us to have access to bathrooms and changing spaces without getting the shit beaten out of us. And that’s why I’m asking you not to vote for Christine Quinn for Mayor of New York City.

A trans woman walks into a McDonald’s and asks to use the women’s bathroom. While she’s in there, someone yells at her “I’m going to kill you, faggot.” She goes out of the bathroom, and discovers that it was the store manager yelling at her, and he hits her with a lead pipe. One of her friends calls the police, but when they come they arrest the trans woman instead, on accusations from the store manager.

Maybe this sounds like something that happens in Texas, or Wyoming, but in 2006 a woman, Christina Sforza, claimed that it happened to her right here in New York City, across from the Empire State Building, in the City Council district of Christine Quinn. Trans community leaders and Amnesty International took the story seriously.

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project put out an alert on October 11, 2006, and I contacted Quinn shortly after that. She did not have a public email address, so I contacted her through a form on her Council website. I got no response for two weeks, until I got a broadcast email from Quinn’s office about a New Jersey Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Frustrated, I replied to that email, only to get an auto-reply telling me to fill out the form. I filled out the form again, and got an email from Quinn’s chief of staff saying, “I would love to hear more so that I could have a staff member work with you.” Encouraged, I wrote back with more details.

The Amnesty report says, “Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker, reportedly intervened in October 2006 and Christina Sforza was finally able to file a criminal complaint.” I don’t know what this intervention is, but apparently nothing has come of it.

Since then, I have heard nothing from Quinn’s office on this issue. I have, however, gotten regular email updates:

  • 1 criticizing the arrests of “young transgender individuals” in the Port Authority bus terminal bathrooms
  • 1 supporting birth certificate gender changes
  • 1 supporting streamlining transgender marriage bureaucracy
  • 1 inviting me to a “Trans Reality Panel” sponsored by the Empire State Pride Agenda
  • 1 supporting GENDA, the state Gender Non-Discrimination Act
  • 8 annual invitations to the Council LGBT Pride ceremony
  • 1 inviting me to my neighborhood LGBT-inclusive Saint Patrick’s Day parade
  • 3 on hate crimes attacks on gay men
  • 1 on free self-defense trainings
  • 5 on Hurricane Sandy (including 1 on a “LGBT Day of Action” for Sandy victims)
  • 1 inviting me to a hearing on the experiences of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system
  • 1 praising a speech by Hilary Clinton on LGBT rights
  • 1 on a LGBT Advisory Committee to the NYPD
  • 1 on LGBT rights in Uganda
  • 1 on LGBT rights in Russia

Every so often over the past seven years, I’ve tried to think of some reason for Quinn’s silence on this issue. Did her staff find some reason to doubt Sforza’s story? Was there something else that made Sforza a difficult victim to champion?

It doesn’t matter. We’ve heard Sforza’s story, and we know that trans people do get attacked in bathrooms – as we saw on video in Maryland in 2011.

I was deeply unsettled to hear Sforza’s story. It could have been me. I’ve been in that McDonald’s. When we hear reports of a horrific attack that could have happened to us, we want to know that justice is being done. Even if someone found out that Sforza made up the whole thing, it would still have been very reassuring to have a statement from McDonald’s that that kind of behavior is not tolerated from their employees. I would feel much better to hear from the NYPD that they take our rights seriously and will protect us if someone tries to punish us for peeing.

I would like to know that someone on Quinn’s staff took my safety in her district as seriously as they do someone’s birth certificate or marriage license, or the rights of people on the other side of the world. All the ceremonies and parades are meaningless if we can’t use the bathroom without the fear of being beaten.

When Quinn was first elected I was excited at the news of our first out lesbian city council member. I knew she cared about lesbian rights, and I hoped that that would carry over to transgender rights. I was disappointed.

This is why I will not vote for Christine Quinn if I see her name on a ballot, and why I’m asking you to vote for anybody but her on September 10. We can do better.

Segregated bathrooms are a kludge

Bathrooms are an important issue to me. When I present as a woman I use women’s bathrooms, and I want every trans person to have the right to choose their bathroom. But I realize that the desire some people have to exclude us from bathrooms is based on a legitimate concern. I heard this recently in a story from Afghanistan, where some people have made gender-segregated bathrooms a priority.

Graduates of the Women’s Afghan National Police training course in Kandahar province, Afghanistan smile after receiving their ANP graduation certificates Aug. 5 at Camp Nathan Smith. Photo by Spc. Tracy R. Weeden / Isafmedia.

In Afghanistan, crimes against women often go unpunished. The Afghan government recognized that a major factor was the absence of female officers, and hired a number of new recruits. Now, many of those police officers are leaving, because they are being regularly attacked and raped.

The most common locations for these assaults are the police station bathrooms, which are open to all genders. The female officers are most vulnerable when half-naked, performing involuntary bodily functions. The proposed solution, advocated by Human Rights Watch, is to institute women-only spaces, where a man would be automatically suspect.

It’s too often overlooked that the shared bathrooms in no way cause the attacks. These attacks are deliberate acts of violence chosen by individuals, encouraged by a culture that dehumanizes women, and perpetuated by a legal system uninterested in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This story helps some of us understand why gender-segregated bathrooms exist in the first place. They are a kludge, a short cut to stop the worst abuses. And like all kludges, bathroom segregation doesn’t work one hundred percent. There are false positives – trans people who are denied access to the bathrooms that fit our presentation and marked when we use the others. Significantly, there are plenty of false negatives – men who walk right into segregated bathrooms and attack women without any claim to transgender status.

A kludge may be necessary to break through a logjam. Think of the US Marshals who accompanied Ruby Bridges when she became the first Black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School. Segregated bathrooms may similarly be warranted in the case of the Afghan police. But just as integrated schools no longer require guards for every Black student, in some places segregated bathrooms may no longer be necessary.

Twice when I was in college here in the US I lived on dormitory floors where the bathrooms were nominally reserved for a single gender, but the residents had voted unanimously to open them to all genders. When I was studying in Paris, the public bathrooms in the classroom buildings were similarly integrated, with all gender markings removed.

Of course rape and voyeurism still exist in both the US and France, and in some places it may still be necessary to segregate bathrooms by gender. But the two experiences I mentioned suggest that in some situations respect for women’s rights and the rule of law is so secure that we no longer need the kludge of segregated bathrooms to protect women.

Even in places where gender-segregated bathrooms are still deemed necessary, it is clear that people who want to rape, ogle or video women in bathrooms will do so if they think they can get away with it. A small minority of them claim to be trans, probably because they actually are trans. In the end, what really protects women in bathrooms is not ineffective attempts to keep trans people out of them, but strong enforcement of the laws against assault and voyeurism.

Christina Sforza’s experience

Blogger RachelPhilPa linked both to my post about Ian Harvie’s bathroom experience and a YouTube video of Christina Sforza describing her assault by the manager of the McDonalds on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street (which I also reported). The video was taken a year later and nothing has been done. Sforza’s story is very disturbing. I admire her courage for pursuing justice after that kind of treatment.

Last year I emailed the staff of Council Speaker Quinn (the McDonald’s in question is in her district) and got some encouraging responses. This Amnesty International report says that Quinn’s intervention allowed Sforza to file a complaint (it’s not clear whether against the manager or the police officers). However, I have not heard anything since last year. The report also gives contact information for Commissioner Kelly, an advisor to District Attorney Morgenthau and Speaker Quinn.

Reformers want to cut Grand Central bathroom budget

You may remember New York Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue’s insensitive take on the Grand Central bathroom ruling last year.  Well, the News is at it again.

This time I really believe that they’re trying to do something good: root out the Three Corruptions of waste, fraud and abuse at the MTA.  Most of their findings and implied recommendations are spot-on: the MTA doesn’t need a completely separate administrative hierarchy in every sub-agency, with its own set of lawyers, for instance.  And if, as Aaron Donovan admits, the “housing allowance” for executives is not actually for housing but really just a part of their salary, it shouldn’t be counted separately.  But one thing struck me as bizarre:


There are 21 bathroom attendants at Grand Central making $16,270 to $53,867 a year. Says Metro-North: “700,000 pass through each day, 10,000 meals are sold and they all have to pee.”

This is simply stated by the News reporters in a sidebar without any comment; the implication is that it’s either waste, fraud or abuse.  But come on: Grand Central has at least three sets of bathrooms (although I can’t remember ever seeing more than two sets open at once).  I think the Metro-North response is more than reasonable.  With 700,000 people passing through every day, you’d expect at least, what, 35,000 to use the bathrooms?  There are only 21 people to clean up after them, and given that the terminal is open seven days a week, 20 hours a day, that’s really at most two people working at any given time.  Most of the time, probably only one person.

Is the “waste” in the salaries?  I really, really don’t get all these people who have a particular idea about what certain jobs should pay.  In October we had the Subwayblogger arguing that people scraping gum off the subway platforms shouldn’t make more than $38,000 a year.  Now we’ve got the Daily News who seem to think that people who wipe shit off the floor don’t deserve to make – what? it’s not clear because they just leave it unsaid.  Certainly not $53,867.

In my book, someone who spends their days cleaning bathrooms, and frequently has to wipe up some bum’s diarrhea, or some Scarsdale party girl’s vomit, deserves every penny of that $53,867.  That’s about as much as I made when I was a full-time computer support tech, and a bathroom attendant job is at least as demanding and deserving as the job I had.

This is the same kind of thinking that gets people blabbering about illegal immigrants being required to do “the jobs Americans won’t do.”  As this Slate article succinctly argues, it’s not that Americans won’t do those jobs, it’s that they won’t do them for the small amount of money the employers are offering, at the long hours, oppressive conditions and humiliating environment they demand.  If you pay them decent wages, give them decent hours and safe, pleasant environments where they’re not being insulted all the time, Americans will be happy to mine coal, pick strawberries or mop pee off the floor.  But apparently Subwayblogger and the News reporters think that people who mop pee don’t deserve that.

Let’s say that the Metro-North execs, scared by this News report, cut the Grand Central budget in half.  It would be an absolute disaster.  Unsafe stalls, broken facilities going unreported for hours, messes not getting cleaned up, you name it.  But most importantly – and here’s why this is in my Trans Blog – lower salaries for bathroom attendants.  Lower salaries means higher turnover, which means less experienced attendants.  Anyone who says this is a “semi-skilled” job is talking out their ass.  One important skill for a bathroom attendant is judging who’s a threat and who’s not, and knowing that trans people belong.  If you’ve got high turnover, that means that every couple of weeks you’ve got a new bathroom attendant who’s going to blow the whistle on some trans person in the bathroom.  Just what we need.

I don’t see any waste, fraud or abuse in this aspect of the MTA.  If anything, $16,270 is low for even a part-time bathroom attendant.  Imagine if we quadrupled the budget for Grand Central bathroom attendants.  That means that bathroom attendants will actually be able to support a family in a decent apartment, and will probably stay on the job longer and take pride in their work.  It means less overtime and less stress for the attendants, which means they’ll do their jobs better and probably be nicer to the patrons.  It means that Grand Central will be able to open more than one set of bathrooms at a time, adding to convenience and cutting down on the lines that can sometimes get waaay out of hand.  I’d pay 4% more on my ticket to Irvington for that.


It’s a play about bathrooms and drag queens … being performed in my neighborhood! I hope I get a chance to see it.


By one of Venezuela’s most prestigious playwrights RODOLFO SANTANA
English translation by CHARLES PHILIP THOMAS
Directed by PEDRO DE LLANO


Ever wonder, “What do they DO in there that takes so long?” Here’s your chance to find out!

Carmen is the attendant of a ladies room at an upscale dance club, where the elite of the social, artistic, and political scenes meet to get seen, hustled, seduced, and smashed. She confronts a crisis in her marriage as a parade of lovely ladies streams in and out, sharing makeup, advice, secrets and more. Meanwhile, the club’s waiter, a drag queen named “The Seagull”, plans to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for his idol, the inspiration for his act, when she pops in to freshen up.


FROM MAY 18 TO JUNE 24, 2007

alternating performances in English and Spanish

Performances IN ENGLISH: Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 3 PM

Performances IN SPANISH: Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 4 PM

TICKETS: $25 STUDENTS & SENIORS: $22 Special group rates

INFORMATION & TICKETS (718) 729-3880
At THALIA SPANISH THEATRE, 41-17 Greenpoint Avenue (Queens)

Subway # 7 Local to 40th St. Station. Buses Q60, Q32 to Queens Blvd & 41st St.

Bathrooms: A Masculine-Spectrum Perspective

Masculine-identified, female-bodied comedian Ian Harvie and his friend, comedian Margaret Cho, were harassed and assaulted (can you think of a better word for a private citizen grabbing your breasts without permission?) in the women’s room at a Halloween fundraising party in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Read Cho’s telling of the story first for the quick introduction.

Then read Harvie’s telling for some priceless details.

This was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I’d heard that masculine-spectrum genderqueer people got questioned in women’s rooms, but I didn’t know the extent of it.  I really appreciate now the extent of their predicament: use the women’s room and get harassed like Harvie, or use the men’s room and get arrested like Dean Spade.  Yeesh.

NY Times: P&G will open “Charmin” holiday bathrooms in Times Square

Curbed is linking to a New York Times article about how Charmin toilet paper is planning to sponsor a twenty-stall bathroom in Times Square for the holiday shopping season. The article is vague, but as far as I can tell it will all be individual stalls.

There’s no mention of transgender people in the article, and ideally, it should be taken for granted that we’ll be welcome. The PR possibilities are intriguing. If a TG person were denied use of the bathroom, would that be good press, or would people be sympathetic to Proctor and Gamble? On the other hand, would it be possible to get a positive photo-op, say with some glamorous drag queens? Would P&G be too afraid of freaking out the square tourists?