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.

Whose Dead? Whose Day?

The subject of unity and the Transgender Day of Remembrance leads me to an unpleasant issue. Helen Boyd had a relatively innocuous post about the Day, and then a transwoman named Arlene Starr attacked her for presuming to use the phrase “our dead.” You see, Helen is not trans herself (although she has described having transgender feelings), she’s “only” married to a transwoman. Kind of the way I’m “just a cross-dresser.”

The problem is, God forbid I’m ever killed, who would suffer the most? My wife, my son and the rest of my family. Who worries the most about me getting attacked? My wife and my mother. The same is true, by and large, for Helen’s husband Betty. Think about Sylvia Guerrero (PDF), mother of Gwen Araujo, and Jennie Heskin, mother of Krystal Heskin.

Think, also, about the impact that spouses and mothers have had on public policy when their children’s lives are at stake. No one wants to be against motherhood, and very few people want to be seen as coming between a mother and her children. (The less said the better about those who are against marriage for transpeople, or who would come between a transperson and their partner.) I’m very proud that my own mother has been active in this area, and I think it’s made a difference. Our loved ones are natural allies in this.

Most importantly, as Marlena Dahlstrom wrote in the comments on Starr’s blog, partners and other loved ones can be targets too. Private first class Barry Winchell was brutally murdered in 1999 for dating a transwoman, Calpernia Addams, who has since become a nationwide community leader.

(Interestingly, as the article I linked discusses, people downplayed Addams’s identification as a woman and Winchell’s identification as heterosexual in order to construe his murder as a gay murder and fit it into a wider debate about gays in the military. While it is certainly related to those issues, it is not the same. I think this raises similar issues about claiming the dead and demanding reforms based on them as I mentioned in my last post.)

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?

Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident

Amnesty International has put out a press release on Christina Sforza’s case, specifically focusing on the NYPD Midtown South Precinct’s inadequate response to the situation. I hope this will get some action on the matter.


Friday, October 27, 2006

NYPD Must Investigate Response to Alleged Assault of Transgender Woman at McDonald’s, Says Amnesty InternationalCharges Against Sforza Dropped But Justice Still Not Served, Group Says

(New York) — Amnesty International called on the New York Police Department to investigate possible human rights violations by its officers in their handling of the case of Christina Sforza, a transgender woman involved in an altercation at a McDonald’s restaurant in Manhattan. Sforza claims that officers responding to the incident failed to exercise due diligence in not taking seriously her claim that she was the victim of a hate crime, that they subjected her to false arrest and that they further abused her while in their custody. All charges against Christina Sforza were dropped on Thursday, October 26. Continue reading “Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident”

Bathrooms: Tom Chandler’s Questions

Thanks to MHB message board regular Veronica for linking to an op-ed piece in the North Country Gazette, an Upstate New York newspaper, on the bathroom issue. The article takes a skeptical viewpoint on transgender rights, but unlike some of the nastier knee-jerk right-wing blogs, doesn’t stoop to crass insults.

Most of the concerns expressed by the author, Tom Chandler of the New York State Tyranny Response Team, are understandable for someone who knows nothing about transgender rights. They’re phrased in the form of questions to New York State gubernatorial candidates. I have no idea whether any of the candidates will read them or respond to them. I’m not running for governor (although I encourage you to vote for Malachy McCourt), but I’ve got answers to Mr. Chandler’s questions.

Will men who feel they are really women now have to get sex segregated jobs such as rape crisis counselor, (there are still jobs even progressive women argue should be for women alone)? Will you ever be able to deny a man is woman enough to do a job that he feels proves he is a real woman?

There is in fact an example of a transwoman in Vancouver who wanted to become a rape crisis counselor, but was denied, and in fact, the trans community is not unanimous in believing that she has an automatic right to any such job. Some of us do recognize the role of socialization and childhood experiences. But this is a slippery slope argument, and without much more evidence, I don’t accept the idea that outlawing harassment of transpeople in bathrooms will lead to a flood of demands for justifiably sex-segregated jobs. Continue reading “Bathrooms: Tom Chandler’s Questions”

WorldNetDaily rant completes right-wing attack trifecta on Grand Central bathroom issue

First FreeRepublic, then Drudge; now WorldNetDaily has run a story on the Grand Central bathroom agreement.  What’s next, Michelle Malkin?  Jonah Goldberg?  The blog “Good As You” has a post covering most of the errors in the article.  I’ve only got a couple of things to add.

First of all, I’ve read WorldNetDaily before, and I’m aware it’s not exactly the pinnacle of journalistic ethics and style, but still, if you’ve read the Daily News and New York Post articles I’ve linked to in previous posts, it’s obvious that the quotes are all taken from one or the other of the articles.  Yet the WorldNetDaily article gives these newspapers absolutely no credit for the work they did of interviewing Helena Stone and the three “woman-on-the-street” subjects, not even a link.  That’s called plagiarism, and it would earn a failing grade if any of my students turned it in.

Second, to expand on the point made by the Good As You blogger, I’ve been in both men’s and women’s bathrooms in Grand Central Station.  My memory’s a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure that, unlike some public bathrooms (Rockefeller Center, for example), the partitions between toilet stalls are floor-to-ceiling.  The fact that these particular bathrooms have been a focus of paranoia is especially bizarre given that they actually have more privacy than your average bathroom.  They also tend to be well-trafficked at all hours of the day and night.

I do have to give the WorldNetDaily “exclusive commentator” credit for giving background on the harassment that Stone experienced at the hands of the MTA Police, so that the idea of sensitivity training doesn’t seem like some knee-jerk liberal response.

Bathrooms: The Daily News hatchet job

I’ve mentioned before that the right-wing blogs seem mostly to be responding to Pete Donohue’s Daily News bathroom article, instead of Clemente Lisi’s more sensitive Post article or any of the others. This is a bad thing, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were intentional on the part of Drudge and FreeRepublic. I think I’m going to have to dissect the article to show just how badly it portrayed the issue:

The line for the girls’ room just got longer.

If it did at all, it probably wasn’t to the extent that anyone would notice. But it’s a cute lead-in, and was taken as a serious point by many bloggers, who were apparently unaware of the Bathroom Parity law passed last year.

Men who live as women can now legally use women’s rest rooms in New York’s transit system under an unprecedented deal revealed yesterday.

They already could. The deal just ensures that the MTA Police (who patrol Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road stations, not the subway) will commit to following the law.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to allow riders to use MTA rest rooms “consistent with their gender expression,” the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced yesterday.

The group filed a complaint against the MTA on behalf of a 70-year-old telephone repair technician who was arrested for using the women’s room at Grand Central Terminal.

The technician, who is assigned to the terminal by Verizon, was born Henry McGuinness but now goes by Helena Stone.

“I’m a 24-hour woman,” Stone declared proudly. “I just feel like a woman and I like to wear women’s clothes.”

The MTA would not comment on the settlement but Stone’s lawyer said it also includes mandatory transgender sensitivity training for MTA employees and a $2,000 payment to the technician for legal fees.

Just the mention of “sensitivity training” pissed off a lot of the right-wing bloggers. Note that Donohue didn’t mention the extent of the harassment Stone endured at the hands of the MTA Police, which was described by Lisi. Some of the bloggers might have understood the point of the training if they’d read about Stone being repeatedly arrested, insulted and searched.

Michael Sullivan, Stone’s lawyer, called the settlement of the complaint with the Human Rights Commission a “milestone” toward recognition of the city law that prohibits discrimination against transgender men and women.

Stone’s lawyer is named Michael Silverman. But a fake name may make it more difficult for vigilante Freepers to harass him.

But some Metro-North riders at Grand Central yesterday were stunned by the ruling.

“I would not like that,” said Gloria David, a retiree from Connecticut. “I have nothing against gay men or drag queens, but they can use the men’s room. I just don’t want to go to the bathroom next to a man.”

Presumably Donohue knows that most of the people using the women’s room under the new law are not gay men or drag queens, but he doesn’t use the opportunity to point out David’s misconception.

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women’s room.

I addressed this point in detail in an earlier post.

But Rena Gantz, 23, a college student, shrugged off the settlement.

“It doesn’t bother me because it is a reality,” she said. “If they believe they are women, they should be treated as one.”

Interestingly, the one sensitive quote in the article was often left off of many of the reprintings by blogs.

The bathroom issue makes its way ’round the blogosphere

Cool, thoughtful post from a cop named Steve Douglas in Denver.

This seems to have been getting a lot more commentary on blogs than earlier incidents. Unfortunately, it’s mostly been of the hateful, fearmongering type. Quite possibly because this story has been picked up by FreeRepublic and the Drudge Report.

Which version of the story, you might ask? Drudge and the Freepers often link to New York Post articles, which tend to be right-leaning and sensational. However, in this case the Post story was actually balanced and sensitive. Too balanced and sensitive for the right-wing bloggers, who have all linked to the right-leaning and sensational Daily News story. Big surprise there.

I’d link to more of these stories, but they’re so formulaic it’s downright uncanny:


Intro containing apocalyptic prediction or attempt at wit (whichever wasn’t in the headline, or both).

Quote or entire text of Daily News article.

Uninformed fear-mongering about rapists, pedophiles or peeping toms using trans status as an excuse to invade women’s bathrooms. If the poster is a man, a tasteless joke about claiming to be a woman in order to peep at women.

Vicious bashing of transpeople as “freaks,” “deviants” or worse.

Blaming the liberals for letting society get to this point.

Hm. I’m actually wondering if the similarities in these posts are more than the simple result of these people all being raised with the same intolerant, small-minded viewpoint, and they’re actually being coached on this stuff. If so, ick.

The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers

The most disturbing aspect of the negative reactions to the recent settlement between the MTA about the use of bathrooms by transgender people is the coalescence of a new “talking point” about transgender bathrooms: the fear that they will allow peeping toms, rapists and child molestors to enter the women’s rooms unhindered. People seem particularly disturbed at the idea that the judgment as to which bathroom to use is left entirely up to the pisser. Here’s a quote from the New York Daily News article:

One rider feared predators might dress as women and lurk in the women’s room.

Jerry Fuhrman, “From On High“:

If I choose to go to New York, have a few shots and beers, decide to “consider” myself a woman for the night, and camp out in the women’s restroom at the Ritz-Carlton to see what I can see, am I now protected by the law?

I know where I’m going on vacation …

Here’s a taste of the venom and hysteria in the FreeRepublic discussion thread, but then again, what do you expect from Freepers?

Now, will any provision made for safety for “real” women who don’t want to be preyed upon by rapists and thugs dressing in drag to gain access to, literally, sitting ducks? Or do they have to just suck it up in order to appease the freaks?

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful and reasonable attempts to clarify the issue by poster Dukat. I wonder how long Dukat will last on FreeRepublic; they have a reputation for purging posters who don’t toe the party line.

The tricky thing about the safety argument is that, like all lies and hysteria, it’s based on a kernel of truth. The sad fact is that women are disproportionately victims of violence and are less safe than men anywhere they go. Everyone is more vulnerable when they’re half-dressed and peeing, shitting or grooming themselves. Combine these two, and a public bathroom can be a very scary place for a woman. Gossip isn’t the only reason women go to the bathroom in groups. Continue reading “The mythical transgender bathroom stalkers”