Who are you calling obsessed?

July 11, 2008

My recent post, Love is stronger than Pride, about Roz Kaveney’s disgraceful treatment by stewards and the police when she tried to enter the public toilets in Trafalgar Square during the Pride march last weekend, drew an interesting comment from Winter, who said:

I think some analysis should be done on what this obsession with toilets says about society.

At an event like Pride with so many genderqueer people in attendance, unisex toilets do seem the sensible way to go because it’s a situation in which the binary gender system (of which gender segregated toilets are a part) has already broken down.

That is actually a very interesting point, and I wonder if we can draw any conclusions about the attitudes of society in general.

But first let me get the obvious bad joke out of the way: if trans* women were more anally-retentive, then maybe they wouldn’t need to use public toilets and all this unpleasantness could be avoided…


Yes yes. Very amusing, Helen. Now will you get on with it, please?

Okay. The first thing is – even though it was only a bad joke – there is a subtext there, and perhaps it was a contributory factor in the Pride incident: If trans* women had stayed out of the public toilets, then there would have been no problem. It only became problematic when trans* women tried to go into them.

In other words, the trans* women’s needs were secondary, unimportant and not worth even considering – or so it was decided by those who were policing the toilets (no pun intended).

But it goes further, because it’s not trans* women who have a problem in using appropriate (ie women’s) public toilets: it’s other people who have a problem with trans* women using women’s public toilets. In Roz’ case it was the contracted steward(s) and the police’s so-called LGBT liaison officer. I don’t know the identities of those two or three people, so I’ll have to leave aside the question of whether male sexism played a part or whether it was even-handed (gender-neutral? ;) ) across-the-board discrimination originating from a combination of men and women.

So it was other people (the steward(s) and the police officer) who believed that trans* women shouldn’t go into a public toilet designated for use by women. Why would they think that? Presumably, it’s because they didn’t consider trans* women to be women. (Real women, that is, I’m muttering sarcastically under my breath).

I’m seeing Othering, discrimination, harassment, bigotry and transphobia – in addition to a complete lack of awareness of gender diversity, not to mention insensitivity and sheer bloody ignorance. And that’s even without irresponsible wielding of powers invested in them as part of their employment at Pride.

There do seem to be some almost mediaeval attitudes to men, or – crucially – people who are perceived as men – entering a women’s toilet. For example, in June, I wrote about an incident which has some parallels with Roz’ experience. Tanya White, a natal woman whose gender presentation was very masculine (she admitted this herself in interviews at the time) was told by hotel security staff to leave a women’s restroom, despite providing official documentation “proving she was a woman”.

And there, for me, was the problem: After “proving she was a woman”, she should have been left alone. Should she have been questioned by the guards in the first place? That’s tricky. She presented in a masculine way and went into a women’s toilet. Had I been in a women’s toilet and someone who appeared to be male walked in, I might be a little curious – but I think I’d have been more disturbed by three male security guards crashing in through the door, apparently in hot pursuit.

Both these incidents seem to suggest that society believes that men, or people who are perceived as men, who enter a women’s toilet are sexual predators. Even though in Roz’ case she transitioned many years ago – and in the Tanya White case, the men who entered the women’s toilet were security guards. And I wonder – how many women are sexually attacked by random strangers when they’re in a public toilet? Particularly in Trafalgar Square in the middle of a gathering of thousands of people, supposedly to celebrate gender variance…

As Winter remarks, ‘the binary gender system (of which gender segregated toilets are a part) has already broken down’- yet the whole girls-play-with-dolls/boys-play-with-guns stereotyping seems to be ingrained in people at a very deep level. We know that the brainwashing begins from the moment the midwife announces “It’s a boy (girl)” – but is it really so deep that the majority of people are completely and utterly oblivious to it? To the extent that they will make a snap judgement about another person’s entitlement (*waves at the privilege debate queuing up outside*) – and even be prepared to defend that indefensible decision with violence? Is/was passing (or not passing) a factor? – and who decides who passes anyway? (Those with the privilege of wielding power, of course). And why this preoccupation with the default configuration of our genitalia anyway? I mean, what next? – can we expect panty-checks at next year’s Pride? I mean – *wrinkles nose in distaste* – it all starts to get a bit essentialist, don’t you think?

There are so many mixed messages it’s hard to unpick them all and come up with a single coherent conclusion. There appears to be absolutely no logic, or rational thought and/or arguments in favour of excluding trans women from women’s public toilets.

I’m beginning to believe it’s all down to that primal fear called transphobia. There is clearly a complete lack of knowledge across a huge swathe of society that trans women are just that: women. Honestly; if you have a deep and enduring sense of being gendered female but, as a result of an accident of birth, you find yourself unfortunately in possession of male genitalia, it does not mean that you are a sick pervert who wants to sexually harass women in public toilets. (And this applies irrespective of whether or not you’ve had “The Surgery”).

Trust me on that one – this trans woman has only ever used women’s public toilets because she needs to pee.


©2008 Helen G


2 Responses to “Who are you calling obsessed?”

  1. Roz Kaveney Says:

    The weird thing is that the Health and Safety officer hired by Pride decreed that the toilets be segregated after a man assaulted a transwoman in the women’s toilets. Yep, it is blame the victim time.

  2. Helen G Says:

    Roz: Really? Bloody hell…

    And of course, demanding that you justifying your existence (by brandishing your GRC which of course you carry at all times just.in.case – well, that’s going to stop somebody else being violent again, isn’t it?…



    And – let me take a wild guess – the attacker got away clean, right? I hope the trans woman wasn’t too badly hurt.

    What a fan-frickin-tastic day you all had…

    {{{sends hugs}}}

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