It's time to rethink this whole "men's" room/"women's room thing

    roomsAn Illinois school district is in the news because it has been refusing to permit a transitioning female athlete use the girl's locker room.  Instead, her high school has made available a private shower for her.  She has sued claiming stigma and the Department of Education agrees that because she is psychologically a girl, she has the right to use the girl's room.  If the school doesn't make available to her full access to the girl's room within 30 days or reach a mutually agreeable accommodation, the feds may withhold funding.

    In light of this latest development in the ongoing battle of the bathrooms, I decided to cross-post the following article which I published at in September.


    From the Washington Post Magazine (Sep 6, 2015):

    Reader: Two years ago, I wrote you about a transgender co-worker, “Barbara,” and her decision to use the ladies’ bathroom even though she is not undergoing surgical reassignment. Now I wonder if you could help us understand the next step.

    Our government workplace provides an on-site gym. Barbara wants to use the gym like everybody else — and she has indicated that she will be using the women’s locker room.

    I realize her transition has been difficult, but others are antagonistic toward what she’s doing. I understand that her gender identity is unrelated to whether she’s had medical or surgical intervention. But how does her identity trump our right not to see penises in the locker room? We are still not comfortable with her standing facing the toilet in the next stall.

    If she were acting inappropriately, we could talk to HR. But she’s not; she simply intends to claim her place culturally as a woman. And yet, she’s not a woman physically.

    Does our employer have any way to avoid this outcome? If not, many of us will cease working out, and that seems unfair.

    Signed: Trying Here

    Karla: With ever more transgender celebrities, colleagues and classmates seeking to claim their place, it’s a great time to revisit this issue.

    In federal agencies, the same rules apply to locker rooms as to bathrooms: Barbara is entitled to use the facility that aligns with her identity. Your employer can provide private spaces to dress and shower, but it can’t confine Barbara to them. Barbara cannot legally be penalized for others’ discomfort with her existence.

    In my view, contrary to Karla Miller's, the letter writer raises a legitimate concern.  She doesn't want to see pre-op transgender female co-worker Barbara's male genitalia when they're changing in the women's workplace locker room.  The writer might also not wish Barbara to see her undressed.  On the other hand, Barbara self-identifies as a woman, despite being physiologically a man.  Understandably she doesn't want to use the locker room designated for men since psychologically she's not one.

    Is there a way out of this conundrum?  I think so.  Why don't we start assigning people to bathrooms and locker rooms based on their genitalia not their gender?  The currently-identified "Men's Room" could be labeled "for those with Penises" or something similar while the currently identified "Women's Room" could also get a new moniker. How about "Vaginas only"? 

    If people are expected to use the room that corresponds with their anatomical state, then the users of each room won't have to worry about being confronted with anomalous genitalia.  But pre-op transgendered women wouldn't feel as though they were misidentifying themselves when using "for Penises" since they do indeed have one.  Likewise, pre-op transgendered men wouldn't be denying their true selves when using "Vaginas only".

    I realize that more and and more businesses and agencies are moving to gender-neutral stalls which is the best solution when possible.  But they are more space-intensive than genitalia or gender-based bathrooms which may contain urinals and rows of stalls.   In addition, even large corporations, fitness centers, and government agencies may find it difficult or impossible to build a third locker room for their pools, gyms, and weight rooms.



    I don't quite understand how your idea helps Barbara and other transgenders. I get that if she has to enter a "male genitalia" restroom, etc. she won't be denying her ... no, actually I don't get it. I don't know anyone in her position (and I suspect, neither do you), but the letter writer says that Barbara "simply intends to claim her place as a woman". How does your solution allow her that?

    I'm conflicted about this. Especially when it comes to gyms and showers where nudity is common. I don't necessarily feel the same regarding restrooms with stalls that are already designed with privacy in mind. It's an issue that deserves discussion in order to lead to fair decisions, so I appreciate that you've broached it.

    I've got to say, though, that while I appreciate the debate on this on a state and federal level, it would be nice if at least a tiny bit of the same was directed toward LGBT employment and housing discrimination.

    I know personally three transgender women - two are post-op, one is post-op.  I am not aware of any transgender men in my circle of acquaintances.  I did not know that either of the two post-op women were transgender until they told me.  Since I get criticized for allegedly putting myself in women's shoes, I won't be too empathic but I am sympathetic to women who don't want to see naked male appendages.  So when it comes to women's/girl's locker rooms, I stand by my original premise which is that we should designate people to them based on genitalia not self-identified gender self-identication.  By being steered away from the "Vaginas Only" locker room, Barbara wouldn't be denied her womanhood since we are now at a place - because of brave transgender folks - where we no longer identify gender solely by anatomy. 

    From all I've read on the subject I doubt that your compromise would be acceptable to most transgendered.

    Lila Perry a 17-year old transgender girl, who wants to use the "Girls" restroom explains "I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom."  AFAIK, Lila is a girl with a penis.  If the understanding becomes that bathrooms are designated based solely on anatomy - not gender - why do you believe she would she not accept this solution? 

    Understandably she doesn't want to use the locker room designated for men since psychologically she's not one.

    Changing the sign on the door from "Men's Room" to "those with penises" doesn't change the designation. If forced to stand at a urinal/in a shower with men I doubt the labeling on the entrance would be comforting. As a woman, Barbara would likely rather not see other male appendages, either.

    If Barbara uses a "Penis" room as opposed to a "Men's" room, she's not being pigeon-holed as something she is not.  It's true that she may not like looking at penises herself, even though she has one.  I guess we'd have to ask her that question.  On the other hand, some of the men in the Penis room might also prefer showering in the Vagina room but they don't get to indulge that preference.  I don't see why an exception should be made for Barbara.

    What does your "On the other hand ..." sentence mean, Hal? Are we still referring to transgender people?

    On the one hand, Barbara may not want to see penises - even though she has one.  On the other hand, there are men who may also not want to see penises.

    Thank you for clarifying; I think. Your blog refers to those of both genders transitioning, so though we've focused on Barbara, as you pointed out originally, it's not one sided. To be clear, we're not talking about lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

    Definitely only transgendered folks.  I don't believe there are any legitimate questions about which rest/locker rooms non-trans gays and bis should use - they should use the room that corresponds with their gender.

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