THE BATHROOM WARS: USING A BATHROOM IS NOT A CRIME
In conjunction with National Coming Out Day, Albany Law School held “The Bathroom Wars,” to discuss gender discrimination toward transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals in public restrooms.
A group of five panelists and about 30 audience members gathered in the West Wing classroom on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The panel was organized by OUTLaw, Albany Law’s LGBTQ and allied student organization.
Facilitated by a host of local professionals in the field, the program began with an introduction to trans identities and branched into a plethora of equally significant topics.
Numerous gender labels are available for people to use in their lives. Some of these include terms like cisgender, transgender, non-binary, agender, gender neutral, feminine or masculine of center, gender non-conforming (GNC), and bi-gender. Gender pronouns such as she/her/hers, he/him/his, and they/them/their, are also applicable. But what is the difference between gender identity and assigned sex?
“Gender identity is basically an internal sense of being a woman, man, or other gender,” said Lyndon Cudlitz of the Capital Region Pride Center, who is very open about his experience as a “more feminine” trans man.
Cudlitz explained that assigned sex is decided at birth, however it does not necessarily correspond with society’s expectations of sex assigned at birth.
“People police gender identity. Our genitals are up for public discussion,” he said.
In addition, the Albany Law School’s first ‘gender neutral’ bathroom — in which people of all gender identities and expressions can use the facility without fear of persecution — has stimulated a complex conversation on what gender is and why we are trained to believe that there are only two distinct genders.
“I like to say that the history of bathrooms in this country is the history of oppression,” D’Allaird said, to which the audience immediately agreed.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 59 percent of trans students are denied access to restrooms that align with their gender identity, and 75 percent of transgender students do not feel safe at school.
When trans individuals are regularly confronted with messages prohibiting them from rights as basic as access to a public bathroom, they may internalize this discrimination and trauma.
D’Allaird touched on the issue of negative internalization during the panel, “our culture creates the concept that there are two distinct genders. So, for trans or gender-fluid people, we start to think, ‘I must not fit; I must not belong… Something is wrong with me.’”
D’Allaird equated the experience of trans individuals with an earlier experience of seeing a strange looking bug and squashing it to death, only to try to decipher what kind of insect it had been after the fact.
“That’s how society treats the trans population—it seeks to squash the transgender experience and then try to figure out what it was when it’s too late,” D’Allaird said.
Stone, who has worked in LGBTQ issues for over 50 years, explained that society is not raised to be fluid.
Along with the expectation of fluidity, Cudlitz acknowledged that is even a lot of policing even within the trans community itself.
“It’s like, if you’re a trans woman, you have to be the most feminine woman ever, and if you’re a man you have to be the masculine trans man ever,” he said.
The audience seemed to feel likewise. When the panelists opened the floor for questions, audience members raised some significant points. Issues like transgender access to health care, psychological trauma and after-effects of assault and discrimination, and the negative impact of transphobia on cisgender individuals, as well as trans people, were brought to the forefront.
While inclusivity and equity for those beyond the cisgender identity still has an enormous way to go, UAlbany is also working hard to improve these issues for current and future students.
“Only 108 colleges in the nation have a center with a full-time professional working on gender and sexuality issues and UAlbany is one of them,” said D’Allaird. “We have a name change policy, we’re creating a safe space for people to exist who don’t identify as either male or female, and we want to challenge and educate the entire campus. There are 18,000 students at this school and I want them to know how to empower and engage, not throw out or throw away. That’s the work that we do.”
The GSRC can be found in room 332 of the Campus Center and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays.