For those active in the trans community I’m coming into this debate late on with this blog post but I should explain the background to this for those coming in to this via Planet or LDV. There has long been an issue surrounding trans folk and toilets, usually along the lines of “OMGZ, men invading women’s spaces!” Oddly, it’s always about transwomen and never transmen. If anyone believes this is a purely theoretical debate, the Pride London “Toiletgate” scandal in 2008 demonstrates otherwise. (Synopsis: Pride London stewards refuse entry to transwoman to female toilets, police get the law wrong, another transwoman later sexually assaulted in male toilets) This debate restarted on Saturday following a Twitter exchange between Christine Burns, (@christineburns) veteran trans rights campaigner, and legal blogger Jack of Kent (@jackofkent) and resulted in Jack posting a question in his blog, “To what extent should the law regulate which toilet a transgendered person can use?”.
Firstly, my view on the topic. In this UK this is a timely debate following the news about Rachel Millington being fired apparently for being trans and the ever present elephant in the room, upcoming Equalities Act legislation making it legal to discriminate against trans people (Or anyone who appears to be trans) in a wide variety of situations.
It’s also an important debate in my mind, because toilets tend to be close to the “worst case” scenario, with female toilets and changing rooms tending to be regarded as safe spaces and havens from masculinity. Imagine the debate like a game of football – that we’re fighting so close to the other side’s goal line in this country is a positive point and to our benefit and denies those that would oppress us to shift the middle ground back to the “Should trans people be allowed to even exist” debate that’s all to present in other countries, even the USA. Sadly, it is a continuous fight at least for the moment and we took our eye off the ball long enough earlier this year to allow the Equalities Act to get through with all it’s problems.
As to the debate itself, in my experience there are two principle groups of people who are transphobic, namely second wave feminists and men. With the second wave feminists, we’re just inconvenient for their argument that gender is socialised and there must therefore be something “wrong” with us. Transmen on the other hand are accepted as they’re challenging this view by attacking the male gender. There’s something inherently misogynistic about this view because it presumes masculinity is somehow better so any “men” invading women’s space must only be doing to to assert their power.
Vocal as they are, and also generally high-profile skilled debaters, second wavers do not tend to be the ones calling the shots in toilet situations. It’s always “management” – of shopping centres, employers and so on. What do we know about “management”? Not always but it can tend to be very male in some companies and from comments I’ve seen in such cases (Referring to female employees/service users in the third person) that tends to follow through in cases of transphobic employers and management. (I believe both the steward and the police officer involved in the Toiletgate incidents were male) Post-transition and given other changes in employment history since, I’ve seen all to well what can happen when you get male-heavy management. It influences debate in quite a masculine-oriented way that’s not present in a more mixed or female-heavy management structure and thus, in a form of indirect sexual discrimination, tends to exclude women as being “unsuitable” for the organisational culture.
In such organisations, where masculine traits rule, what is the view of someone who sells out those masculine traits to transition? It’s not going to be positive, really. But they can’t say that the very concept of transwoman rejecting some of her masculine traits is an anathema to them, because that would reveal either their discomfort with their own masculinity or the inherent sexual discrimination within the company culture. Instead they find a more masculine way of projecting it: “We’re just protecting the women! Some of them might be uncomfortable!” It doesn’t matter if “some” women are uncomfortable or not, and I’m sure they’ll find one or two willing to state that they are but with the possible high-profile exception of Germaine Greer, one never hears of female employees getting uppity about management accepting a transwoman without question. Why not?
One sees this on the comments page of such publications as the Daily Mail too – male commenters who need to protect the women. In their world this is probably quite valid, because to them women are weak and need protecting. Because of that very weakness, no real man would ever want to be a woman so he must have some ulterior motive for trying to become one. Remove that argument and we’re left with a form of discrimination that can easily be countered, be it the toilet debate or the wider equality bills – substitute “gay” or some other minority and try to defend your policy then without looking like you’re stuck in the 1950s.