Archive for January, 2010

Thoughts on the Washroom Use issue

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

The issue of washroom access in public places for TG people is a classic illustration of the social and cultural mechanisms that conspire to thwart, or at least delay, the eventual acceptance of the TG community by mainstream society.

The problem boils down to the fact that the needs and desires of transitioning TSs and cross dressers conflict harshly with the rights, privileges and expectations currently enjoyed by mainstream, conventionally-gendered people.

There is also the overriding reality that owners and managers of restaurants, hotels, workplaces and other private premises have the right to set their own rules within the limits set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Act.

This, of course, brings us to the crucial difference between rights and privileges, a distinction very few people actually understand. Rights apply to all, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed or colour. No one can take them away. Privileges, on the other hand, are bestowed by those in power and authority in a given jurisdiction or social context and can be taken away if abused. In most cases, privileges are not just given freely; they must be earned. For example: All legal residents of Ontario have a right to OHIP health care coverage. But residents must earn the privilege of carrying a drivers license, and the license can be taken away if they abuse the privilege.

At this point in history, transgendered people must rely on the good will of the owners and managers of private venues to extend them privileges such as use of the washroom of their choice.

The principle of privilege also applies to the government workplaces. Washroom access for TGs in the Federal environment is a matter of government management policy, not a right. The policy is administered differently in different government venues. Some departments and agencies allow TSs to use the washroom that corresponds to their chosen gender role while others restrict pre-op TSs to the so-called gender-neutral (sometimes referred to as family, or accessible washrooms available at their locations. The policy simply states that TSs must be accommodated.

And, as was vividly illustrated by the case last year in which a transitioning pre-op TS was denied use of the ladies showers and change rooms at a Hamilton (ON) gym, social standards will prevail. Regardless of how supportive business owners may feel about accommodating TG people, they cannot be expected to throw their businesses down the drain by doing something that will alientate their mainstream clients. Neither will any government ever step up and do anything that might alienate a large block of voters. Legalizing use of public washrooms by TG people would be political suicide. Mainstream society is simply not ready for such a move.

So Much more education and outreach must be done before the general public will be ready to embrace and facilitate the self-expression activities of TG people. Protests, expressions of outrage and harsh demands by members of the TG Community for *privileges* (which they mistakenly call *rights*) will not help bring TGs and the mainstream closer together. In fact, that kind of confrontational approach will only drive the two groups farther apart and delay the eventual acceptance of TGs by the mainstream.

Bottom line: TGs will only get the privileges they want by earning them; not by trying to demand them or extort them from those who have the power to extend those privileges. The TG community must work in a low-key, non-confrontational manner from within (or at least in cooperation with) the mainstream to gradually achieve the privileges, status and respect that we all want and deserve.

As with so many other things in life, PATIENCE IS THE KEY. And a firm right hand held out in friendship is infinitely more effective than a slap in the face when you want to influence someone in your favour.

Sorry about that. Got carried away. But It frustrates the daylights out of me to see so many TG people acting like impatient, hyperactive children about so-called Trans Rights, oversimplifying the issue and proposing actions and policies which do nothing to advance the cause of TG acceptance  actions and policies which, in fact, help to build and reinforce the walls of suspicion, mistrust and misunderstanding that separate the TG community and the mainstream.

[Repost, from a personal blog.]