I suggested this piece, about the insidious Mr Trump rolling back the hard-fought rights of my trans brothers and sisters Stateside. You know, the rights they won just to use the toilet that they need to use – the "bathroom bill" that the noble Barack Obama put in place while in office. But as I sit here to write, I honestly wonder what more can possibly be said. It feels, even for me, like a lifetime of fighting to be respected and believed as authentic, seen as honest and in no way criminally seeking entrance to a space that isn't or shouldn't be ours. We are still having to defend ourselves against being seen as "deviant".
As a woman, I need to use the women's bathroom and trans men need to use the men's bathroom. It seems so simple – beyond rational debate – but somehow, it still becomes the battleground on which much reductive thinking bases its objection to our very being. I cannot believe we are still here, but it would be all too simple to assume that the issue resides only with Trump and his band of merry white men. It doesn’t. It's an issue that is in the minds of so many people; even thoroughly decent, liberal-minded people still have reservations, and those reservations are entirely based on the notion that a penis is a male thing.
Young trans kids at school who are socially transitioning (brilliantly and bravely so) but still have their birth genitals are seen as possessing danger. A young trans girl with a penis is a potential predator to the girls who were born with vulvas. It's absurd, spiteful and utterly reductive.
I have some experience of this as I am your average trans woman who transitioned in this society that still, at its heart, fears the unknown and feels much more at ease if it can compartmentalise "difference" and "otherness" into simplistic, heteronormative boxes – or in this case, cubicles.
When I started to transition I was a primary school teacher surrounded by colleagues with whom I had close bonds and who liked and respected me, but in the first couple of weeks post the "name change day", someone called out across the staffroom and asked me, "Until you have the op, which toilet will you use?” Someone else joined in, suggesting, ”You could always use the old caretaker’s toilet, the one that no one uses anymore."
I felt stunned into silence and shamed; I felt that even after changing my name and legal gender in terms of teaching, payroll, pension and friendship, I was still not seen or perceived to be a "real woman" until I had my genitals changed. They gave an unwanted cock more importance than me, more importance than my words, my understanding of myself and my honest desire to connect authentically to the world.
I felt desperately uncomfortable whenever I used the toilet as I knew that certain eyes were always on me
Somehow, I had transitioned from a male to a female from the waist up but remained male or a "dangerous female" from the waist down. I felt desperately uncomfortable whenever I used the toilet as I knew that certain eyes were always on me and that certain colleagues felt that I shouldn't be in the shared space until I had the operation. I began to wonder if the noise I made peeing was the same as them, I was terrified of not fitting in and terrified of not pleasing people who seemed, at least on the surface, to want to support me. There were days when I avoided using the toilet, when I felt too conscious of the views in the room. There were days when my bladder was so full it hurt. This is a common experience, especially for young trans pupils at school – rather than focus on schoolwork and being aspirational, they have to spend the whole day focussing on holding in urine.
After talking to my headteacher it was agreed that I absolutely should be able to use the women's toilet, my rightful space, and that it was crass of someone to suggest I use a disused closet. I don't think they meant any harm, I just think that as a society we are really immature and regressive when it comes to our bodies and (shock horror) our genitals.
There are many trans women and young trans girls who will have a penis for some or all of their lives, but they are still women and girls and shouldn't have to dissect their being to please a society which cannot think, in a grown-up sense, out of the box.
A woman can have a penis and a man can have a vagina.
This isn't outlandish or outrageous thinking set to ruin the world and to break down "God's great work" – in fact, quite the opposite. This is a human reality that has been here for aeons, I'm sure since the beginning of time. But only since we have ascribed morality to sex and personified our genitals – cock equals warrior, vagina equals caring receptacle – have we seen gender potential as being solely based in our underwear.
The sad truth is that we all suffer because of the mistreatment of trans people and their access to bathrooms. If we really interrogate the argument that a trans woman is dangerous in a bathroom because she has or did have a cock, what does it say about our view of men, cis men and their cocks?
I obviously now use the toilet which is mine to use, but I'll never forget the subtle and obvious "gatekeeping" carried out by friends and acquaintances who felt they had a right to control where I peed. That was an act of violence perpetrated against me and thousands like me, sometimes unknowingly, but often intentionally, because society refuses to believe us.