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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The restroom question continued

On the phone, I was telling my son, the autistic one (he's 21 now and working as a TV cameraman) about the meetings I've been attending on the City Code amendment.

Our City Code has a non-discrimination policy on the books, and for race, gender, religion, or sexual preference, it works. Our Human Rights Commission wants to add "gender identity and gender expression." The opposition to this innocuous little addition has been intense -- more than there was to adding sexual preference.

"And the sad thing is," I told him, "Nearly all the opposition is about keeping predators out of the ladies' restroom, and yet there's no law here that says a man can't go into the women's restroom."

"And you people aren't the predators."

"Right! Predators are people with an overdose of testosterone! Rape is about power, male power, and transfolk are, like, as unempowered as it gets!"

"So, maybe the code makes people build extra bathrooms? Maybe they're really using all this fear to just not be spending any money on that."

"No, it doesn't call for any new construction at all. It just says, 'don't discriminate in employment, housing, and public accommodations.' Meaning just that: don't fire me if I'm a good worker, don't throw me out of my apartment for wearing lipstick, and do provide a safe place for me to go to the bathroom."

"That doesn't mean build bathrooms?"

"Unh-unh ... most small businesses have small ones ... if you take down the signs that are on them now, and put up signs that just say, "Restroom," and put a deadbolt on, you're done. For the bigger ones, if you're allowed to go to the one that you're most comfortable in, feel the safest in, that's probably because you look more like the people there and they're less likely to beat you up than in the other one. That makes it your call, that's all."

"Come to think of it," I added, feeling bright all of a sudden, "it's actually cheaper."

"How so?" He likes to draw me out.

"Well, say you're a mean old guy and you've got a little sweatshop, and twenty genetic women working, not a transwoman among 'em, 'cuz you're a God-fearing businessman and won't hire those -- those things. Not that you'd know ... 'K, you've got two one-holers. One's for you, and one's for them. They line up outside that one. You're losing money. Take down the signs and put in the latches, you've got two lines, lower stress in your workers, higher productivity. Everywhere it's been tried, they find this out."

"So, it's like the porta-potties at the county fair." [I know I said this a few days ago, but this is where I stole it from.]

"Exactly! Why didn't I think of that?"

"Y'know," says the guy -- he's a registered Republican, in case you were wondering, told me to tell y'all that -- "there's another benefit to unisex restrooms you people never seem to mention."

"Uh, which is ... ?"

"Cleaner."

"Come again?"

"They're a lot cleaner. The ones that were men's rooms before, they're not a health hazard any more."

"You're right, I never thought about that. So why is that, do you know?"

"Yep. The guys are embarrassed thinking about the girls in the office knowing how bad their habits are. Never bothers them that the janitorial lady knows, mind you, but the secretaries -- yeah. So they flush, they pick up their newspapers, they put used stuff in the trash can, and they put the lid down. They'll even run water in the sink to make the girls think they washed their hands."

"Omigod. I don't want to hear any more, thanks."

"Just trying to help." He's grinning, I can tell.

"Listen, the last time I was in a men's room was two hundred and twenty days ago. I think that place completed my transition. You're right -- I've been to lots of uni's and they're as clean as the ladies' rooms."

"There ya go. You can have that one free, if it'll help your cause any."

"Can I post it?"

"Yeah. Tell 'em autistics and trannies are people, same as they are. But, now, fatties ... "

"I will not."

"What? I'm fat. First to admit it. Just takin' up space, lady. No wider seats on the airplanes, I say. No special rights, heh heh heh." He's almost giggling, which is rare in people with Asperger's.

I huff. "Some people have thyroid conditions, you know. "

"Not that many."

"And you: it's part of the condition, your appetite has no off switch."

"We just eat too much. I could fix it if I thought there was any point."

"What-ev-v-ver. I'm hanging up, son; I think this conversation is about to become unreportable."

"Suit yourself. But don't let 'em get to you."

"Why, thank you!"

"Nothing altruistic about it. Need you for some projects -- and pizza!"

"Bye bye, fella."

"Bye."

Yeesh. Good kid. Scares me sometimes.

:::

Every now and again someone says, "Somebody ought to go see these people, do some educating." So I say, "I'll go!" Later someone tells me that "these people," the conservatives, the religious right, would make mincemeat out of me, that I'm naive to think I can change them. That it's been tried, etc. etc.

Y'know, as far as the naivete, though, seriously -- why assume I'm a beginner? I'm new to admitting I'm trans but I've been an activist for fifty years. I was a campaigner for Presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. I did non-violence training with the National Coalition for Peace and Justice, the National Peace Action Coalition, and the Mayday Collective in Washington, DC in 1971. I did jail time against the Vietnam war. And look at us now, in Iraq. I quite understand that "futility" is a word that could possibly quite fairly be used to describe my past, present and future efforts.

But maybe one or two will pay attention. Maybe we should be taking somebody to lunch instead of shaking our heads over what we think they will say or do.

But, OK, say it's futile. Should some mean-eyed "religious" hypocrite get away with saying, when he gets to the pearly gates they're so proud of, that it's not fair not to let him in (which is what's gonna happen) because nobody warned him?

I think we've got to be prepared, sometimes, to go where the hate is. The right next thing to do is not always the safest next thing to do.

My adopted sister, Trisha Black, was a black woman, a civil rights activist. Took a lot of risks. Then she went to Atlanta University and became a children's librarian. She died young -- and alone -- in a completely senseless home-invasion rape and robbery.

I think about her a lot.

Beautiful, brave, selfless, smart, loving, good all the way through -- and never got to say goodbye. Knowing her, the fire she got in her eye over hurt people, I think she would rather have died while marching for you and me. Make some sense of it, then.

:::

I'll tell you another one, while I've got you here.

The breaking point, I'm told, in India, was when the colonial authorities ordered their engineer to drive the train right through Gandhi's crowd, mostly Untouchables, sitting on the rails. After the first twenty or so bodies disappeared underneath the engine, the massive iron driver wheels lost traction. Blood is a good lubricant; it's designed to slip through arteries and veins with a minimum of fuss. The engineer turned to the administrators and said, "that's it, guvnor, I'm done. You can shoot me, whatever. I ain't going to run over no more people."

And India got its freedom.

-- risa

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