It’s time to rethink this whole “men’s” room/”women’s” room thing

roomsFrom the Washington Post Magazine (Sep 6, 2015):

Reader: Two years ago, I wrote you about a transgender co-worker, “Barbara,” and her decision to use the ladies’ bathroom even though she is not undergoing surgical reassignment. Now I wonder if you could help us understand the next step.

Our government workplace provides an on-site gym. Barbara wants to use the gym like everybody else — and she has indicated that she will be using the women’s locker room.

I realize her transition has been difficult, but others are antagonistic toward what she’s doing. I understand that her gender identity is unrelated to whether she’s had medical or surgical intervention. But how does her identity trump our right not to see penises in the locker room? We are still not comfortable with her standing facing the toilet in the next stall.

If she were acting inappropriately, we could talk to HR. But she’s not; she simply intends to claim her place culturally as a woman. And yet, she’s not a woman physically.

Does our employer have any way to avoid this outcome? If not, many of us will cease working out, and that seems unfair.

Signed: Trying Here

Karla: With ever more transgender celebrities, colleagues and classmates seeking to claim their place, it’s a great time to revisit this issue.

In federal agencies, the same rules apply to locker rooms as to bathrooms: Barbara is entitled to use the facility that aligns with her identity. Your employer can provide private spaces to dress and shower, but it can’t confine Barbara to them. Barbara cannot legally be penalized for others’ discomfort with her existence.

In my view, contrary to Karla Miller’s, the letter writer raises a legitimate concern.  She doesn’t want to see pre-op transgender female co-worker Barbara’s male genitalia when they’re changing in the women’s workplace locker room.  The writer might also not wish Barbara to see her undressed.  On the other hand, Barbara self-identifies as a woman, despite being physiologically a man.  Understandably she doesn’t want to use the locker room designated for men since psychologically she’s not one.

Is there a way out of this conundrum?  I think so.  Why don’t we start assigning people to bathrooms and locker rooms based on their genitalia not their gender?  The currently-identified “Men’s Room” could be labeled “for those with Penises” or something similar while the currently identified “Women’s Room” could also get a new moniker. How about “Vaginas only”? 

If people are expected to use the room that corresponds with their anatomical state, then the users of each room won’t have to worry about being confronted with anomalous genitalia.  But pre-op transgendered women wouldn’t feel as though they were misidentifying themselves when using “for Penises” since they do indeed have one.  Likewise, pre-op transgendered men wouldn’t be denying their true selves when using “Vaginas only”.

I realize that more and and more businesses and agencies are moving to gender-neutral stalls which is the best solution when possible.  But they are more space-intensive than genitalia or gender-based bathrooms which may contain urinals and rows of stalls.   In addition, even large corporations, fitness centers, and government agencies may find it difficult or impossible to build a third locker room for their pools, gyms, and weight rooms.

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1 Response to It’s time to rethink this whole “men’s” room/”women’s” room thing

  1. Shade says:

    I don’t think it is realistic to expect a crossed-dressed transgendered person to use a locker room based on their anatomy. Neither is it realistic to put such a person in the locker room of the gender they identify with. I see little choice here, special accommodations of some type have to be made.

    Many larger establishments now have at least one single-room “unisex” bathroom suitable for either gender, the disabled, families, or anybody else with special needs. I’m not sure what the law should be in the (hopefully rare) cases where special accommodations can’t be made, but I guess at that point I might have to go with your idea (unless the individual carried adequate medical documentation & displayed a transgendered placard, much like for disabled parking spaces). Only kidding about the placard.

    It’s too bad our society is so hung up on sex. I wonder how Marie deals with this? In a bathroom, if one is discrete, there should be few problems either way.

    Personally, I think I could live with the whatever physical autonomy I was born with (at least given the choices that each gender is pretty much free to pursue in today’s society). Had I been born a girl, I’d probably be a tomboy, but I think I could pretty much function as well as I do now (such as that is).

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