Trans Liberation Didn’t Start With a Bathroom
Conversations continue about HB2 — the controversial bill signed into law by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory that forces transgender residents to use the bathrooms based on their birth-designed gender.
After the law passed, there was an outpouring of anger and sadness towards this anti-trans legislation. At the end of March, there were 17 more bills sitting on the desks of state legislatures across the nation, waiting for the count of votes, the strokes of pens and urges for vetoes. Those states include Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. These documents are potential laws, laws which are violent, causing bigots and abusers to stray from accountability and continue the game of wicked transphobia.
While restricting and limiting a trans person’s bathroom usage is an evil I will never support, looking at this issue is hilarious. On the one hand, it raises the visibility of the rights and accommodations needed for trans people in the United States. Good, or so it appears. But HB2’s quarrel revives the belief that trans people are new in society while promoting the notion that bathrooms are the most important issue for us.
Trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people have existed since the beginning of humanity. Identity opponents and Bible thumpers might be catching on to the “trends,” pleading for our “salvation” and hoping for “normalcy,” but it’s inaccurate to refer to the “transgender thing” as something that started in the 2000s. Whether we have been staunch activists and organizers, homemakers or people who prefer quiet lives, we have been everywhere. Our nuanced contributions and roles have been noted in all of history, whether we came out or not.
But back to these bathroom bills.
If you are just tuning in to the last few years of heightened trans visibility, let’s confirm one thing: trans liberation never started with a bathroom. Trans people have used every bathroom in humankind and now we have arrived at a place where a basic right is being retracted because of bulky misunderstandings and blatant ignorance.
What happened in North Carolina is and being threatened in other states is a disgrace. The definition of transgender is being reduced to genitals, child safety and cis fragility. It would be wrong of me to label this a distraction, but my next statement is vital. Remember last year’s legalization of marriage equality? Remember how some movement leaders stated they would return to working for the justice of other people in the “LGBTQ spectrum” on Monday, but they were going to start partying with rainbow cake on Friday? I recall promises made, promises of coming back to save the rest of us; trans and queer people of color, specifically Black and Latina trans women. Unfortunately, they have picked the wrong time to claim solidarity with us. Once again cis gay people, many white, are choosing what is important for us.
Literary mother Audre Lorde said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Radical actions and disruptive protest were born in the age of Stonewell but are currently enjoying a strong resurrection. When Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970, it was not in response to being refused access to a bathroom. They and the trans women and drag queens they housed demanded sustainability. Using their own resources, Johnson and Rivera provided space and food while protesting a system of capitalism and supremacy. Creating a roof of sustainability and justice required resolving numerous issues, which brings us back to the present-day.
When the White House opened its first gender-neutral bathroom in April 2015, one of America’s biggest systemic institutions insulted us, proving they needed to do more with their solidarity. A bathroom isn’t impressive. It promotes that the only significant parts of ourselves are covered by underwear. Again, disappointment is a valid emotion.
In the debates and bad blood of HB2, trans women of color are on the sidelines. It is not a complex science to understand. When people like myself, all of us, are given necessary access, affordability, justice and platforms, that is when chains become specks of iron.
Freedom will not come one by one, group by group, oppression by oppression. It will come simultaneously. I acknowledge the vile injustices being performed by government leaders in North Carolina and other states, but our protests and screams aren’t coming from the toilets and urinals. And if you aren’t awake about it, don’t smile. You are contributing to what is wrong.