Can’t We All Just Pee in Peace?

Many of you have likely read about a transgender child named Coy Mathis who lives in Colorado.  Her case has been getting a great deal of press, most recently in this article in The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/us/in-colorado-a-legal-dispute-over-transgender-rights.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&smid=fb-nytimes&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1363642218-qLO0nNFjO1pqP8FoanZBig

Coy is a transgirl (has transitioned from boy to girl) and the primary issue of a law suit filed by her parents is their desire that Coy be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom at her school.  The school has made available both the nurse’s bathroom as well as a gender neutral facility elsewhere in the school.  Her parents, however, have “angrily” removed Coy from the school and are in the midst of filing a discrimination law suit, not to mention garnering plenty of media attention in the process.  I get it. It is admirable to support your child in this situation.  It can be a bitch to support your child in this situation…I know as I am doing it myself.  I do not, however, happen to agree with the Mathises on this particular issue.

Not surprisingly, the bathroom discussion has come up innumerable times with Jessie and her school administrators.  She, too, has been instructed to use either the nurse’s or a staff/gender neutral bathroom.  Yes, she has requested (again, innumerable times) that she be allowed to use the girls’ room.  It has been I, at the end of the day, who has vetoed that request.  And, I might note, Jessie has not pushed back.  I might even be so bold as to suggest that she is a bit relieved at having been denied.

Of course I want Jessie to be as integrated and accepted in the community as everybody else.  I want her to feel comfortable and happy both socially and emotionally.  I want her to pee in peace.  I also know that the one (maybe two) time she uses the “special” facilities in the course of a school day is in no way impeding her success or growth.  In fact, it is probably improving both.

All kids are special and different in some way (admittedly, some more than others) and while they should all be afforded the opportunity to be true to themselves (no matter how that is defined) it is simply impossible, unreasonable and a little bit insane to suggest that each be catered to for whatever their particular need may be; particularly when it is certain to have an impact of some sort or another on so many other people.  Let me remind you: I say this as the parent (as rabid as the next) of a transgender child.

That’s right.  I don’t want Jessie using the girls’ bathroom at school right now.  I have been a girl and remember well enough that far more than quick piddles and occasional poos take place in the restroom in a given day.  Any pecking order that exists in the hallways is on steroids in the bathrooms.  It is an easy place to be bullied or, frankly, be a bully.  My daughter has a penis and to think that such a reality will never come to bear within the confines of the bathroom is to be ignorant.

I would like to say that if I were a parent and learned that there was a transgender child in my kid’s class that I wouldn’t think twice about it…but that would be untrue.  I would like to say that it is of no consequence…but it is.  I would like to believe that I wouldn’t somehow, on some level, judge the family…but I probably would.  And I am pretty sure that I would not want my child (who is, in this scenario, a classmate of a transgender child and not the transgender child) put in any potentially awkward situations.  There, I said it.

Of course I want Jessie to be as much a part of the community and culture of the girls in the fifth grade as possible.  I also want every other girl in there to be afforded the opportunity to pee in peace, too, and if that translates to Jessie having to make a once (or, again, maybe twice) daily trip to the bathroom earmarked for her use; so be it.

Let there be no misunderstanding: I appreciate where the Mathis family is coming from.  I respect their desire to keep their child as whole as possible during a transitional period which is difficult at best.  My disagreeing with their position does not translate to not applauding their support of their child.

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48 thoughts on “Can’t We All Just Pee in Peace?

  1. Thanks for the insightful entry. The difference, of course, is that Jessie is 11, right? Coy is six, and has always presented as a girl at school. Had her parents not had to sue the school, her peers would not have known or cared what was in her pants behind a locked stall. The fact that she was told she had to use the nurse’s bathroom or a gender neutral bathroom on the other side of the school essentially outed her, putting her in the position that you specifically don’t want Jessie to be in.

    • Fair enough…however: Coy and her parents were on “Katie” prior to this lawsuit which is as good a way to out any child as I can think of. Again, I respect their work in support of their child, but once the cat was out of the bag it seems to be a bit off kilter. Just my opinion.

      • My personal opinion is that this is a situation which did not have to escalate to a law suit. I feel that the school’s response was appropriate and that most six year-olds are not taking roll call in the bathrooms. Had the attention not been drawn to it, it might have just taken an organic turn to a new normal. Having said that, I respect that it was their family decision just as I want to be respected for having a differing opinion.

    • Yes–I think that is one of the fundamental differences here. Coy is 6 and had been using the bathroom with the girls since she started school there in kindergarten and continued to do so half-way through her first grade year, so this is a change from that norm. I think that middle school, late elementary school it is maybe different, or later when she is changing for gym but not at six, and her classmates have been fine with it. It’s the other kids PARENTS who have an issue. Furthermore, from what I understand about the case, it is the fact that she will have to trek across half the school to get to a bathroom, which is a major inconvenience, particularly for a six year old.

      • I appreciate that she is only six. However, at some point she is going to be 8, 9, 10 etc and the “rule book” changes. I am in no way suggesting that this is an easy issue. There is simply no easy answer.

      • True. I think it is interesting that they have chosen 6 and in first grade as the moment when they declare that “his [school officials gender choice] changing body and genitals” will effect the other girls. Do first graders really spend that much time looking at each others’ private parts? On the other hand, as I have seen other commentors on other blogs argue, perhaps it is better to make the change now, and have her used to the gender neutral bathroom now and not change it suddenly in middle school.

        I think that perhaps the parents’ bigger issue is not just the different bathroom, but the fact that they are also erasing Coy’s identity as a girl and using male pronouns.

      • I get it. I really really do. It is not, in my mind, even about the “genitals”…it is so much deeper than that. I have never, in all my years of using public restrooms, seeing another person’s junk. Ever.

      • Yeah–I have never seen anyone’s private parts either! I think that as you said it comes down to what is best for each individual child and their situation.

  2. Every time I hear the over-simplified statement, “Transgender is between the ears; not between the legs” I get upset. People who spout this “explanation” are obviously not using the rest of what is between their ears. I have never had a problem with anyone while using a public ladies room, but I would graciously leave one if ever asked to do so. I realize that there are others who may see me as a “between the legs” person, and that, in their minds, that trumps whatever may be going on “between my ears” (In fact, it quite possibly might be thought that the upper is being controlled by the lower). As a transgender woman, I believe that I should take on any feeling of being uncomfortable about using facilities specifically designated for females, and that this is not the place to do battle. Nor is it the place to be coy (I just had to say it!).
    Take this one step further, and we’re in the locker room……..

  3. Hi Julie, another thoughtful post!

    I have nothing but the highest respect for you, Coy’s parents, and the other parents of trans kids I know. You are awesome(!!!) and as I’ve said before, you are making this world a better place!

    As a parent myself, I fully respect your decision regarding Jessie just as I respect Coy’s parents’ decision. Trans or no trans, you have to do what you think is best for your child. We all do.

    Here is my concern though:

    Trans people, like myself, need to be able to use the restroom of the gender that we identify as. In a lot of places, we have the legal right to do so. There are, sadly, people that want to deny trans people that right or feel the need to “self police” who is in the “right” restroom!

    All the trans people I know simply want to “pee in peace.” From a rights perspective I think Jessie, or any other trans person, should use the restroom they are most comfortable using and if anyone has a problem with that, it is THEIR problem.

    With that said, your child – your decision.

    Keep up the good work and all the best!
    Debby

  4. Hey Julie,
    I have to agree to disagree on this one. This is what works best for you and Jessie and therefore the right decision for your family. My 13 year old is (without issues) using the girls room in middle school. No one has had a problem with it, and the principal has stated that anyone who is uncomfortable using the girls room with her is welcome to go to the nurses bathroom. So far, there have been no issues. Yippee! And (yes, maybe I lived an oblivious life 🙂 to me the girls room wasn’t a pecking order occasion, it was a social occasion. I also have seen a LOT less in a ladies room than I see on a beach or pool. The beauty of stalls 😉 I do not worry about her privacy there. She is so modest that she would be the first to switch bathrooms to protect her modesty. (For example: she was allowed to change in the girls locker room, but had so many issues maintaining her privacy she opted to use the teachers bathroom.)

    Xoxo
    Maura

    • You make a good point, Maura. Knowing your delicious H, I can see that her using the girl’s bathroom would be without issue. Jess is a different personality and, as such, and for our family, this was the right decision. xoxo to you, my friend.

  5. My response is not to argue with you but to just bring up a different point of view. I am a mother of a transgender child. First and foremost, I think that each person’s situation is unique but that trans children deserve to be respected and included in their communities the same as everyone else. It is each trans person’s right to decide what is best for them…and they have the right to use the facilities that matches their gender identity. This is a basic human right. To suggest that trans people are being catered to (unreasonably?) by extending them the same basic rights as everyone else is what sounds unreasonable to me. We are talking about the core of who we are. We all deserve that respect. Cis and trans alike. However, if a child feels more comfortable using the nurse’s bathroom, so be it. But it is a decision to be made with the child and his/her family, not by some school that makes a decision based on baseless fears and misinformation. Coy had been successfully accessing the girls’ bathroom for a YEAR before they decided to deny her the right. CO law protects trans people from the very discrimination that this school is exhibiting. The school is wrong. And they are really missing out on an incredible learning opportunity for their school community and choosing discrimination instead. Yep, bullying can happen in the bathrooms..it can happen anywhere. I certainly think it sets a kid up for bullying far worse by making them use an alternative bathroom than their peers…And by doing so, setting the example that they are “different” and to be feared in some way. If there is bullying, etc. then *that* is the issue, not the trans child. I believe we should continue to strive for teaching our children (and even the adults) about acceptance. The more we demonstrate acceptance of trans kids, by example, this next generation will “get it”. I am a cis female and have never once, in my entire life of going to the girl’s room, ever seen another person’s privates while in there. These generalized fears of genitals are really unfounded. Let’s take these opportunities to teach our kids about differences. Sometimes the best learning and growth experiences happen through awkward situations..that doesn’t make it bad or wrong that it happened. It’s only awkward if we let it be so. We need to not be fearful of things that may or may not ever be an issue to the point where it denies someone their basic dignity to use the facility that matches their gender identity. That’s not an okay trade-off. There is a huge piece of social development (particularly for girls) that happens on restroom breaks…It is vital that all kids have access to participate in normal routines across all school environments with their peers. My child is trans and successfully accesses all of her educational environments with the other girls without incident. When she’s older, she may feel differently and have different needs. Either way, it will be her (our) decision. I am glad to live in a school district that has an inclusive policy for trans children and in the state of CO which does have an anti-discrimination act in place. With that being said, I reiterate that everyone’s situation is unique..if your child chooses an alternative bathroom, that is her right…my child uses the same bathroom as her peers and that is her right.

    • Point taken. Perhaps I should have mentioned that another unique part of our situation is that Jessie was George for five years at this school. She is well known in the school by kids of all ages (we have a K-8) school system. The transition was not stealth in any way, shape or form. In my mind, human nature is such that I would imagine it difficult for girls who knew Jessie as George for the first five years of their schooling together to have “him” in the bathroom with them. While they have been wonderful and supportive, they are still kids and without the structure of the classroom or teachers nearby a lot can happen. Make no mistake – I support every person being accepted for their differences, but not in a carte blanch manner…it has to happen on a case by case basis.

      • Acceptance of people’s differences has to be on a case by case basis? I am not following you on that. With regards to the bathroom issue, using the bathroom of one!s gender identity may not be the choice for all trans kids, particularly those who, like your Jessie, are attending school with kids that knew them as the opposite gender I get that. My point was that we should have inclusive policies, procedures and actions…continue to strive for educating our youth about acceptance…and providing equal treatment to trans kids i s essential..my daughter attends school in a community that has only ever known her as a girl. ..so, she uses the girls room like all the other girls..at our old school, she still used the boys room but it was uncomfortable for her and others because she was living as a girl and all the kids were really beginning to get t..no one understood why she had to do that. It was a great source of stress for her. As a general practice, I do not think its OK that schools make trans kids use alternative bathrooms. That is just not good policy.

      • I get it. I understand your point and your particular situation. It is the blanket policy that makes me wary. I agree that there should be equal treatment. Of course there should be. However, it is remiss to not take into consideration all the other kids at school. Just my opinion.

  6. I was very interested and appreciated your blog on this topic. You have a different opinion than I would have thought, but brought up points I understand. My BIGGEST issue was the comments I read at our local news station website (CO) after the story was published. Many comments about how the parents were pushing their son into dresses because they wanted another girl. That they should be arrested for child abuse. How at age 6aa child cannot know how they see themselves and they might just be gay. So many hateful, close-minded comments from people who obviously have never had experience with a Trans person. Incredibly sad.

  7. A courageous post; I can imagine it’s hard to put something like this out there, knowing that others (even those on your “side”) will disagree but I think it’s raised good issues to think about…made me consider both sides. All the little things we parents of non-trans kids never even have to think about! So much admiration for your path and your advocating for Jessie!

  8. I’m with Alice..I am not so sure that the girls would find it difficult to be there “with the now Jessie” in the bathroom.What goes on in a stall,stays in a stall..May we all pee in peace..

  9. I have no strong opinion on either side of this debate. I don’t quite understand the argument that using the nurse’s bathroom will set a kid up for bullying, though. In our school, many kids visit the nurse daily for asthma meds, insulin, psych meds, and a host of other things. It is quite common for kids to be regulars in the nurse’s. office. Add to that the fact that kids are always being individually pulled from classes for music lessons, speech therapy, occupational therapy, reading lab, math lab, guidance office or the social worker. I doubt the other kids would even notice a kid using the nurse’s bathroom.

    I think any bullying would be more likely to occur in the common bathroom. Once kids get older, they know that the bathroom and the locker room are the two places that the schools will never have cameras, so they “take advantage” of that fact.

      • In my experience, and while I never saw any genitals, I did have some awful encounters with other girls in the ELEMENTARY school bathroom. (And that was 20 years ago! Can’t even imagine what it’s like now!) Bullying and problems in bathrooms are NOT limited to (possibly) seeing others’ genitals. SO much more goes on in there in split seconds, with whispered comments and sneaky looks, with flat-out loud voices/accusations and laughter, with an “accidental” bump or push. I think using a nurse’s bathroom should be an option for ANY child, whether trans, gay, straight, tomboy, sick, afraid, shy …

        Just saying I could have done WITHOUT the “huge piece of social development (especially for girls)” as restroom breaks was referred to above. To see girls hanging out in a bathroom as a vital, normal part of social development is, in some ways, to overlook those who were not part of the whole, to discount those who were ridiculed or bullied and would do anything to have avoided being in that restroom with those girls. But then, that’s just my experience. I don’t think “missing out” on SOME of this interaction would be deeply detrimental, but I can see how others would see it differently from me. (Can we just say no matter what happens in (school) bathroom is difficult for everyone?!?)

        All that aside, as to the rest of the situation, I do not know what the answer is. There are points on “both” sides – transgender using a “special” restroom or their restroom of choice. Maybe the answer is to have a teacher or aide in the restroom? But then that delves into issues of privacy. It’s hard to know where one person’s “rights” interfere with another’s – is your right to use the bathroom of choice more or less “important” than my right to not feel uncomfortable in my bathroom of choice? (I know this oversimplifies it and I don’t mean these words lightly.)

        Lastly, I think parents/schools/etc are superb at imagining worst case scenarios – whether it be the possibility of seeing genitals or the POSSIBILITY of being bullied. If a child is using an alternative bathroom and that is the true source of bullying, that’s one thing. But to say bullying MIGHT happen because a kid uses an alternative bathroom is as much a conjecture as saying a kid MIGHT see another’s genitals in the bathroom! (And while none of us commenting have claimed to see any, I daresay SOME kids probably HAVE been exposed in school bathrooms.) At this point, SO many things can be a root of bullying and I daresay we won’t ever eliminate all of them. Rather than eliminate POSSIBLE “sources” of bullying, shouldn’t we be teaching our kids more about respect and compassion?

        ~Katie
        (LOVE your blog Julie!)

        You’re right, no “right” answers. Hope we all can figure out the least damaging solution for ALL our kids out there.

  10. Julie,

    This topic has been on my mind lately as well. Our daughter is currently using the girl’s bathroom at school. In fact when she got off the but after her first day of Kindergarten, her first words were, “I got to use the girl’s potty!!” It was extremely important to her.

    However, the principal is leaving after this year and I am concerned as to what may happen. I have been looking to CO to see what precedence it might set.

    I think it’s up to us as parents of transgendered children to decide what would work best for our children and for them to have the option and the legal right to use the bathroom of their gender identity. That may mean you choose a gender neutral bathroom, however it should be up to the family to decide.

    – Nicole

    • Yes and no. I think that while we would all like to think that either decision will be without issue, I think that is simply untrue. It is important to look at the culture of the school, the student body and the community as a whole in making this decision. As much as the transgender child’s needs are to be met, so, too, are the other children in the school. Just my opinion and one which I am quite aware may differ from other people in my situation. As long as we can all respect one another…

      • YES! I think this is what I was trying to say in my long rambling reply above -“As much as the transgender child’s needs are to be met, so, too, are the other children in the school” – YES! ALL needs are important! And it DOES depend on the school, the community, etc – a child who has started a school as one gender and been using a particular bathroom is in a VERY different situation from an older child who has transitioned IN that school. Not that the end result is necessarily different, just need to look at each situation, not make a blanket statement. It needs to be a process, not an absolute. Even if the ultimate decision is what some wanted in the first place. Taking time to honor everyone’s opinions and validate perspectives does more to encourage respect and compassion in the long run. Which should be the overall goal. Right?

  11. I have said it to you before, and will say it again…you are such an admirable parent and individual. i think it is hard, sometimes, to see outside oneself and your own situation, and I love that you really think about all of the ramifications and not just the knee-jerk, “my kid always takes first priority” reaction, if you know what I mean. That takes a very thoughtful person, and I believe make you a better parent in the end.

    I had no opinion about this issue until reading your post and the link, but I do find myself agreeing with you. I wouldn’t have an issue with J in the girls room with me or my daughter, but I’m not a kid. Also, I do recall mean things being said and done in there from when I was a kid, and woul probably want to avoid that, too, if I were you.
    Keep on truckin’, Julie 🙂

  12. just happened to come upon this post, I am a teacher and parent of 3 with more typical body identities. I have taught a trans kid or 2 and many other varieties of beings in this world. I have always wondered… why not just have bathrooms, plain and simple bathrooms for everyone to use, no gender id, go in there and do your business and wash up, not a place to hang out, bully, smoke, sell drugs or anything else. Public bathrooms are problematic everywhere…schools should provide adequate facilities and no place for loitering. Get rid of the urinals and make them all private stalls.

  13. I am a special ed teacher who works with students with emotional disabilities. We have some students who have to use the nurses bathroom for various reasons. Good for Jessie for trying to stand up for herself…but I agree with your choice not to make a big deal out of it. I’m sure as the years go on there will be plenty of times you will have to stand up to the school for more important things…pick your battles. Stay strong

  14. MA just put in place school guidelines that say trans students should have access to the rest rooms of their choice. So if you and Jessie wanted her to use the girls room, there are now guidelines in place that affirm her right to do so. I do understand though if parents are reluctant to put their kids in that situation.

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