Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The "Pay-to-pee" bill

Transgender thoughts on SB 35

Posted By on Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 1:32 PM

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Editor's note: The following is a speech delivered by August Mugele at the "Four Words and a Comma" rally held Saturday, Jan. 23. While the rally was designed to draw attention to the pending LGBT civil rights legislation, August, a 17-year-old transgender boy, wanted to bring attention to SB 35, a bill requiring people to use single sex restrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms according to one's anatomical make-up in public schools.] 

I wish I could say that I'm happy to be here, but it actually really sucks that we all have to meet up like this to try and stop some shitty bill that shouldn't even have been thought into existence in the first place, but whatever – it's here and now we have to deal with it.

My name is August. I'm a seventeen year old boy, I spend a lot of time with my animals, and I like to watch action movies. I'm also transgender. That's a pretty big part of who I am; isn't gender always a pretty big part of who anyone is? Being trans isn't the easiest; as I'm sure so many people here know or have friends who tell them. But this "Pay to Pee" Bill — really? I'm just trying to take a leak here and you really want to fine me five thousand dollars because you don't like the bathroom I'm using? I'd like to fine your horrible personality, but that would just be petty, kind of like this bill.

To break it down, here's what Senate Bill 35 means: if you're trans and you find yourself needing to use the public facilities, that's illegal now. You can face up to five thousand dollars in fines or up to a year in jail. That's the second part of the bill; the first part makes it so that trans students — that's kids and teenagers like me — are forced to use bathrooms and locker rooms that they are uncomfortable using. Why exactly?

Apparently, it's preventative — conservatives are concerned that transgender people will attack cisgender people in the bathroom. Kind of them to worry, isn't it? There's this huge fear of us "preying" on innocent people in the bathrooms, as though we have an agenda of ruining people's day by making them a little uncomfortable for five to ten minutes. I don't know about you guys, but the most urgent thought in my mind when I book it for the toilets is my bladder. It's not about scaring people. This might sound weird, but it's literally just about having a safe place to relieve myself.

A lot of us remember Mike Huckabee's infamous quote on trans bathroom rights: "Now, I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'" And the funny thing is that whenever this is brought up, it's always an argument from cis-men — men who say they would use the bathrooms to spy on women or girls.

Here's something interesting that maybe hasn't occurred to you: TRANS WOMEN ARE NOT MEN. WOMEN ARE NOT MEN. Women don't want to go to girls' bathrooms to spy on other women; they want to use the facilities, fix their makeup, or take a break from a stressful situation... that's what bathrooms are for. I certainly don't want to use the men's room at my school just to get a peek at the other boys. In fact, I often try to avoid the bathrooms, and that's because people like Senator James Tomes, who authored SB 35, have caused enough anxiety and drama over the bathroom issue that I'm scared to go. I'm scared that someone's going to police my appearance and tell me I don't belong. I wonder if Senator Tomes could imagine this sort of fear: trying to decide between the men's room, the one he would like to use but knows is illegal, and women's room, where he would never look like he belonged and would have to enter with discretion. There's something much more unsettling about the image of a man entering the woman's restroom than a trans woman in a woman's restroom... it's exactly what conservatives hope to avoid, yet it's also the reality of this bill.

That's the worst part about this for me — that every time I would use the bathrooms at school, I would have to walk into the girls' room. The girls know that I'm not one of them; I'm out at my school, so they know I don't belong there. I would be intruding on a private space for them. A lot of them would be curious as to why the hell I, a guy, would even be there. And anyone who saw me enter the bathroom would immediately know something intimate and personal about me. They would know that I'm "not like the other guys."

I could go on and on about why this bill is problematic, but here's the main problem with it: it's an excuse for ignorance. It doesn't solve any problem, simply because there's no problem that exists. Do you know how much statistical evidence there is to back up these claims of sexual violence? According to the Transgender Law Center, that would be exactly zero. The director of communications at the National Center for Transgender equality said that they have "not heard of a single instance of a transgender person harassing a non-transgender person in a public restroom." Source after source, no matter where you look, will yield no evidence of this huge conservative fear. And even more than that, in school's where they allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing, the vast majority has experienced no problems with boys attempting to claim "transness" as an excuse to spy on girls. So thankfully Mike Huckabee, so thoughtfully concerned for us, has nothing to worry about.

So if all that is true, if there is no evidence of exactly what this bill is trying to prevent, then why on earth does it exist? And even if there were a few cases of harassment, you would really sacrifice the comfort and well-being (especially where trans women are concerned) of approximately 700,000 Americans just on the off chance? The only reason, then, that I could think of for this bill to exist is to generate a fear of trans people in the public.

Conservatives claim to want to keep people safe and comfortable in bathrooms. I guess that doesn't include trans people. What about my safety, Senator Tomes? What about the comfort of all the kids like me? High schoolers and middle schoolers and little kids shouldn't be scared to go to the bathroom. Don't forget to protect all of your citizens.

Where I go to school, and I bet where a lot of people go to school, the bathroom isn't only someplace for relieving yourself, it's a place to socialize. When my female friends need a moment, they go to bathrooms in packs, a phenomenon I'm sure isn't unfamiliar to most of you. When the boys at some schools finish a basketball or soccer game, they change together in the locker room and celebrate their win – these are atmospheres of bonding. Sometimes at my school, kids even rush to the bathroom after the last bell to change out of their uniforms and chat with one another through the stalls. Should I be left out of that? Should I be denied and excluded from my friends because of the gender I was mistakenly assigned at birth? A lot has changed in the past seventeen years, let me tell you.

If you're so interested in protecting the comfort of students, why don't you start with my comfort? I'll bet you get far more complaints of distress and anxiety from trans students than non-trans students when it comes to using bathrooms and locker rooms. We don't need protection against trans people – we need protection for trans people. I deserve to be able to talk with my friends in the changing rooms. I deserve to feel comfortable and secure when I need to relieve myself. I deserve to have my privacy respected when it comes to people knowing the status of my chromosomes or my genitals when it comes to time to walk through one door or the other.

The government has the duty to protect its citizens — if it's not too much to ask, I'd like to feel safe in my own high school's bathroom. I'd like to be treated like a normal boy, which is what I am. It's not about harassment — take it from me, take it from any trans person you ask: we really just need to pee.

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August Mugele

August Mugele

August Mugele is a 17-year-old transgender boy who lives in Indianapolis.

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