Nowhere: The Places We Are Safe

When I am in public spaces and I have to use the washroom…

I do. I am privileged in that.

I line up behind other people who chose to use the washroom with the skirt person on it and hem and haw, waiting for a stall to be open. When I’m at queer-friendly places, I use whatever bathroom suits my fancy.

When I was a teen, I attended a dance party at Buddies In Bad Times. It was the first time I had used a public, open, gender non-specific bathroom. It was – for me in that moment – a safer space (I don’t use safe space because, as you will see, no space is truly safe.) It was Pride week and there was an air of celebration. This was before Pride had entered the common cultural lexicon. Our celebration was enhanced by our mutual need to be seen, to be safe and to belong. We giggled and danced, waiting our turn. People of all genders, slightly to very tipsy, waited to empty our bladders and get back to the party.

So yeah, I’m queer. I’m bisexual (although I reject the idea of a binary, I’m old enough that this was the only word we had, and I’m attached to it.) I’m cis-appearing, though I don’t feel overly attached to female, as a gender. I’m probably closer to agender or, as a friend once put it, post-gender. I’m a feminist, because I’d have to be deeply detached from my own experience and that of the humans around me not to be. I’ve also been homeless. Because of this, I know what it feels like to need to use a washroom and to be refused. For all of these reasons, I have been following the so-called bathroom debate with keen interest.

First, let me clarify: There should be no debate. It is not on me, you or anyone else to tell someone they cannot pee. Our bodies require it. It is not a choice.

While there is a lengthy blog to be written about the many, many reasons people should be allowed to pee wherever they feel most comfortable, this is not that entry. I am here to talk about one specific outcry that is being used to quash the rights of trans and gender-varied people when it comes to washroom usage: the idea that women and children will not be safe if trans women are allowed in women’s washrooms. The fear they are preying on? Sexual assault. One of the most common crimes with one of the lowest conviction rates. It was my good friend Keiren who suggested we consider how ubiquitous sexual assault is, in contrast to how specific this concern around washrooms is.

Here’s the deal – people of all genders are assaulted in every possible space, because we, as a society, haven’t dealt with the root causes of sexual assault or created an adequate system of redress for when it happens. Washrooms, shared or otherwise, are no more or less safe than any other space we find ourselves in. Keiren suggested we consider a hashtag similar to #whatiwaswearing to discuss our experiences. Because in the end, this bullshit around gendered washrooms is using victims of sexual assault to oppress trans and gender-varied people and that is NOT okay. Sexual assault cannot be stopped by oppressing our trans family, because sexual assault isn’t about a space, it’s about a culture.

So here it is – #WhereIWas

In my own bedroom, waiting to be tucked in. It went on for years.

In Communications class in high school, while the boys made a game out of touching me from all sides. The teacher laughed.

Doing a shared project with a class partner at their place. I escaped by going out on the balcony and shouting for a neighbour.

In the stock room of the McDonalds I worked in. A co-worker started mimicking masturbating with a large, soft-plastic container of mustard. He asked me if I liked it, backing me into a corner. I complained. He was promoted. He looked up my address and made sure I knew that he knew where I lived.

On the dance floor with my best friend. We had a deal to come between each other when things got dangerous.

Getting a ride home from a church youth group with a youth leader.

Walking home after a late shift. I was followed and harassed more than once. One time, I was rescued by a compassionate cabbie.

In my room. A person stole my sister’s phone book and called all the women in it. He asked me to rub the phone on my legs.

In a movie theatre on a first date. When I called him on it, he abandoned me at the mall with no way to get home. Later, he stalked me.

In my home, watching TV with a friend.

In my cubicle at work, and on work related car trips. He was three times my age and liked to make jokes about being my “daddy.” He constantly commented on my body.

Admittedly, I was a very vulnerable human. I was homeless and in unstable housing as a teenager and I came from an abusive living situation. These factors were certainly considered by some of my assailants. The disrespect the system had for me meant I would not be taken seriously, should I report. I’m aware that I may have more than the average number of experiences. Still, it is of note that the places where assault occurred were varied. No one factor unites them. They were in public and in private, indoors and out, with trusted friends and family and with strangers. To imply that keeping my trans sisters from using the washroom is an effort to keep me safe is laughable. I know that my safety is not the true motivation behind this proposed prejudicial ban. Trans woman are far, far, far more likely to be victims than assailants. They are, like I was, part of a demographic that is not respected by those in authority. Their assaults, like mine, are not taken seriously.

You want to protect me? Teach consent. Involve social workers and victim support services in sexual assault cases. Improve the systems in place to convict and rehabilitate sexual offenders.

Where were we when it happened? Everywhere. What’s a safe space? Nowhere. Don’t use me and people like me to move forward a hateful agenda. Not surprisingly, I have a distaste for being used without my consent.

Please feel free to use the #WhereIWas hashtag to continue this discussion. Segregating bathrooms will not keep us safer. Celebrating consent will.


On Family

IDevonianfishes_ntm_1905_smit_1929 miss them like a creature misses seas
After shedding gills
Sprouting legs
Pop pop
Scratching belly on sand
Inhaling nitrogen
Exploding like burst buds in my lungs
Pop pop
Alone on the beach
Cursing stars
Longing for cool water on my skin
Waiting for fur to grow
Pop pop
To keep me close
To keep me warm
Until the sun comes up

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.

Happy Other’s Day

Hello my people. What a hard day, huh? I mean, a fabulous, wonderful day for some, but even for those with mamas or who are mamas, it can be tough.

I haven’t spoken to my mother in half a lifetime. It’s probably for the best. As my friend Keiren says, as much as you might want something from someone, it’s actually not fair to expect them to give you something they’ve never shown they’re capable of giving. In other words, my hope wasn’t fair to either of us, since neither of us had shown we could be what the other needed.

Needed. I don’t know if that is the right word, but it’s close. That first relationship, that very imbalanced dynamic. One built on mutual survival and often mutually assured destruction.

But, for once, I digress.

That is not what I am writing about. I am writing about the things that fill the void. These are personal to me, so I understand if you nod off. I will not hold it against you.

My love. There are not words. I mean, there are, but they will always fall short.

Happy Other’s Day

My sister. From her I learned that if you turn the radio down low, you can listen to forbidden music. I learned that having a rally fail is no reason not to take a stand. I learned that we have more power than we are told. I also learned that splitting my hair down the middle and wearing cat sweaters and penny loafers was not a good look for a seventh grader.

Happy Other’s Day

My brother and my sister-in-law (P&R.) They are the one who fills the gap of concern. They call when I vaguebook. They make sure I get outside. They tell me I’m amazing, even when I don’t feel it. They buy me gifts that hold no weight of reciprocity, because they want me to smile – but just a few minutes on the phone will do the same thing.

Happy Other’s Day

The entire family I married in to. I mean all of it, every wonderfully complicated and real dynamic. The women, who live the most authentic creative lives of anyone I know and the men, who nurture and support. The kids who benefit from this creativity and support and dance and paint and play with an abandon that gives me authentic joy. This is a family I fit in with, and I found them through love, which makes it even better. Even when we traveled across the pond to meet the British cousins, they embraced us. I have never been so loved.

Happy Other’s Day

My circle of friends who make, think and do. Many of you are parents in a way I can’t fathom. You raise your kids with a patience, openness and honesty, often having had no personal experience with that growing up. You take in the strays, give whatever you have, and always have an inappropriate joke to hide the amount of emotional and physical strength is takes to do what you do. And in all this, you make time to create dynamic spaces that feed back into the communities you inhabit. You are my rock.

Happy Other’s Day

And finally, to my safe family of choice, the friends who get the late night messages, who offer advice sometimes, but solace more often. To all the scattered threads that, when pulled together, make a blanket of warmth that tells me I am loved and held…

Thank You.