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.