By Kason Searcy and GSA
When it comes to the transgender community, the topic of bathrooms is a topic that comes up in everyday life, whether it be that someone is having an issue with where it is you decide to go pee, or you’re just trying to find a place to use the restroom in peace, where you can feel safe and at ease. It’s always a topic on everyone’s mind when transgender people are brought into the mix of the conversation. So, being that someone decided to write an article about Santa Barbara High’s new multi-stalled gender neutral bathroom last month, let’s sing “Be a Man” from the Disney movie, Mulan, and let’s get down to business.
As a trans man, bathrooms have always been tricky for me, especially at school. I couldn’t go into the girl’s bathroom, where I had been going all of my life, because it gave me heaping amounts of dysphoria. If you are unfamiliar with the term, “dysphoria,” it is used to describe a feeling of great, weighted depression that revolves around a specific detail or issue. Gender dysphoria is often what a trans person is referring to when they say the word by itself, and well, what is gender dysphoria? It’s a grave feeling of depression revolving around someone’s gender identity because they don’t feel comfortable with their assigned gender at birth, or what gender they were born as. This is often what makes a person transgender. Because I am a trans man, and I oftentimes feel increasingly suicidal anytime I’m misgendered or associated with feminine things – I have gender dysphoria. This gender dysphoria makes using the girls bathroom impossible for me. It’s extremely detrimental to my mental health, and the same can be said for other trans people.
“Why don’t you use the guys bathroom, then, since you identify as male?” you may ask. Well, I can’t use the guys bathroom because I don’t feel safe. As accepting as this school is, and the doubts I have that anyone will cause me any trouble, I never know when someone might decide to open their mouth to me, or make a move on me. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. Trans people are discriminated against everyday. You see it in politics, the news, the media. You see it everywhere, from the perspective of a trans person or even a trans ally. The thought gives me anxiety, and makes me freeze anytime I step foot into the guys bathroom. “Am I passing enough? Do I look like a guy? What if someone can see right through me and instantly know I’m trans and they say something to me?” This is what runs through my mind anytime I try to use the bathroom I identify with, especially since I have not yet medically transitioned. Not to mention, that in either bathroom I go into, there’s always a sense of, “I don’t belong.” I look too boy to be with the girls (on top of dysphoria), and I look too girl to be with the boys. How can I possibly use the bathroom in peace when this is what I’m faced with; constantly thinking about my safety and ability to be comfortable using the bathroom with no questions asked? I might as well just ruin my kidneys instead.
Let’s not forget about nonbinary people! Gender exists on a spectrum. It’s not so much about what’s in your pants, it’s about what you express yourself as. Your genitals are not what defines you. People who identify as neither boy nor girl – nonbinary – do exist! While it’s not a subject that everyone will be able to easily understand and it goes against what we’ve always known – male and female – it’s important that we acknowledge and respect these people! If there are only boy or girl bathrooms, where is a nonbinary person to go?
Santa Barbara High has are a handful of single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms already, prior to the multi-stalled addition by the renovating of the girls bathroom by the senior lawn, however, these bathrooms are NOT easily accessible! On top of the fact that not everyone is aware of their existence. I’ve had personal experiences with these pre-existing bathrooms, and I have to tell you, it was not a fun time. It was very upsetting and triggering, to say the least: the one located by the College and Career Center is for handicapped students and does not have a signifier of whether or not it’s occupied when you use the key to unlock it. It’s a very embarrassing and awkward situation! I’ve been asked a few times to use a different bathroom when trying to use the one located in the AP office, and the multi-stalled one (yes, we did already have one!) located in the Computer Lab isn’t always open, and can be a hit or miss when trying to get access. Additionally, there’s also no one readily there to grant you access when the Computer Lab is closed up, either. Last year, I’ve had several instances where I had spent 15-20 minutes outside of class trying to find a place to safely and comfortably use the bathroom. The school’s newsletter regarding the bathroom situation, clearly was not aware of these other gender neutral bathrooms and their inconsistent accessibility, as it requests the administration of Santa Barbara High to open a new single-stalled bathroom and to give back the renovated former girls bathroom. Opening yet another single-stalled bathroom (with assumable limited accessibility) would not solve this issue. Gender Sexuality Alliance Club (GSA), who fought valiantly for the past two school years to open this new bathroom. The refusal to acknowledge their efforts, and to say that the act of opening a new multi-stalled bathroom for gender non-conforming and transgender students is only for the purpose of the school to “claim they’re progressive” by promoting social awareness via the change, is absolutely devastating to GSA, according to Lee Palomares, Juvy Olsen, and Madeline Rogers, the leaders of GSA. The GSA was not directly contacted, questioned, nor referenced once during the making of this article, and as such, we all take offense to the blanderness of the ignorance, misinformation, and stance of being uneducated on the situation at hand.
“According to Assembly Bill No. 1732 passed in the California legislature in 2016, ‘All single-user toilet facilities in any business establishment, place of public accommodation, or state or local government agency shall be identified as all-gender toilet facilities as signage that complies with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, and designated for use by no more than one occupant at a time, or for family or assisted use,’” the article in the last school newsletter reads, referencing a Californian law regarding gender neutral bathrooms. The article later claims that this law states that all gender neutral bathrooms must be single-stalled, but this is a misinterpretation. Instead, it reads very clearly, that all single-stalled bathrooms must be defined as gender neutral, but it does not state anywhere that gender neutral multi-stalled bathrooms are not allowed by State law. To clarify, this means that all single stall restrooms should be gender neutral, but this does not mean that all multi-stall bathrooms need to be sex assigned.
“Public restrooms, especially on a school campus as respected as that of Santa Barbara High School, are expected to be private, safe, and sanitary areas for any and every student, not a place that allows any leeway for discomfort and anxiety,” the article proceeds to state towards the end. To that, I respond with the question, “Yes, and why can’t we (gender non-conforming and transgender students) be granted this very same access?” We have every right to have such accommodations. I can see why it would raise concern, but for our community, it’s more than just the school’s status of how progressive it is, more than the school being more accepting, more than just raising social awareness via the drastic change of one of your girls bathrooms into a gender neutral one. It’s about having exactly that. A place that is private, safe, sanitary, and easy to access to be able to do our business in peace, without discomfort, without anxiety, and to be able to walk through that door with the confidence and assurance that we know we’re in the right place and right where we’re supposed to be; where people won’t be able to question us.
To add, Santa Barbara High is not the only school to implement the idea of multi-stalled gender neutral bathrooms and follow through with it. “All gender restrooms have opened in three public schools in Santa Barbara County. Dos Pueblos High, San Marcos High, and La Colina Junior High all now have bathrooms with the gender neutral sign on their doors. Some are single stall restrooms. Some have multiple stalls,” Kathryn Barnes, a coordinating producer, states in an article from kcrw.com, published on June 15, 2016.
To say that the majority of the school opposes this idea, with no solid evidence to back that claim is preposterous. To say that since the majority of the school is not transgender as a reason why there should not be a gender neutral multi-stalled bathroom is absolutely appalling, and I find, quite offensive, to say the least; dare I say, transphobic. There are plenty of girls and guys multi-stalled bathrooms all over campus that are easily accessible, but not a single bathroom for us genderqueer folks, until just this year, thanks to the efforts and pushback from the school’s GSA. Their hard work will not be pushed under the rug or ignored, instead, they shall be honored and acknowledged, as my piece brings to light.
Hopefully, as my article nears its end, this has opened some people’s eyes and changed some people’s minds on the issue at hand, and administration will not roll back the one thing GSA has been fighting so hard for us all to have. Let’s allow a safe, accepting environment for me and the rest of our genderqueer folk; the very thing all of you who are cisgender (not trangender) already have.
We’re not taking anything away from you. You have options. We don’t.