June 10, 2015
You’re lucky, and you’re grateful to whatever accident of fate made it so. A sign of your luck, or perhaps an outcome of it, is that you have never felt the need to pretend to be someone else to satisfy an expectation of society.
The movement to extend human rights to the LGBT community has gotten you thinking, though. You have friends and neighbors who have married someone of the same sex, and your daughter attends a school where many kids have “two mommies” or “two daddies.” Again, you’re lucky to live in a community where these families are unremarkable. But there are also people in your circle who face daily struggles between their inner and outer lives. Even in this era of acceptance, you know gay people who pretend to be straight. And then there’s the trans teen who asked for hormone therapy as a birthday present, desperate to thwart puberty’s betrayal and the inexorable march toward gender characteristics that do not match the teen’s self-image.
The big splash about Caitlyn Jenner last week stirred your thoughts on these issues, but this letter has been percolating for several months, since you saw a picture of Carlotta Sklodowska on a friend’s Facebook wall. Sklodowska is a transgender woman whose use of the women’s locker room at a gym prompted Yvette Cormier, a cis-gendered woman, to complain to the gym management and other members. The gym, which has a “no judgment” policy and permits trans people to use whichever locker room they like, revoked Cormier’s membership. The Facebook friend posted a message sympathetic to Cormier and made a disparaging remark about Sklodowska’s physical features. Your first reaction was a mix of “why can’t we all live and let live?” and “wait a minute: if I saw an ‘obviously male’ person in my gym locker room, especially a large person like Sklodowska, wouldn’t I be uncomfortable, and even a little scared?”
Then you thought, “Why? What are people afraid of?” First, you’re always uncomfortable in the gym locker room. No matter who’s in there, you zip in and out of your clothes as fast as you can. Meanwhile, you surreptitiously check out the other women, assessing the competition: “I wish I had those shoulders” or “Ha! Her belly is flabbier than mine.” Second, you believe separate toileting and changing rooms for men and women are an artifact of a time when women’s virtue needing “protecting.” It wasn’t about keeping the women themselves safe (although the practice was always framed that way), it was about ensuring unmarried women remained virgins and married ones had sex only with their husbands. Separate locker rooms are from ages when people believed rape could be justified if the woman wore the wrong clothes—because a man couldn’t be expected to control his carnal urges if he glimpsed a navel, or a knee, or an ankle. Men’s alleged inability to control themselves lay beneath long-held objections to gays in the military and on sports teams. If gay and straight men mixed in the same locker room, the straight ones might be sexually assaulted by the gay ones! Of course, once gays were allowed to openly serve, this proved a false assumption.
A few weeks ago while chaperoning a school field trip, you waited in a long line of girls and women for the restroom, while the boys and men rapidly cycled in and out of their designated room. Chatting with another mother, you commiserated over the age-old ladies’ room line dilemma and shared stories of bursting bladder sojourns into the forbidden territory of the men’s room. The other mother said, “Why can’t we just have one room with multiple stalls and full walls and doors, to prevent peeking?” Why indeed? If it’s about modesty, let’s have stalls that rise to at least seven and half feet. If it’s about safety, let’s condemn and prosecute rape as a crime of domination and oppression, and stop acting as if it’s an understandable (if unacceptable) expression of desire. A skirted figure on a door isn’t going to stop a determined rapist. And the trans person in the locker or restroom is probably more likely to be assaulted than the cis one.
Live and let live has always been your philosophy. Your moral code has always centered on harm: don’t do it, and don’t concern yourself with other people, so long as they’re not doing it. If either Carlotta Sklodowska or Caitlyn Jenner walked into your gym locker room, you’d do a double take for sure. Then, probably, you’d do what you do with every other woman in that room: you’d envy the muscle tone in her thighs while you bemoaned the cellulite in yours.
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