Debbie Riddle’s ridiculous legislation would block trans people from public restrooms — and more

Winter Laurel MullenixThis isn’t the first time I’ve had problems going to the bathroom. When I was 21 years old, I worked in an office complex. I was openly transgender and an activist for six years already. The whole town knew about me.

Employees at the water cooler, their Dixie cups overflowing with gossip, talked about that “tranny” they hired over in Building III. My coworkers filed complaints about bathroom use.

I was banned from the ladies’ room by human resources because my presence was “threatening.” They forced me to use the men’s rooms, but the men weren’t having it either. So, where did they expect me to go? I use the bathroom for one thing only. To pee. And that other thing. That’s two things.

Confused, embarrassed and about to burst from that gallon of tea I downed earlier, they allowed me a women’s bathroom on the very opposite end of the complex.

I figured the situation would change when I got my new birth certificate. It was the first time I’d been elated to get an F on a paper. The surgeries had ended in April that year and I was waiting for New Hampshire to mail it.

My smile was Texas-sized when I presented my bathroom pass to HR. No longer a half-citizen, I was a card-carrying member of the female demographic. I would urinate freely in the women’s bathroom. My bathroom.

It crushed my soul when they told me to keep using the same bathroom. I continued to do the potty dance, running at full speed, for as far as the building walls allowed.

A month later, they called me in for a surprise exit interview and fired me. My work allegedly suffered because I spent all my time running across the building to use the bathroom.

Now, you may think, “Why not simply give in? It can’t be worth all that just to use a door with a dress on it. You were a dude once. You used the men’s room all the time. Just go pee and get on with your day.”

It was not my choice that I was born wrong. I had a proverbial tumor removed — a necessary surgery because it was killing me. I’m not simply some “guy” who can’t pee standing up anymore. I’m a woman, and I will be treated with dignity.

I’ve legally used women’s bathrooms for the past 15 years now. Transgender people aren’t such a rarity in public anymore. Fewer and fewer feel the need to hide so fiercely. We asked society to give us the same respect they would give any other human being, and so far, they’re responding fairly well.

Despite this progress, and my 15-year, near-perfect record of using the toilet like a big girl, Rep. Debbie Riddle has proposed House Bill 1748, an amendment to Texas’ Health and Safety Code, in the Texas Legislature.

Paragraph B of this bill explains that a building’s management faces felony charges for allowing anyone older than 7 to repeatedly use the “wrong” bathroom.

Paragraph C hands out Class A misdemeanors directly to the person using the facilities if they are older than 13.

Even if telling a full-grown woman where to pee weren’t offensive, this is still an amendment to the Health and Safety Code — a law that would legally designate the differently-gendered a public health hazard. Telling people where to pee when you only have two doors is offensive and confusing. Genders don’t fit within a couple designations.

Debbie Riddle answers this “problem” in Paragraph E:

“For the purpose of this section, the gender of an individual is the gender established at the individual’s birth or the gender established by the individual’s chromosomes. A male is…”

On second thought, I’ll save you the boredom and summarize. According to the bill, everyone is either male or female genetically. Identity confusion, surgical alterations, presentational differences or genetic variations be damned — Y chromosomes belong to men and women have the X chromosome market cornered.
In short, Debbie wants to keep transgender people out of her bathrooms, like my former coworkers.

Segregation aside, her definition has more holes than me. First and foremost, the definition conflates sex and gender, which are two very different things. Sex is defined by reproductive roles. Gender is defined by social roles.

For example, when you tell a girl to “be a man,” you’re not telling her to grow a penis. You’re telling her to behave in a stereotypically masculine way.

There are more gender-based ways to behave than a pair of dubious stereotypes, and there are more genetic combinations than XX and XY. Recently, a woman with XY gonadal dysgenesis (a fancy word for being born with female genitalia and male chromosomes) gave birth. In a black-and-white world like Texas, this means a man just gave birth to a human being.

Debbie, riddle me this: What if she identified as male?

The second issue is the disparagement of those who are handling their gender mismatch.

It’s like waking up from a weird dream and realizing you were buried alive. You don’t know why, or what happened. Your screams are suffocated by the coffin and six feet of dirt. There is nothing to do but handle it. Surgeries and legal documents make it easier and help us feel a little more normal as we move about on this little planet.

That hard-earned sanity and quality of life means nothing in Debbie Riddle’s Texas. That’s disparagement.

Furthermore, many trans women either cannot or prefer not to have surgery, and states have different requirements for document changes. I don’t know how some of them endure the pressure, squeezing every ounce of normality out of life that they can get. They crossdress, fluctuate and explore genders — anything that helps them cope with the trauma of gender dysphoria.

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I am transgender; me peeing in a men’s room would be extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. Simply put,

I am not a man.

What about those who identify as non-binary? Crossdressers and genderqueer would be forced to endure emotional distress every time they use a public bathroom. If they conformed, they’d just feel the same distress from another angle.

It’s the little things we take for granted that make up an oddly enormous part of our happiness.

Riddle’s bill would have a negative impact on traditionally-gendered people, too. It bolsters dubious, age-old gender stereotypes. Actually, it writes them into law.

Debbie literally defines gender according to those stereotypes.

Most public bathroom confrontations that make the news arise between cisgender and transgender women. Transgendered women are typically born male.

Disallowing gender variations to sort themselves by the bathroom where they best fit in, the implication is society must protect “normal” women from transgender women. This means that transgender women are just men in disguise, men who alter themselves to harass normal women in the bathroom.

And the implication there is that men are inherently predatory towards women. It fosters more stereotypes and abuse, as it also paints women as weak, helpless victims in need of extra special treatment. The feminist movement doesn’t need that. Transgender women are the bleeding edge of the feminist movement, openly giving up male privilege to be true to themselves.

Awareness of transgender issues is higher than ever. This is the time to break down the stereotypes and create change. If we as Texans allow this bill to pass, we are taking two steps back for human rights. It doesn’t matter how people present themselves or identify, they are still human. And all humans require a bathroom now and then.

Promoting stereotypes and further alienating transgender people causes harm to everyone. I encourage all of you to stand up and speak out. If you don’t already know who represents you, visit the Texas Legislature Online site to find out.  Contact your representative and let them know that you won’t have it. Tell them that you stand for equality, that you want to break down those hateful walls.
By standing together, we can create change and achieve the equality people deserve.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2015.