Illegal Urination

Arizona, the state that brought us a ban on Ethnic Studies and some of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws in the nation, now has crafted a bill that would make using the “wrong” restroom–read, one that does not comport with the letter on one’s birth certificate–a misdemeanor, punishable by a multi-thousand dollar fine and up to six months in jail. The language in the bill reads almost opposite as the non-discriminatory language found in jursidictions around the country that protect trans-identified and gender nonconforming people from harassment when accessing public facilities:

All entities covered under the Act, as amended, shall allow individuals the right to use gender-specific restrooms and other gender-specific facilities such as dressing rooms, homeless shelters, and group homes that are consistent with their gender identity or expression (Washington, DC Office of Human Rights, District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) entitled “Compliance Rules and Regulations Regarding Gender Identity or Expression.” Title 4, Chapter 8, amended October 26, 2006)

Instead, Arizona’s proposed language requires people to use the bathroom that comports with the sex marker on their birth certificate. This is troubling for many reasons, including in no particular order:

  1. Arizona has no legislative control over other states’ departments of vital statistics, the organizations that generally are in charge of granting and validating birth and death certificates. Some states, like New Jersey, grant new birth certificates with a letter of sex-reassignment surgery, while others only amend previously created birth certificates. It’s unclear if this proposed law would “accept” such amendments over the original certificate. And then some states, like Ohio, never amend or re-release birth certificates for any reason. So any trans individual from Ohio needing to urinate in Arizona should what, cross the state line first? Ask a kind neighbor for use of their private bathroom?
  2. This proposed law, like so many other anti-trans efforts, completely misunderstands the community. For one, transition is a process, and for those of us who have embarked on it, it is a painfully long process at that. It’s not as if any of us dipped our index fingers into a pool of magical hormones and were suddenly transformed, I don’t care how many times it looks that way from movies like Shrek. There are many days, especially early on in this process, when a person can be read as male or female from one bystander after another. It is part of what is so emotionally taxing about transitioning. And for many trans women, some have difficulty not being read as male or as transsexual even years after they started their medical transition. But on the flip side, many trans men pass nearly all of the time after years on testosterone, yet may continue to have an “F” on their birth certificate. Do we really want to see them in women’s rooms, Arizona legislators? And just to throw another monkey wrench into this mix of legal status and presentation, where do butch women who identify as women and effeminate men who identify as men come into this picture? I know many many masculine women who have been chased out of women’s rooms and who would, in fact, prefer them over men’s rooms (wouldn’t we all). Gender expression is much broader than a law like this allows.
  3. The practice this law prescribes is unenforceable. Who carries their birth certificate around with them? There is certainly no law in Arizona or anywhere else that requires one to have any form of identification on them in order to use a public facility. So will people be issued a citation to appear in court to show their birth certificate to a judge or officer of the court, proving their prior urination was legal? Even the Onion doesn’t come up with garbage like this. And what if someone’s petition to their state to change their birth certificate is pending? Can I get a warning? A court reversal? Seeing as criminal penalties are attached to this “violation,” ($2,500 and up to six months in jail) will the state pay for a public defender on my behalf? And how much would it cost the great state of Arizona to process these court cases, handle the arraignments, and the incarceration of bladder maximized trans people who peed in the wrong place at the wrong time? Has anyone looked at the statues on public urination yet, to see which would get us the lighter sentence and penalty?
  4. As with other discriminatory legislation, this proposed law would likely disproportionately affect trans people of color, poorer transfolk, and trans women. This is another moment in which the mythical but nonexistent issue of “scary men in dresses” comes up as the image bigots trot out to scare their colleagues into voting against our marginalized group. So I will restate for the nth time that there has never, never, in the entire 222-year history of the United States (based on age of the Constitution) has a group of men put on dresses in order to assault women in bathrooms. That this is the prevailing story at so many legislative discussions of gender identity or expression and public facilities makes the prejudice of these lawmakers all the more plain. In other words, the best argument for the law in Arizona is based on a hate fantasy. If only the Constitution provided that legislators had to show actual evidence before crafting a bill for passage.

Yes, I’ve been chased out of rest rooms — for both sexes. And really, it’s such an arbitrary line to draw over civil rights. It sounds obnoxious when one gets down to it . . . we’re talking about people peeing and pooping. Perhaps men are so used to standing fearfully at a line of urinals that they’ve forgotten that there are also stalls in most public rest rooms, and that’s where many of use transfolk do our business. Because for one, I don’t want to piss down my pants, and that’s how my junk would work at a urinal, but also, I really don’t feel like exposing my genitals in front of other people. I’m sure you all prefer it that way; I know I do.

If I could have removed my body’s requirement that I expel toxins through my bladder as part of my gender transition, know that I would have. I probably would have paid Dr. Fischer another grand for that, but apparently transition didn’t make me not human. So while I continue to be a mortal like the rest of us, I’d really just like to pee in peace.

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Categories: LGBT Civil Rights, ponderings

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2 Comments on “Illegal Urination”

  1. Joy W
    March 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    This bathroom paranoia isn’t just problematic for trans folk! For a long time, I needed an assistant to come with me to the bathroom or to try on clothes because I couldn’t transfer independently due to my disability. This was often my dad, since he was physically stronger than most women and it was easier for him to lift me (also because we like to hang out together and didn’t always bring a third person everywhere). I can’t even count the number of dressing rooms and restrooms he has been chased out of. After a while, we decided it was easier for us to use the men’s facilities after he checked to make sure they were empty (for some reason men seemed to be less hysterical when they found a woman in their midst than vice versa), but there was still a lot of awkwardness and anxiety. I have heard similar stories from caregivers of young children of the opposite sex.

    I’m not trying to compare oppressions at all, I’m just saying that I think this gender-neutral restroom issue is a fertile one for cross-identity alliances and coalition building, and I haven’t seen very much of it. I’ve found it to be an interesting way to get people to think about intersections and organizing around issues that they wouldn’t normally be drawn to (not that people should become allies based on what’s in it for them, but it can be a starting place for some people).

    • evmaroon
      March 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

      Yes, I’ve had that issue trying to change Emile a few times, and I’m sure it’s different than you and your dad trying to access a public facility. There are lots of overlap — for one, why not just have more “family restrooms” and gender neutral facilities? They are already all over the place, and somehow gender hasn’t fallen apart. Why not just expand their presence to serve everyone, no matter their situation? Oh, because this is actually about a limited sense of norms and an attempt to harass. My bad. Yes, I am totally on board with coalition building!

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