When I walk around campus you may not notice who I am. My short red hair and broad shoulders adorned with flannel and wide legged jeans cause my slender frame to appear masculine. Any passer-by would honestly confuse me for male and think nothing of it, for which I hold no grudge or frustration.
However, I am currently female, and once the foreseeable awkward confusion occurs I use the opportunity to educate on androgyny and the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
When mistakes are made they are relatively benign, but it took a bloody lip and a rather embarrassing tussle in the ladies room on campus to prompt me to go public.
On countless occasions, I have been carded in public washrooms, pushed around at work, spit on, and labeled a freak, disgusting and morally void. When I stop and think about my own experiences, I realize that it’s happening to many others in our community not just myself.
Being accepted to St Thomas University as a mature student was rather unexpected and exciting. I had visions of finally joining a progressive, open community full of unique and diverse peoples. However, once the second week of classes arrived, I suddenly discovered that my expectations of the University were too high.
Walking into the women’s washroom at James Dunn Hall after class detonated an explosive altercation that occurred for no other reason than my presence was unwanted. A fellow student was standing by the sink, watching my entrance; she verbally voiced her discontent of having a male enter the washroom designated for women. After my explanation that biologically I was female, I was called a “faggot” and brought down to the lowest while punched in the lower lip before I could defend myself. Stumbling out of the door I unexplainable began apologizing to her essentially for what I am.
After experiencing this type of humiliation, I have been asked why I insist on using the facility for women rather then men considering I am coming out as transgender. It simply comes down to a basic question of safety rather than which gender I identify with; if an altercation occurs in a male washroom then I would be far more unlikely to defend myself than in a female facility. By having washrooms clearly marked by gender lines it becomes a safety issue for those who fall between, and after paying for an education there is a certain expectation of security of the person.
This is only one example of students who are disadvantaged by the current system; I have witnesses several students accompanied by children on campus, students who are uncomfortable in public change rooms, and students with mobile disabilities waiting for the single accessible facility to become available. These students would also benefit from a wheelchair accessible “family washroom” installed in every building. I understand that there are students who will not be willing to share a facility with the opposite gender, but with the option of a “family washroom” students can choose the place they feel most comfortable and secure.
It seems to me that a university without at least one gender neutral “ family washroom” facility in every building, is catering to social ignorance whether it is aware of it or not. When keeping students and staff segregated into strict “male” and “female” roles it fails to grant freedom to all people and cements a clear boundary in the minds of its students. I hope that if these facilities were created that homophobia and ignorance on campus would dissipate and social awareness of gender issues would serve to better the lives of everyone.
Mitch Rayner is a student at St. Thomas University.