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Gender Neutral Bathrooms In The United States- What Is The Debate All About?


By Kanika Kalra

When North Carolina got sued for a state law that forced people to use only those public bathrooms which correspond with their biological sex, it gave rise to a heated debate in the United States about gender neutral bathrooms.

Following this, the Obama administration issued a guidance in May, saying that transgender students were entitled to protection under sex discrimination laws and should be allowed access to “activities and sex-segregated facilities consistent with their gender identity”.

The administration threatened to withhold federal funding if schools did not comply with the policy.

In response, some states complained that the administration was overstepping its constitutional authority. Any guess at which states these were?

You guessed it, it’s the Republicans.

A dozen Republican-dominated states including Texas and West Virginia are protesting, saying that the centre cannot tell them not to discriminate against school kids on the basis of gender identity.

You say it’s a disputed issue. I ask, what exactly is the dispute?

Are you suggesting that a girl who happened to be born in a boy’s body should be forced to use a boy’s bathroom? How would you feel if your daughter was told she cannot enter the girl’s bathroom?

This opposition to anti-discrimination laws is baffling. It is nothing but harmful for kids who are being bullied, feeling unsafe in their own schools because they can’t use the appropriate restroom.


The opposing states are dwelling on terminology, pretending to fight against federal overreach, when what they are really doing is creating a hostile environment for transgender kids.

Some conservatives are celebrating this opposition, saying that they are trying to protect the students’ personal privacy. What they are refusing to acknowledge is that in doing so they are breaching upon the personal privacy of kids whose gender identity they refuse to accept as “real”.

Let’s first get our basics straight. What does one mean by the term “transgender”? The thing that needs to be understood is the difference between sex and gender.

Right from birth, when a newborn’s sex is announced, the adults in the environment start shaping the way the child acts, assigning gender roles based on sex. What they might not realize is that gender is not, in fact, binary.

Gender is a spectrum; all individuals identify with varying degrees of masculinity and femininity. Transgender people, then, are those who identify with a gender other than their own.

The phenomenon of an individual identifying with a gender that does not conform to their genitalia is called gender dysphoria. A woman can, therefore, have a penis, just as a man can have a vagina. The key is to look at sex and gender as separate entities.

You don’t think and feel with your chromosomes, you do so with your brain. If your brain tells you that you identify with the opposite gender and that’s how you need to live your life to be happy, the Xs and Ys are insignificant.

Circling back to the issue at hand, ask yourself: what is that one misconception that’s making people think it an invasion of privacy if a transgender woman uses a ladies’ restroom?

At the root of this discomfort is our deep-seated denial. We refuse to see transgender women as women. We believe that, at the end of it all, a transgender woman is simply a man behaving like a woman.

Therefore, when the bathroom debate comes up, what nags at us is the idea of a man pushing through the “She” door, when it is really a woman whom we refuse to see as a woman. So, who’s at fault here?

Having come this far in the article, shall I make a guess as to what might be going through your mind? You’re thinking – she’s talking about gender neutral bathrooms in the US; this is India!

Bathrooms are not the biggest problem for transgender people here, not by a long shot. And you’re right, of course. Here, we shun our transgender children, we throw them out of the house to live on the streets.

So, expecting public bathrooms to not discriminate based on gender identity would be going a step too far, wouldn’t it?

But, I think that perhaps, a step too far is exactly what we need.

Maybe, instead of discussing Hijras, we need to start by normalizing gender fluidity, and maybe, if we use this approach, we’ll be successful enough that we can get rid of violence against transgender people.

Gender is a spectrum. Not unlike a rainbow. Perhaps it’s time we embraced that rainbow.

Image Credits: Google

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