Gloria Steinem updates a long-controversial 1977 essay on transgender people



Now I want to find the original essay and read it, although I think she’s kept what must be the most profound and poignant question from the original: “If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

I appreciate her focus on ENDA, and her speaking up for the transgender community. The mistreatment transgender people receive still shocks me, even when I consider that they are a minority within a minority, and a diverse group at that, which gives them very little representative power. I know those who say that if transgender people want better treatment they need to be more visible, but, in addition to the risks that visibility still carries, it’s not fair to ask transgender people to shoulder the full responsibility for the rights they deserve. Rights, after all, only exist because they’re mutually agreed upon by all, or at least most, of us. That is why transgender people need, and deserve, more allies.


Nicely done.


I think with regard to those saying trans people should be more “visible”, they completely misunderstand how traumatic things can be for some trans people. Many simply want to be recognized for who and what they feel they are, rather than thrusting themselves into the public eye in a way that will never let them escape the painful past assigned to them. I do think it’d be good for more trans people to be more visible, but, I wouldn’t ever tell a trans person they should.

Note: I’m agreeing with you. I just wanted to make sure it was clear that I was talking about the people you were referring to. :smile:


I think you’ve hit on a key point. We, as transgendered people, are supposed to be more visible, but when we are, we become targets.

Hell, I approached my college about whether they had a “safe” bathroom list, and it sent everyone scurrying. They wanted to do right by things, but could not even tell me if there were any single toilet, lockable, bathrooms on the entire campus. They did come through with one, non-locking “gender neutral” toilet, but you might as well call it the rape-risk bathroom because it’s far away, dimly lit, and unlockable.

I’m too masculine to pass in women’s rooms, and too girly to be safe in men’s rooms. This is a big issue because getting your ass kicked just because you want to pee sucks.

The funny thing is that when I pointed out the inherent unsafe bathroom, and that a single toilet in a full campus was really not up to snuff, I’m not the problem. I can tell already, I’ve apparently hit the limits of discussion because I am “complaining”. I’ve seen it before. Just asking for a safe place to pee is way too big a request, and why can’t I just be the happy mascot for diversity. Since I’m the first open trans* student they’ve had.


I entirely agree. In fact, I would put it more bluntly: (1) For most transfolk, the entire essence of the condition is that they want to be less visible, to pass as their proper gender without being questioned or confronted; and (2) for many transfolk, being “visible” is asking to get murdered.


Totally agree, but in a typical bathroom stall where you can close (but not lock per se) the stall… is ass kicking often on the menu? Are there problems?

I am asking because I simply don’t know, I do not mean to pry or in any way make light of the situation.

A friend of mine who happens to be transgender once asked me to stand outside and guard a bathroom while he was using it. He was still in the early stages of his transition, but I don’t think anyone could tell. In fact later that night a stranger would look at my friend, in his suit and tie, and say, “Man, you look like you just came from work.”

This was in a Unitarian Church, and since we were setting up for an event there were only five of us there and we all knew each other. But I didn’t question my friend’s concerns. I didn’t even think about it because I tend to be agreeable. This is not about how enlightened I am–on the contrary it’s how about how oblivious we cis people can be. It was only later that I thought about what his everyday life must have been like.

I know how easy it is to hit a wall with people who won’t see past their own privilege and that your fellow students really weren’t interested in considering things from your perspective. But I think it would have been useful if they’d spent one day thinking about what it would be like to have only one bathroom on the entire campus they could use. But then to be up for something like that they’d have to consider college a learning experience.


I’m not transgender, but I would be really annoyed by a stall that I couldn’t lock. What asshole came up with that idea? Actually, who thought up stall walls instead of going from the floor to the ceiling? Short stall walls make it way too easy to accidentally see things that cannot be unseen.


The problem isn’t the stall, per se, though a non-locking stall is really stupid. The problem is that you have to walk into and through the bathroom to get to the stall, and have to do the reverse once you’re finished. During that time, somebody who isn’t gender conforming enough for that bathroom is likely to encounter problems.


Regarding the one bathroom you can use, I had this problem at my previous job. Once I came out and explained my intention to transition, the bathroom issue was the very first one that was raised. Well, after my asshole perv of a boss asked about the underwear I’d be wearing. No joke.

Anyway, they flatly refused to allow me to use the correct bathroom. However, after analyzing building plans, they found a single-person bathroom on the first floor that had a door that locked. I was “assigned” this bathroom, but in the spirit of “no special treatment”, all people were allowed to use this bathroom as well. Oh, and to make it worse? It had a shower, installed when it used to be connected to an office staffed 24/7 by security. So once others discovered the bathroom, it became the place where people took showers after going to the gym before they went back to work. Because of the privacy it offered, many people preferred to use that bathroom. There were literally dozens of times I would go to the bathroom because I had to pee, and it was occupied, leaving me with nowhere else to go. I simply held it as long as I could, resulting in I can’t tell you how many UTIs, or just left work to go home simply so I could pee.

The funny thing? I’m lucky enough that I pass consistently. They would’ve had me use the wrong bathroom, freaking the fuck out of people, simply so I wouldn’t upset the people I’d blend in perfectly with in case one of them knew I was transsexual.

I don’t work there anymore, thankfully because I got a better job with people who simply accept me as I am.


That really sucks. This whole bathroom issue is a constant that “normal” gendered folks don’t get. Cis folks don’t have to worry about freaking anyone out, and can’t wrap their minds around the increased risks that go with not passing.


Trans* folks have to face an increased level of violence overall. (Differences for FTM or MTF and race, of course adjust the statistics.) A huge helping of that is bathroom related.

Look at it this way. I just want to pee. However, in the girls bathroom, I read as a boy/male right now and if I freak them out, I risk not usually the women there doing more than yelling, but also if her male, possibly boyfriend thinks I’m a rape risk for her. Getting clocked when I walk out of the bathroom as a “pervert” is a real possibility.

In the men’s room, I have to pass as a boy/male, but I don’t really. Most of the time, nobody will say anything, but I still freak out the men as much as the women. Then I get to play russian roulette with whether or not the guy I freak out is the kind of guy that deals with gender/sexuality differences by swinging a fist. “If you want to be a boy, then I’ll beat your ass like a boy” is one phrase that was said to me.

So yeah. Getting your ass kicked is a real possibility. It’s rarer for me, because I am white, and FtM, but it’s there every damn time I use a bathroom mid transition. This is a really big issue for trans* folks not because we don’t identify the right bathroom, but because the world freaks out when all we really want to do is pee. Hell, I get policed on the “right” bathroom all the time, and it’s never the same gender twice because I’m mid transition. It’s no surprise that UTI’s are really high in the trans* population. Who wants to wade through this minefield just to pee in public place.

My solution? I ask friends or spouse to “guard the door” for me. Or at least stand outside so I can be assured of a rescue if someone starts swinging. The problem is they can’t always be there.


Interesting. So it sounds like it’s more the visibility of entrance and exit (and how much one “passes” as a given gender visually) that is the problem, versus the locking of the stall.

If someone passes enough to get into or out of the stall without a problem, there’s still the issue of someone barging in on them by accident and potentially visible bits not matching the expectations of the person who has barged into the stall.


I’m going to hazard a guess that the majority of people who accidentally barge into an occupied stall really don’t want to see anything happening in that stall. Visible bits that don’t match expectations would just be a bonus thing that cannot be unseen. If I ever encounter a stall that can’t be locked and I can’t wait (which is almost certainly the case if I’m in a public restroom), one foot is going to hold that door shut.

I don’t disagree that most people who accidentally opened a stall aren’t hoping for anything. It’s an accident. The problem is that a lot of people, once they realize whatever they saw wasn’t “correct” in their view, can become violent. Even if they don’t physically assault the person, they can verbally harass them, draw more attention to them, possibly get them arrested depending on the local laws. This stuff actually happens.


I suppose you could say that. I’d say it’s more about cultural perception of gender, and the inflexibility of the ideas that govern what gender one should be. I have to point out that not everyone in the trans* community has a goal of passing. A lot of folks, like genderqueer, two spirit, etc, feel they lie more in the middle of the gender continuum.

The real problem is that there are people out there that would hurt a trans* person just because they need to pee. So yeah, it’s not really about the lock. The lock is really just a safety measure to make me feel safer from those violent jerks.


Sure, you can do the foot thing if the stall is small. The stall I got saddled with is huge. Until my super powers come in, nobody can stretch that far.


Anything you can do to jimmy it shut? If the door is both level with the floor and opens inwards, you could get one of those wedge-shaped doorstops and bring it along with you.

Sorry if that’s not practical, I’m a little too prone to try to solve other people’s problems via engineering…

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