One of the most troubling anxieties of the public bathroom is one that purports to care about the safety of women and youth, but really only ends up further marginalizing, and perhaps sometimes outing, trans* people and other gender-variant folk. This space of the illicit—a place where we perform excretory functions, inextricable from all their associations with sexual functions—has all kinds of confused conceptual proximity to the vulnerability of children and what might happen to them in these semi-private spaces of semi-nudity.
I just read an article in the most recent Curve magazine issue (which was themed around the concept of lesbian families) called “Back to School: How to Choose an LGBT-positive school for your child.” This article was mostly written from the perspective of queer parents choosing a school for their child of whatever gender or orientation, based on the priority of finding an environment that is LGBT-affirming. The article suggests approaching potential schools with a checklist of questions such as “do school forms specify ‘parent/guardian’ rather than ‘mother/father’?...Are any teachers out?...How does the school address issues of gender diversity?...Does the school encourage or support gender-diverse expressions and play?”. Obviously, things have changed a lot since I was in elementary school, and I’m glad to see it.
We’re elaborately taught how to relate to ourselves as gendered beings. It’s been a long time that people have been building on the critical observation that there’s no natural connection between pink/girl or boy/blue, yet kids continue to be the targets of aggressive marketing that creates profitable niche interests—a collection of stereotypes from which gender binarized consumers are “free” to choose—and of subtler gender conditioning (as my friend Ember is finding out, swaddled babies, though indistinguishable, are praised as pretty or strongdepending on how parents advertise their sex). I’ve mentioned how a lot of kids are skipping the closet and, consequently, finding themselves at the forefront of advocating respect toward sexual difference. What about trans youth? There’s been increasing attention to “gender creative” or “gender independent” kids as social space opens up in which to discuss, rather than repress, their behavior. Could these terms reflect a reluctance to apply the concept of transgender to youth of a certain age because of its association with sexual identity (I am thinking specifically here of the historical, medical roots of trans-related descriptors in the West that have stemmed from the word "transsexualism" coined as "transsexualismus" in the early 1900s by Magnus Hirschfeld and later "trans-sexual" by Harry Benjamin in the 1960s)? Conversely, does the usage of the trans label problematically continue to lump the T in with the LGB? (Not that the B gets much visibility, either).