Melanie Yarborough

The battles over racial segregation took place at America's lunch counters, polling places, and universities. The struggle for Gay rights were fought at bars like New York's Stonewall Inn. Every movement has its flashpoints, those visible places where you see the conflict.

The transgender movement has its own particular battlefields. What are these places? Brace yourselves: They're America's Public Restrooms and Dressing Rooms. They may not be the battlefields we may have chosen or even wanted. But for better or worse, they're ours. And we need to understand the importance of these places in the transgender struggle.

By law, is illegal for a person to use the public restrooms for the opposite gender. For the transgendered, we face a choice between bladder/sphincter disaster and potential arrest. For the straight community, it's also an issue. When we do outreach we're universally asked "Which bathroom do you use?".

Clothing store dressing rooms are also problematic. So much of our transgenderism centers around gender appropriate clothing. Yet many of us are unable to purchase as elaborate or necessary a wardrobe as we'd like. We cannot use the woman's changing room by law. And we fear outing ourselves if we change into a dress as men at the men's facilities.

Public restrooms and changing rooms are the last bastions of gender segregation. This is because they involve two of society's most taboo subjects: excretion and nudity.

Urination and defecation are private, almost shameful acts in our society. A great deal of our language's obscenities and lewd humor center around it. It's second only to sex in raising the most titillation. Nudity also has a lot of delicate connotations. For one thing, it's illegal in public, except at designated beaches or colonies. Moreover, getting undressed implies vulnerability, as in a police strip search or medical checkup. And nudity implies sexuality, even if no sex is involved. Nudity is so taboo that many of us won't even walk around naked in the complete privacy of our own homes.

Moreover, restrooms mean different things for men and women. To women, it's a place to socialize. Crossdressers and transsexuals who enter this "No Man's Land" may be seen as wolves in sheep's clothing. Likewise, female dressing rooms are places where women temporarily make themselves vulnerable by disrobing. A male presence isn't just an invasion of privacy; many women fear potential rapists. To men, restrooms aren't places to socialize, but they have become identified as homosexual cruising areas. A female-dresssed person in the men's room is assumed to be a cruising queen, and faces a very real and violent hate crime.

Most non-transgendered people take gender segregated areas for granted. They see no need to even discuss the issue. The transgender community needs to enlighten them on their blindness to the cultural significance of both places. We also need to stress our right to use these places as part of our own gender expression.

As crossdressers and transsexuals, we may someday gain acceptance on the street or in the workplace. However, as far as restrooms and dressing rooms are concerned, we're treading on sacred ground. Like it or not, these are our battlefields.

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