First i ought to let you know that i’m a trans woman.
And i’m a trans woman because i belong to the trans community.
And it is my community who gives shape to my trans identity.
And it is only my community that gives meaning to my identity.
I didn’t even know what to call myself until i started listening to Janet Mock, who taught me to embrace my transgender identity.
Prior to reading Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, i knew that i was transgender, but i simply saw myself as a woman “trapped in a man’s body.” To me, “passing” as a “real” woman seemed to be the only way to express my true identity. But Janet Mock taught me that gender exists on a spectrum, and that trans women (like cis women) are real women. This was a liberating moment in my life. And so it’s only on account of Janet Mock, and all the teachers, poets, prophets and revolutionaries in my trans community, that i have any trans identity at all.
My community of trans people includes gender nonconforming persons, genderfluid persons as well as individuals who identify as agender (and all queer and femme identities in this community). This may seem confusing to some (or most), but that’s ok. There’s a simple rule we can go by: just call a person whatever they wish to be called, and ask them their preferred pronouns if we aren’t sure (and we shouldn’t be too sure). The words are different, but the identities have been around as long as humanity has been around.
Personally, my identity as a transgender woman is binary. I’m perfectly happy to live just as a woman. So when i use the restroom, i only want to go into the one that has the sign with the little triangular dress. I’m a woman. So i use the women’s restroom. However, i am also a trans woman, and nonbinary gender persons are part of the community which gives my identity shape and meaning. Therefore, i’m absolutely thrilled that my workplace not only made gender-neutral restrooms available, but that they put up a sign outside each that says “All Gender Restroom.”
I’m saying thank you for the “All Gender Restroom” because i’m happy my workplace recognizes that there are more than two genders, that gender exists on a spectrum, and that some trans people who go into bathrooms will not conform to cisnormative standards of appearance (and should not feel that they are being forced to do this). So i don’t see the “All Gender Restroom” as something for me as one person, but, instead, as something for me, a trans woman who is part of a community. I’m thrilled for people in my community who are gender nonconforming, as well as femmes, queer people and anyone else who might feel more comfortable using this restroom.
So thank you for the “All Gender Restroom”!
(Here’s the “but”)
Let’s look at this whole “bathroom debate,” which– quite honestly– i find to be equal parts enraging, boring, and tiresome. I’m enraged because it does put trans people and gender nonconforming people in greater danger. I’m bored because i’m just a woman who wants to go to the bathroom. And it’s tiresome because cis people can be that way. Particularly pasty-faced southern governors who, even with their trendy eyeglasses, look like plantation owners and genocidal colonizers. Actually, all white people sorta got that look (quite honestly), because we are colonizers. And south dakota (which passed an anti-trans bill that wasn’t signed) isn’t exactly in the south like north carolina is. South of the canadian border, yes– but it’s the same system and the same white nationalist, patriarchal plantation-owner mentality wherever we go in the united states (and probably most parts of canada too).
Sometimes i’m told (by cis folks) that i’m fortunate to live in oregon. Apparently people aren’t as transphobic here– at least in this part (if we go to roseburg, where i was born, or to eastern oregon, where i grew up, it might be a different story). I hear the same thing about racism: oregon is so much better than the south. Maybe we say this– that is, white people say this– because there are so few Black people here, which is not surprising considering they were banned from oregon in the original constitution. But we’re told that oregon is not only less transphobic and less racist, it’s also nicer to gays, and to, well, all sorts of people. We’re just nice.
I’m a rather inadequate student of intersectional feminism, but even i can spot the lack of intersectional analysis when it is so obvious. And a lack of intersectionality is painfully obvious when we talk about the “bathroom debate.” This is particularly true in oregon where whites like to say we’re so much more progressive than north carolina or texas or most other states. And this lack of intersectionality is even more apparent on a college campus in oregon, such as the private university which just created single-use “All Gender” restrooms. Yay for us.
Or not so fast with that “Yay.” First of all, this is a very white campus in a very white state. So the material basis for this benefit– the one that i’m enjoying as a white transgender woman– can be seen in the fact that the resources of this campus, and the employment opportunities available to whites like me, are far less available to oppressed communities (people of color). This isn’t to say i’m a horrible person for working here, or for taking a job from a more deserving person of color; neither is it to say that the college is evil for doing business this way. It’s not a moral judgment. It’s the objective, material reality that the “All Gender Restroom” represents progress mainly for upwardly mobile whites in the very white state of oregon– a state that is very white, not be accident, but by design. The employment opportunities open to whites like me– including white transgender people– are available because of the colonization of stolen Indigenous land, and gentrifying policies and economic practices which drive exploited Black and brown people from this area. So the entire system– white supremacist colonial capitalism– is set up to benefit white people like me.
The “All Gender Restroom” is the resolution of a contradiction within the white nation or identity, which consists mainly of middle class people. That is, my workplace, which consistently benefits white people, was faced with a contradiction because trans white people were oppressed within this system. My employer faced the possibility of lawsuits or negative publicity. This progressive step by a wealthy private university was a fairly painless way to avoid the outcome that bourgeois institutions always seek to avoid: a loss of wealth.
Of course, this bathroom doesn’t have a sign on it that says “Whites Only” next to the “All Gender Restroom” sign. Imagine how outrageous and inhumane that would be. Yet there might as well be such a sign, because the policies and the practices of a system controlled by white supremacist colonial capitalism lead to the same outcome, blatantly racist sign or no sign. We see the same thing going on in portland. The days of redlining, and explicitly pushing Black and brown people out of the city, or confining them to one area, may be over. Then again, explicitly stated colonization of Black spaces may not be over in portland oregon. But Michelle Alexander (and Mumia Abu-Jamal before her) taught us that policies and practices don’t need to be explicitly anti-Black to achieve the same outcome as if they were. And a system that is built on the exploitation and colonization of African people, Indigenous peoples, and the majority of humanity outside Europe, will always act to consolidate and expand its power for the material enjoyment of white people, including white trans people.
So the “All Gender Restroom” is physically as well as socially situated in such a manner that it serves the needs of white people. These are white people who already have health insurance, who most likely do not live in food deserts, and who are not targeted by the police. Entire structures are already in place for white people who use this restroom, including white trans women like me. The support system for white trans people, while it is transphobic in some aspects, is the same system that exists for all white people, particularly whites in the middle class. While it’s true that the health insurance plan excluded necessary transgender surgeries until last year, and still makes it very difficult for struggling white trans people to afford it, this plan has covered many other medical necessities. A transgender person is more than just a trans person, and in order to live we have the same material needs as all people– the need for access to food, clothing, housing, and other healthcare needs, as well as education.
While i was going to college (on this same campus) the Clintons– as part of the entire system of white supremacist colonial capitalism– were locking up Black and brown kids my own age. I think i was the only kid in my class in high school who didn’t smoke pot. But the cops weren’t targeting these white kids for minor pot offenses, with three strikes laws and militarized police forces going in and breaking up families and destroying lives. No– my ability to go to college, and enjoy a good education, was based on the colonial policies and practices of targeting Black and brown people, because their effect was to limit the number of applications for college, and (once i graduated) also the number of applications for jobs. This all happened during a time of “peace and prosperity.” That’s the idealist view: the Clinton Era was “peace and prosperity” (just like there’s an “American Dream”). Here’s the materialist view: i went to college, which allowed me to get a job with this employer, on account of white power’s colonial exploitation of Africans/Black people and all other oppressed peoples.
So this provides some materialist context for the “All Gender Restroom.” It’s a wonderful step forward– if you have a job at this university, if you haven’t been forced out of the state by gentrification and further colonization and genocide. One-third of all Black children in oregon live below the poverty line, compared to 16% of white children (it should be zero per cent for all children). Two-thirds of the white households in oregon own their home, compared to one-third of Black households. These statistics (from Walidah Imarisha’s selection of the Urban League of Portland’s State of Black Oregon 2015 report) objectively demonstrate that access to the material necessities of life is limited for Black people in this state.
And these difficulties that the Black community in oregon faces in its efforts to gain access to necessary resources obviously also impacts Black transgender children. Single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms on the campus of a wealthy university may be the least of a Black trans woman’s concerns, as recently voiced by a Black trans woman on facebook. What were the obstacles put in the way of Black trans people and other trans people of color which prevented their employment on this campus in the first place, or at any other middle class institution? What were the factors that led to the “All Gender Restroom” being available primarily to white faculty, students, and staff, rather than people of color, who may be forced to work in less trans-friendly environments, if they are able to find work at all?
Is this a safe space even for the trans people of color who do work and study here? Contrary to what the capitalist-controlled news may lead us to believe, there’s more to the life of a trans person than using the bathroom– and, of course, the same is true for trans people of color. Trans people of color face other intersecting forms of oppression. Does an “All Gender Restroom” reflect the priorities of the most vulnerable and endangered identities on campus, or simply the most visible and easily fixed?
The campus requires that we take the corporate-produced online course on harassment, and is doing what it can to avoid lawsuits (which we are reminded are very costly). But a system built on the colonial exploitation of Black and brown people will not address their needs, because it’s not in the interests of the system to do so. The bourgeois system is focused on consolidating its wealth and power. Even when contradictions within this system are exposed, the system simply acts to reform (re-form) the structures and institutions which are threatening to weaken the ruling class and split the system apart. It’s not in the interests of capitalism to institute policies and practices which would assure safe spaces for trans women of color, or any other oppressed peoples.
The “All Gender Restroom” is a wonderful step forward. But we need to place this progress in the context of structures and institutions that are controlled by a white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial system of capitalism.
When we place the discussion in this context (which capitalism does not want us to do, because it cuts into its profits) the conclusions of this material fact become inescapable: more than anything, trans people of color– as part of my trans community, and as part of communities who are colonized by capitalism– need resources. This progress occurred on a mostly white campus in mostly white oregon, because the resources were there to make it happen. The same will be true if i can get access to the procedures i need to live a healthy, happy life as a trans woman. And the same is true when i go to the store and buy groceries. All these things that are related to my survival– my ability to live– have the same material basis: control of resources.
And how do we gain control of resources? Power. It’s about power. The system of power made the “All Gender Restroom” happen for me, not for Latinxs and Black people and Indigenous people who have been erased from this happy story of liberal progress. And capitalism will continue to prevent colonized, exploited peoples from gaining access to the resources necessary for life. So it becomes necessary to organize against capitalism, and to move against the system in order to gain power. For white people– including white trans people like me– this means aligning ourselves with mass movements of oppressed and exploited peoples who are struggling to gain power and self-determination. And we must center the voices of queer and trans people in these movements, otherwise they become a revolution of the straight and cis. At the same time, perhaps we also need to recognize that these voices and identities are the most vulnerable, so when we center them, this shouldn’t mean that “allies” are making Q/TPoC (Queer and Trans People of Color) even bigger targets for systemic violence. We highlight the voices and stories of queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people of color, but we do so because they have been erased, and we constantly keep in mind that the main material concern is resources. Center Black trans people by providing them more resources.
Perhaps those people who value peace, justice, freedom and equality– for the transgender community and for all of humanity, as well as other animals and the planet– ought to focus our energy and resources on creating a dual and contending system of power. Revolution is about serving the people (as the free breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party did, and the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party is still doing in Portland today). Oppressed peoples are vulnerable. Marxist theories and the gun won’t resonate with oppressed people who are already facing long odds at survival in a hostile land. So the community of revolutionaries– who are all people who oppose capitalism and wish to see it destroyed– may wish to come together and organize to provide resources and services that benefit the working class, and all intersectional identities within it– mostly people of color who, for five hundred or more years, have only been brutalized and exploited by the system of colonial white power.
Or we could just keep talking about those damn bathrooms!