Anti-transgender attitudes have long made bathrooms a dangerous place for trans men and women — a problem only made worse by the latest round of bathroom hysteria. But other women are also getting swept up by anti-trans discrimination, as bathrooms turn into places of harassment for anyone who doesn't conform to rigid views of gender.
In a recent case that went viral, a cisgender (non-trans) woman was insulted while in a Walmart bathroom after another woman confused her for a trans woman, apparently because of her short hair. The incident, the woman said, led her to confront the kind of harassment and discrimination that trans people have faced in bathrooms for a long time.
That the current hysteria over bathrooms is leading to women, trans or not, getting harassed in bathrooms is, on top of plain awful, ironic. After all, harassment is one of the things those who oppose letting trans people use the bathroom for their gender identity supposedly want to prevent. They claim trans-friendly policies will allow men to disguise themselves as women, go into women's bathrooms, and harass or assault women.
The claim is a myth: Multiple investigations have found states and schools that have had legal protections for trans people for years have never linked an instance of sexual assault or harassment in a bathroom to trans-friendly policies. (The only bathroom harassment historically related to trans people, in fact, seems to be harassment and discrimination against trans people.)
But it does seem like the bathroom hysteria is leading to some women getting harassed — not in the way opponents of trans rights worry about, but more along the lines of the discrimination and harassment trans people have faced for a long time while trying to use the bathroom. Here are a few examples.
"You're disgusting! … You don't belong here!"
Aimee Toms was washing her hands in the women's bathroom at Walmart in Danbury Friday when a stranger approached her and said, "You're disgusting!" and "You don't belong here!"
After momentary confusion, she realized that the woman next to her thought — because of her pixie-style haircut and baseball cap — that she was transgender.
Toms, a 22-year-old from Naugatuck who works at a retail store in the Bethel-Danbury retail area around Walmart, posted a video "rant" about her experience on Facebook Friday that had been viewed more than 12,000 times by Sunday evening.
"After experiencing the discrimination they face firsthand, I cannot fathom the discrimination transgender people must face in a lifetime," she said. "Can you imagine going out every day and having people tell you you should not be who you are or that people will not accept you as who you are?"
"When I saw you enter I thought you was…"
Case in point: the man who, um, heroically barged into a women's restroom at Baylor Medical Center in Frisco on Thursday to make sure that Jessica Rush, who manages a local health-food takeout place, was peeing in the proper place.
She was, for the record, and her situation isn't particularly complicated. Rush was born and identifies as female and has no plans to change that. "I look very much like a girl," she says. "I'm not trying to transition, nothing like that."
But Rush wears her hair in a bleached blond fauxhawk and dresses androgynously. On Thursday, she was wearing a T-shirt from her alma mater, Texas Tech, with basketball shorts. As the man at Baylor explained after walking into the restroom behind her, it's all very confusing. …
"When I saw you enter I thought you was…" the man says.
"A boy?" Rush offers.
"Yeah, it was kind of confusing." Certainly she can see why. "You dress like a man," he says several times as he walks away.
In the video, the unnamed woman tries to convince the two male officers and one female officer present that she is a woman, her friends shout in her support "she's a girl", which the officers ignore.
The police then ask the woman for identification to prove her sex. She rejects their demand, offended. The male officers then manhandle her out of the restroom, whilst calling her "sir".
The police eventually tell the woman's friends, who are still vouching for her female identity, "you can all leave if you want".
Trans women and men have faced harassment and violence in bathrooms for a long time
Back in 2011, Chrissy Lee Polis captured national attention when teenagers attacked her after she used an empty women's bathroom at a McDonald's in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun reported:
There was a time when it seemed people from all over the country were talking about the 24-year-old. Many wanted to help her; others condemned her.
Polis became an unwitting symbol of the transgender community and the struggle for transgender rights when she stepped into a Rosedale McDonald's one April evening. Two teen girls beat her that night. When an employee caught the assault on his cell phone, the video went viral, making headlines nationwide.
In a more recent case, in May, a security guard at a Washington, DC, grocery store allegedly pushed a trans woman out of the business after she tried to use a bathroom. The guard was later charged with simple assault. NBC4 Washington reported:
Ebony Belcher, 32, said she went to the Giant in northeast D.C. with a friend to pick up a delivery from the Western Union.
While at the Giant, she asked a store employee to point her to the restroom and passed a female security officer standing in the hallway.
The officer came into the restroom and told her to get out, according to Belcher.
"She opened the door and came in and started calling me derogatory names," Belcher said.
She said the officer put her hand on her shoulder and arm, grabbed her and pushed her out of the store.
These are just two examples of the discrimination trans people face in bathrooms on a regular basis.
The same surveys also show that trans people face a lot of discrimination, harassment, and violence more broadly — at home, work, and school. So the harassment cisgender women are now dealing with in bathrooms is just a small sample of the discrimination that has plagued the trans community for years and years.