To Go or Not to Go: That Is the Question

This discomfort and cruelty transgendered children face when it comes to using the bathroom.

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Photograph: iStock

From our kitchen I could hear the diesel engine roar and the chassis squeak as the school bus rounded the bend of the otherwise quiet street leading to our corner. Monday through Friday during the school year, these familiar sounds were my cue to spring into action — to get the back door not only unlocked but also opened because Sam would be charging through that entryway within 30 predictable seconds, making a mad dash for the bathroom. An absolute run-like-your-life-depended-upon-it sprint because he hadn’t used a restroom since he left for school eight hours earlier.

And so it was for our child, as he began to transition from female to male in seventh grade. A difficult age for any kid — let alone one whose mind and biology did not match. The more masculine his appearance became, the more difficult it was for him to relieve himself at school.  The girl’s restroom, while corresponding with his biology, was a torture chamber of verbal abuse as the occupants screamed at his mere presence. Even those who understood would hang their bystander heads and divert sympathetic gazes, leaving Sam feeling alone and vulnerable as he tried to make his way to a stall. And the threat of physical abuse kept Sam from even trying to use the boy’s restroom, which is where he truly belonged.

When we finally understood the extent of the harassment he was enduring, we approached the school in search of help. The proposed solution was for Sam to use the nurse’s bathroom, a common remedy offered by many schools across the nation, and yet it's one that never truly meets these kids' needs. In a building with three floors, having only one option in a less-than-central location, is a logistical nightmare — especially when students are expected to use the restroom during their five-minute window between classes. But even more troubling was that using the nurse’s restroom was stigmatizing in and of itself. As soon as his fellow classmates began to notice him using the special bathroom, the under-the-breath comments, stares and giggles became more than he could bare. For Sam, seventh grade marked the year that he began to experience chronic bladder infections — just because he couldn’t relieve himself at school.

To go or not to go. That is the daily question for my transgender child and thousands of kids like him all over the country. The simple act of relieving themselves in the public restroom of their school — a basic bodily function and need — is the source of stress, confusion, violence, endless meetings and arguments by adults and even lawsuits just because these students identify with the gender that is opposite of their biology.

With so many important issues to focus our time and energy on as a society, worrying about who is using which bathroom seems like a colossal waste of precious resources. Especially when that worry is based on ignorance. So the next time you hear about a controversy surrounding a transgender child using a school restroom, and believe me you will, try to imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were not able to use the restroom of the gender to which you identified. Really think about it. Now, suppose you had to worry about your physical well being in a public area that everyone else considers safe. Envision conditioning yourself to not drink liquids all day to the point of dehydration so as to reduce the need to "go." And if none of that manages to open your heart and mind, then I would ask you to please consider this: How would you feel if this was happening to your child?

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