On Tuesday night, I wrote and published this piece on transphobic feminism, and how it’s inherently part of the patriarchy.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up to find out about a comment piece written by LSE student Jason Wong that was printed in London Student on the subject of gender-neutral toilets:
Wong is not a stranger to controversy. He has run twice for student-run positions at LSE, and both times, has been disqualified: the first time for a sexist campaign, and the second time for an anti-Semitic campaign poster. His twitter profile says he’s railing against a “far-left Student Union” and supports freeing Julian Assange, suspected rapist. So, you know the kind of character he is. And now he’s got a massive bee in his bonnet, and is building his campaign against gender-neutral toilets on the grounds of women’s privacy. From a man who, less than a year ago, ran a campaign with incredibly sexist imagery.
Let’s deal with the comment piece first, and the concept of gender neutral toilets.
One of the hardest parts of social transition for a trans person, once they start presenting as their preferred gender, is the confidence to use public toilets. If you’re a trans woman, you run the risk of being thrown out of somewhere and maybe getting the police called if you’re read as male in the women’s toilets, or verbally and physically attacked if you’re read as female in the men’s toilets. The converse is true for trans men. A lot of trans people don’t use public toilets at all out of this fear, which can lead to urinary tract infections.
Gender neutral toilets already exist in society anyway. Disabled toilets are de facto gender neutral, and are often used by trans* people if they aren’t Radar Key locked. Train toilets are gender neutral. Private toilets in houses are gender neutral. Civilisation won’t crumble if a university union decided to make one set of toilets in a three-story building gender neutral. Gender neutral toilets also offer advantages to people who fit in the gender binary too: they can offer baby changing facilities that can’t fit in the gendered toilets.
So, it’s not political correctness gone mad, or a “ghastly game of social experiment” to support gender neutral toilets. For the health and welfare of trans* people, for one, there has to be provision so they can use the restroom facilities like everyone else can. And to the argument it costs money? When Leeds University Union opened its gender neutral toilet, the only cost was to change the sign from “Disabled” to “Gender Neutral/Disabled”, which was covered for in refurbishment of the building already.
The privacy issue is another issue that doesn’t stand up well to examination. Although the boogeyman of cis women being attacked if trans women were allowed to use the same facilities (which has to be allowed by law), Wong has, despite multiple requests, not named a single case in which a trans woman attacked a cis woman in a toilet. However, the reverse happened: at London Pride 2008, several trans women, including journalist Roz Kaveney, were refused access to the women’s and made to use the men’s (where an attack later took place). This is not a random business we’re talking about. This is at Pride.
For everything that society thrusts on cis women, they also thrust on trans women too, on account of both groups being women. To trans women even more. But — and this is why it so relates to Tuesdays post — some people see the welfare of “true women” as more important than trans women. It’s a very common argument from the transphobic radical feminist movement.
That would be bad on its own, if it were not for the fact that Wong implies that trans women wanting to use the same toilets as cis women are really just “strange unknown men” and the policy “openly invites sex offenders”. In essence, he’s calling all women sex offenders. An argument that Sarah Brown, Cambridge City councillor, did not take too kindly.
In the last line, he claims that the installation of gender neutral toilets would make LSE equivalent to a “cheap strip club in Bangkok. That’s a) horribly transphobic, b) horribly racist, and c) horribly anti-sex-worker. One has to wonder if he’s been recently watching Ladyboys on Sky Living, or maybe Little Britain, but it’s implying that all trans women are Thai kathoeys — which is simply not true — and that Bangkok is filled with trans people — again, not really true. The “strip club” line also horrifically trivialises the survival sex work that many trans people, especially trans women in the United States, have to do to afford food, let alone their hormone replacement therapy.
But Jason decides to double down: he claims to support LGBT rights, but not genderless toilets. This doesn’t make sense, really, because the right to bodily autonomy is a human right itself. By opposing the right to allow a trans person to use the toilet, you’re opposing their bodily autonomy. And notice the letter “T” in the acronym. I know, from impressions of Stonewall, that it’s decoration, but quite a lot of gay issues are also trans issues as they tie into the concept of gender. But no, according to Jason, the state of being transgender isn’t real: it’s just “the latest trend of the politically correct mob”.
Which leads us to Wednesday evening’s Facebook post, in which he starts what is now a series of photos of students supporting Jason. He makes claims that the Student Union are playing political games with the welfare of students. Which is laughable because, well, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He also asserts the SU are engaged in a “war on heterosexuals”, which is about as real as a war on caterpillars (riffing on Reince Preibus slightly). He also claims, in a comment, to be concerned about students having kidney problems by refusing to use toilets — which his campaign would actually cause. But the worst part is him claiming the student in the photo is, and I quote, “an actual female/ not transgender and has never been to Bangkok.”
And you know the funniest thing? The gender-neutral toilets are completely optional! They’ll only be one set in the new buildings at LSE, which are being installed for accessibility issues. And gender neutral toilets are never mandatory anyway, because, admittedly, some people would prefer to use segregated toilets. Institutions often desegregate one set of toilets to offer gender-neutral students that choice.
Still, this is how patriarchy works: the denial or rejection of assertions of privilege being used to oppress minority groups. And I don’t doubt Jason is part of that patriarchal system: a Tory middle-class (at least) kid unashamedly supporting someone accused of rape, with horrifically transphobic views. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up as a Tory candidate somewhere in the 2015 election.
Luckily, all hope is not lost. Jason has been roundly criticised by both people at LSE, including General Secretary Alex Peters-Day (who has been stellar this entire week) and LGBT Officer John Peart, and people in the trans community, not least Sarah Brown, who has shown an amazing amount of restraint seeing as she’s a target of Jason’s bigotry. Hell, even I got quite a few barbs in. It brings hope in the future, and I do hope this incident will show the need for a discussion on sex segregation of public toilets, as for the welfare of gender-variant people everywhere, we really need to have that discussion.