Sunday, November 1, 2009

Locker Rooms/Bathrooms

Here comes the dreaded locker room/bathroom conversation, the conversation that starts with people running the other direction. In my experience locker rooms especially but also bathrooms are two very underestimated and discussed issues for Trans individuals be they athletes or not. In my experience there is an overwhelming assumption that this issue will "work itself out" or "can be dealt with at another time", or is a "simple solution." This is issue will never work itself out, shouldn't be dealt with at another time and is in no way simple. For example I am a female bodied individual with a male/masculine gender identity, and I present as a man in my everyday life, but I still have breasts and a vagina. My physical body makes it impossible for me to go into the men's locker room without dangerous repercussions. My gender identity and presentation are masculine so I can "pass" as a man, which makes it extremely difficult to enter the women's locker room without embarrassing and mentally damaging repercussions. Locker rooms especially is a daily stress that there really never feels to be a simple solution for.
When part of an athletic team for college, high school, elite level or recreational there is a part of team-bonding that occurs in the locker room. Whether it is before going out to warm-up before the big game, or after a long hard practice, a huge part of the team experience, and the joys of having teammates comes from what occurs in the locker room. This is an experience that Trans athletes can't be a part of. Often times the solution for not knowing where to put an out-trans athlete is to create a new space that is their private changing area, as a way to avoid uncomfortable situations whether it is from "mismatching" genitalia or people knowing that this person is Trans.
My College completely moved me out of the women's locker room, and gave me a dungeon cell in the athletic building that was all mine. My teammates constantly asked why I wasn't in the locker room and it seemed stupid. I never really appreciated the amount of team bonding occurred in the locker room until I was banned from it. It was really nice to have teammates there to lean on after a 5 hour practice with your coach screaming at you the whole time. I was lucky enough to be a captain and a senior with a well established relationship with many of my teammates to not have it greatly effect the team feeling. But what about freshman athletes, or people new the team or sport? What are they going to do? Many people may view their "isolation" with a separate locker room as "why are they special?", "What is going on with them?". This isolation will completely skew the team dynamic and the ability for a Trans athlete to bond and build a good relationship with their teammates. But at the same time it is not often safe for Trans athletes to use the locker room of the the gender of which they are competing. So what are Trans athlete's supposed to do?
I have often believed that part of being a trans athlete is being willing to make a lot of very hard and uncomfortable sacrifices, but safety should never be one. And being part of team can't be one either especially if you want to play sports, even in track and field which is an individual sport it is still a team sport all at the same time. Part of the reason I love sports so much is because of the team and the atmosphere the team brings to the sport. When I was separated so much from them by not sharing a locker room it significantly decreased the amount of bonding time I had with my teammates and the amount I could get to know them. I spent so much time training for my individual events that during practice hours I didn't have that opportunity as well. In a way I am happy I am participating in my own event because if I was on a basketball team for instance I don't feel like I could compete with confidence with my teammates. I feel like knowing their personalities on and off the court would help me better know what to expect from them and how to play with them. I really don't think there is a perfect solution to the locker room situation. I always thought let the individual change in the locker room of the gender they are competing in if they feel comfortable and their teammates feel comfortable. Or often times there are separate rooms in a locker room that can be made that athletes to change but the athlete will still be in the locker room.
Bathrooms are another big issue. I have a personal soap box of every College, and university needs to have at least one gender neutral bathroom in every building on campus. This bathroom can be a handicap bathroom so that there are more options that are less public for disabled individuals as well. I can not tell you how embarrassing it is to be physically escorted out of bathrooms by airport security or men using the bathrooms, or to have women yelling about the man in the woman's restroom, and so on. It is demoralizing and humiliating. Single stall bathrooms are not hard to manage and quite frankly I don't understand why they are damn hard to come by. I once was called a rapist in a women's bathroom, I wasn't binding, and was wearing a tighter shirt for me, that situation disturbed being a victim that is last image I ever wanted to portray. I have friends that are self-identified butch lesbians that can't use the bathroom either for the same stigma of a "man in the Woman's room" The men's room are not often that bad, but I don't always pass enough to enter, nor do many other people nor do many other people want to. I think there needs to be a bigger push on campus for single stall restrooms every where, but especially on college and university campuses where there are growing populations of transgender, intersex, and gender queer individuals.


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