‘Can I use this bathroom?’ (Recognition, not accommodation)

Pride photo from twu.edu
Pride photo from twu.edu

They stop mid-stride, stare wide-eyed.

One woman huffs and puffs and, hands on her hips, calls out, “Mister, nawawala ka yata.” (Mister, you seem lost.)

My friend is butch, around 5’6”, hefty and prone to wearing jackets. She straightens up from her slouch, thrusts out cup-C breasts and, with one raised brow, confronts the shocked audience of four in an upscale Makati mall toilet.

Cita (not her real name) used to bind her breasts. Then she discovered her full sensuality.

“Butch – tough butch –all woman,” she drawls. She’s being ironic when she does that. A lesbian is, of course, a woman.

Decades back, only lesbians who looked “manly” qualified as butches. Today, there are lipstick butches, soft butches and butches of all shades. My friends told me ten years ago: it’s the energy, not the look. Now, some friends reject the notion of lesbian labels. They can be femme, butch, a combination of both.

Photo from www.layoutsparks.com
Photo from http://www.layoutsparks.com

But Dom, another friend, identifies fully as male and chafes about her breasts, her hips and having to wear mid-height heels. There is great anger in her from a lifetime of having to fit in. She’d be chased out of toilets for males, so Dom doesn’t even try.

Her buddy, Ebe (real name Eve), looks like a rangy adolescent from the back. She has “always lived as male” in the United States where she grew up.

She not only trounced guys at elementary softball, skateboard and track and field; she joined them in peeing standing up. That is, until horrified mothers broke up their innocent fun.

Ebe’s has what she wryly calls “itsy, bitsy buns” on the chest. She finds bindings too painful.

“Until I do, they’ll hassle me,” she says of trips to toilets for males.

The Invisible Woman
The Invisible Woman

So daily, the Filipino-American braves the double takes from women.

And then there’s Faith, a transgender woman who stubbornly tries daily to use comfort rooms marked “female.” She says her success rate is 80%.

She’s not just doing it as a statement. When she “fails,” the emotional fallout is terrible: the sexist croons, sexual jests and jeers from males who see the 5’2”, 110-lbs Faith as a vulnerable target.

These encounters leave Faith depressed, sometimes in tears.

Her only consolation is, that there are males, yes, who actually defend and stay to guard her from harassers. One time, a brawl erupted in a mall when Faith’s tormentors also turned against the strangers who tried to protect her.

These are real people, real lives. So I don’t really know how to take the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) announcement about “communal” toilets.

Senior citizens and persons with disabilities should be given comfort rooms that cater to their special physical needs.

But as good friend Giney Villar notes, many LGBT members have the same needs as other people. They just have identities other than the traditionally accepted ones.

“Communal” made me imagine a room full of cubicles, available to male, female and any other identity and gender on a first come, first served basis. The CAAP idea isn’t much different from what now serve us in, say, Starbucks. I always thought that was more a matter of space logistics and economics that of gender sensitivity.

The communal toilets are convenient. But my LGBT friends are right: it’s not going to free them from the hassles they face. (Read more)

“Setting up gender-neutral toilets is an exercise in gender segregation,” says Ferdie Mendoza of Kapederasyon. “It will only lead to more discrimination of LGBTs.”

Ferdie says CAAP should recognize gender recognition as the unique facet of the transgender struggle.

“Simply put, gender recognition is the acknowledgment of gender identity—that, transgender women are women, and transgender men are men,” Ferdie points out. “And that they should be allowed to use restrooms based on their gender identity. This is what is known as gender integration.”

I’m no expert on gender and sexual identity theory. Heck, I even make mistakes like using the “he” pronoun for Ladlad’s transgender leader, Bemz Benedito.

As Barack Obama said of race, the subconscious bias and the holes of ignorance in us will need much putty to plug.

LGBT individuals are patient with some mistakes. They know the world won’t change overnight. However, they’re also not going to be deluded by breathless announcements about solutions that are but panaceas.

Those who think discrimination against LGBTs is just a fantasy should go with Faith the next time she is forced out of our bathrooms and forced into the company of hostile males.

That’s as simple as it gets.

Accommodation is patronizing, condescending. What LGBTs need is a recognition based on genuine respect for their human rights.

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