Battle won in a long war of segregation
Baby steps made by the University for Trans* populations
Author: Annie Trussler – Contributor
Girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Girls dance and do gymnastics; boys play sports and fight outside. Despite the school system’s supposed mantra of all-encompassing inclusion, the insidious divide between “female” and “male” continues to pervade all aspects of the education system. This does not end with the classroom and their morals, but extends even into the washrooms. Lila Perry, a seventeen-year-old student of Hillsboro High School, Ohio, was greeted with a school walkout – enlisting as many as one hundred of her peers – after she insisted she be allowed to use the female rest and change rooms. Lila is transgender, and having come out earlier in 2015, is faced with extreme prejudice, dehumanization, and, a phenomenon not unknown to Trans* individuals that being defined by society’s perception of her gender.
Oftentimes, people dangerously equate one’s genitals to one’s sex. The possession of either a penis, a vagina, or intersex genitals are seen by many as the be-all end-all identifier of one’s gender, and therefore, their mannerisms, their interests, their appearance, and beyond. In Lila’s words, “[she is] a girl. [She is] not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.” A simple statement that speaks novels worth of the backward perceptions of today’s gender binary.
There is a spectacular violence in the othering of Lila. By defining this vibrant, wonderful young woman by her genitals, and thereby forcing her into a space of hate and degradation, we reinforce a toxic ideology of exclusion. The walkout staged by her peers shows not only an insidious level of transphobia, but a larger, more complex issue: the misunderstanding of what it truly means to be a woman. Womanhood is seen as many things, and is often over-simplified to a base number of qualities. Femininity, submission, and primarily of all, the possession of a vagina. By finding discomfort in Lila using the bathroom of her comfort, people are reducing women, generally speaking, to simply being an individual with a vagina.
Personally, I find womanhood to be something of a little more complexity. I find womanhood to be a myriad of factors, far too many to quantify and catalogue; however, womanhood – in fact, anyone’s gender identity – is founded wholly and completely by what is felt by them on a personal level. Gender identity is defined as “One’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves.” This simple explanation supports Lila in full: She is a girl because that is what she feels in her innermost self. Her genitals, societal views, and scientific restrictions do not, cannot, and will never define Lila’s identity for her, nor for anyone else. Gender identities escape the rigidity of the binary, granting access to a wide, diverse spectrum of identities to best fit the innate complexities of the human being.
The recent gender reformations within our own school are an optimistic glance into the future. While we are all evidently far from total acceptance and celebration of transgender people living comfortably, to open opportunities for all forms of gender expression is a step in the right direction. Bathrooms are merely the beginning. Tolerance is not sufficient. Until all Trans* youth and adults are welcomed into all spaces, under all circumstances, with absolute acceptance, there will always be progress to be made. Baby steps are, in their own right, steps, but their distance is not nearly far enough.
To celebrate progress is not the same as celebrating a victory. I commend the strides made in our own spaces, but when Lila is forced out of her own school by ignorance, and countless transgender youth and adults are made to face similar injustices, slow progress simply is not enough. Education, acceptance over tolerance, and a love for humanity are the only means by which transgender individuals can live authentically without the threat of persecution. Baby steps, baby steps.