Imagine having to sigh.
Imagine wearing an orange crop top, a black skirt, a cute headband, and still wondering if the outie between your thighs and a pesky law will force you to use the men’s restroom…
I remind myself that I will be in the men’s restroom wearing an orange crop top, a black skirt and a fucking headband. This outfit was cute a few minutes ago and now somehow it might cost me my life.
I remember the day House Bill 2 passed. Our worst fears, ratified overnight. Thanks to cis white capitalists, we can expect to experience more legalized violence. And Mofos get hella bold when protected by the law.
Although House Bill 2 (HB2), or “The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” is known as “The Bathroom Bill,” it is about so much more than bathrooms. In February 2016, thanks to the efforts of local queer and trans community organizers, the city council of Charlotte, North Carolina passed a nondiscrimination ordinance extending legal protections to LGBTQ people. By law, Charlotte businesses could no longer deny someone service or a job because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The ordinance also granted transgender people the right to use public bathrooms marked for the gender of their choice. While the new law itself did not include any protections against many of the systemic barriers trans women of color face – like discriminatory access to housing and medical care – conservative rich white state officials clapped back.
Almost overnight, North Carolina then-governor Pat McCrory and his cronies in his legislature began drafting a state bill to shut down the nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte, and prevent future anti-discrimination bills from arising on the local level across the state. HB2 had five points:
(1) Transgender people must use the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth, regardless of their gender identity.
(2) City governments cannot pass laws protecting LGBTQ people from job discrimination or from being denied service because they are queer or trans.
(3) City governments cannot pass laws protecting working people under 18.
(4) All pre-existing laws passed by city governments protecting LGBTQ people, as well as local laws about worker wages and benefits no longer exist.
(5) People can no longer sue for any type of discrimination on the state level.
Through these five points, HB2 attacked LGBTQ people and annihilated all workers’ and marginalized people’s rights. With one law, North Carolina’s state government granted businesses and employees the right to discriminate against people. Most people in our cities had no idea. To most, it was simply “The Bathroom Bill” because Governor McCrory, as well as local, state, and national news sources built traction for HB2 by marketing it on their hatred of (and fascination with) trans people, in particular trans women of color.
To rally support around HB2, McCrory constructed the image of hypothetical dark men-in-disguise throwing on wigs and dresses and sneaking into the women’s bathroom to rape, kidnap, or perhaps even kill North Carolina’s cisgender women and children. This racist and transmisogynistic trope appealed to conservatives and liberal white feminists alike. Just one month after Charlotte’s passed its nondiscrimination ordinance, the state legislature blocked the local ordinance and pushed civil rights in North Carolina by decades back in the process. All in the name of “protecting” women and children; trans women became the scapegoats, the perverts, the criminals, the monsters.
Oh, Trans Women of Color being exploited, criminalized, and endangered…Must be a day that ends in Y. Never mind that Pat McCrory and his supporters never cared about women or victims of sexual assault. Never mind that North Carolina is the only state in the US where women cannot legally withdraw consent once intercourse has begun. Never mind that many trans people are also survivors of sexual abuse, especially trans women of color. Never mind that trans women. aren’t. men.
Let’s Say it Again for the Folks in the Back:
TRANS WOMEN AREN’T MEN!
And that’s the Tea! Cis Men will fuck Trans Women at 2am, but will mock and kill us at 2pm. Cis Women will compliment Trans Women as if we’ve brought some Karmic Balance to their lives, but will paint us as predatory men in dresses.
We aren’t taken seriously, and therefore the violence we experience in our day to day lives and in various spaces isn’t either. Cis folks consider it a justified consequence of our “Life Choices.”
The bathroom became marketed as the place where trans women of color threaten the lives of cisgender people. In such a small and intimate and ordinary space, trans women and all trans and nonbinary people are subject to the scrutiny of anyone who happens to share the room with them at the time. The government cannot be in every bathroom at all times, which is why HB2 deputized anybody and everybody to act as vigilantes, watching out for and criminalizing trans people upon entering the bathroom, as well as removing us or at least clock us if they so choose.
So I’m walking in this hotel around 1am in the morning, right? Not a Lick, just a booty call. A Femme wants to live a little. I really have to pee and I cuss myself out for not using the bathroom before I left the house. I’ve peeped that there isn’t a gender neutral or single occupancy bathroom near me.
I also peeped that the hotel isn’t exactly hoppin. So I figured, maybe I could pop into the women’s restroom without having to deal with anyone. Minutes after I dash into a stall and take a seat, I hear someone enter.
So much for that. Well maybe I’ll just sit here, watch some stories on Snapchat, and just wait for them to leave. Only problem is my service is shit and the hotel wifi is even shittier… So I just wait.
After what felt like 30 minutes, I get impatient, say “fuck it!” and exit the stall. I start watching my hands in sink neighboring the person who I read as a Cis Women. Our backs are facing each other and she makes a point to turn around and ask “Were you in the same stall as me?”
DaFuq! Making no kind of sense, I ignore her and quickly grabbed some paper towels. It was time to go. She then reiterates the question, to which I reply.
“Obviously I used a different stall”
She switches up the question “Were you in the bathroom while I was in the stall” I hold my breath and pause. Then she asks me “Were you Fucking in that stall”?
As a Trans Woman of Color, I shouldn’t be surprised by the questions people have the nerve to assault me with; yet every time, I’m like Bitch Really? Maybe I should have just paid the insults and left-like I’ve done many times before, but she caught the wrong one on wrong day honey.
I proceeded to read her for filth, while she’s yelling, verbatim: “You are disgusting. You are a pervert and you’re going to go to jail for being in here.”
I quickly leave, traumatized and fucking heated. Once again, this ain’t nothing new. I get stares and glares as I enter a restroom; snickering; folks exiting quickly; or my personal favorite, folks exiting the restroom to check the gender marker on the door only to re-enter.
But just as HB2’s reached far beyond an attack on LGBTQ people by rolling back all marginalized people’s rights, the struggles that “The Bathroom Bill” manifested for trans people and especially trans women of color follows us well beyond the bathroom. The bathroom is almost always just one room in an entire building that we are not allowed to be in. McCrory’s rhetoric gave the authority to business owners, employers, and everyday people to discriminate against trans people. If we cannot use your bathrooms, if we cannot use your services, if we cannot work in your system that requires people to work to survive, where can we be? Can we be anywhere?
By turning trans women into monstrous, overly-sexual, deceitful criminals, North Carolina’s state officials placed a scarlet letter on our backs, effectively allowing us to be denied access to or removed from just about any public or private space.
Seriously, everyone adored me at my job until I wore a skirt to work…. a week later I was fired.
A Hotel Manager Charged another Black Trans Women who we were sharing a hotel with 150$ in maintenance fees… for makeup on a few towels. Mind you, we can assume that there are quite a few people who aren’t Trans Women, who would get makeup on hotel towels. Were they charged 150$ in maintenance fees, but it gets better. She demanded to talk to the manager and after initially refusing to speak with her; when
he finally did, he called the police on us.
A homeless Black Trans Woman who we were trying to help acquire housing was denied by multiple landlords. Mind you, they had been steadily employed, made enough money, had adequate credit, and a cosigner to boot. That shit didn’t matter; it never does. She was told by one landlord in particular that they were concerned that she would bring too many people in and out of the apt.
It seems that everyone can decide where our bodies can be, except us. Our bodies are not ours. Because of HB2, any space our bodies go to, it is not only possible but encouraged that they be removed. And where do bodies go when they are not allowed to be anywhere? What does our society do to the people it labels as criminal monsters? Both of us writing this article have been to jail twice each since HB2 passed. The time we were arrested together, we were arrested alongside four other trans people, all at once. This is not new or distinct to North Carolina. Black trans people in particular are always in danger of being incarcerated in every state and in every country.
Ashley Diamond was arrested for trying to survive on street economics, incarcerated for 3 years and is currently on parole.
Cece Mcdonald was assaulted outside of a bar and, after defending herself from her attacker, she was charged and incarcerated for up to 41 months.
Merci Chrisette was assaulted on a subway and is now facing charges for defending herself against her attacker.
Gigi Thomas was assaulted in her home and, after defending herself from her attacker, she was charged and incarcerated for up to 20 years.
Ky Peterson was sexually assaulted, fought off their attacker, and is currently incarcerated for up to 20 years in prison.
Nine months after HB2’s passage, Ralayzia Sayuri Taylor was stabbed with an axe in Charlotte, North Carolina and is now facing 26 years in prison for surviving a hate crime.
According to the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project based in San Francisco, CA; one in two Black trans women will spend time in jail or prison during their lifetime.
Yet even when trans people are removed from the public and placed into cages, our identities and experiences still do not belong. Just as McCrory and his followers want to force trans people into a certain gendered bathroom, the mostly trans people of color who are incarcerated are forced into gendered cages, and ones that usually match their birth certificate, not their identities. Thus, according to the police and political officials, trans people do not exist even in the spaces we are forced into. The implications of this are dangerous, as people who do not live up to gender expectations in prison are often singled out and violently harassed by police and correctional officers.
When we are policed and surveyed as criminals everywhere we go, everywhere is a cage. Gender is a cage. Under these conditions, as trans women organizers in North Carolina, the bathroom holds just one space in an entire society of cages that we have to tear down if we want to see liberation for all queer and trans people. And we are not alone. From Marsha P Johnson to Sylvia Rivera to Jennicet Gutierrez to CeCe McDonald, girls like us have always been fighting to uplift each other and abolish this Cistem that polices and imprisons us and so many others every single day.
So what does a bathroom, a building, a city, a world that is safe for trans people look like? We know that it cannot exist as long as there are prisons for us to be forced into when we are removed from your bathrooms and your businesses. It cannot exist until society acknowledges how Black trans women in particular are removed from all spaces.
We are tired of you putting us in cages.
We tired of You killing Us.
Myka T. Johnson & Jamie Marsicano, “Resisting HB2 Bill: The North Carolina Legislation Against Trans People Is About So Much More Than Public Bathrooms”, in The Funambulist 13 Queers, Feminists & Interiors (Sept-Oct. 2017)