Trans­gen­der rights

CityPress - - Voices - Dion Chang voices@city­

In South Africa, the use of toi­lets as a tool for po­lit­i­cal lever­age is noth­ing new. Ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties – or the lack thereof – have been used over the past few years as a po­lit­i­cal metaphor for, and a bench­mark of, ser­vice de­liv­ery. The West­ern Cape, in par­tic­u­lar, has spawned mul­ti­ple toi­let wars. In 2011, the DA was brought to book for pro­vid­ing only un­en­closed toi­lets in Mak­haza in­for­mal set­tle­ment. There­after, in 2013, ex­cre­ment was thrown in­side Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port, as part of a ser­vice-de­liv­ery protest. Last year, ex­cre­ment was again thrown – at the statue of Ce­cil John Rhodes at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT), spark­ing the #RhodesMustFall move­ment.

How­ever, while South Africa’s toi­let wars are rooted in ser­vice de­liv­ery, an­other lava­tory war is rag­ing in the US – and it has al­ready fil­tered into our ex­ist­ing toi­let bat­tles.

This year is prov­ing to be a wa­ter­shed year in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Not only has Re­pub­li­can con­tender Don­ald Trump emerged as one of the big­gest dis­rup­tors of the po­lit­i­cal arena, but the ques­tion of gen­der-neu­tral toi­lets for trans­gen­der peo­ple is de­vel­op­ing into a le­gal bat­tle which, an­a­lysts say, could re­shape civil rights in Amer­ica.

In what is turn­ing out to be quite a rip­ple ef­fect of the right to use a toi­let, the brouhaha be­gan when US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion sent a let­ter to all pub­lic schools across the US, or­der­ing them to al­low trans­gen­der stu­dents to use the bath­room of their choice – ac­cord­ing to the gen­der they iden­tify with, rather than their bi­o­log­i­cal gen­der, should they iden­tify dif­fer­ently.

This fed­eral de­cree was in re­ac­tion to a raft of pro­posed “bath­room bills” in var­i­ous states, op­pos­ing the con­cept of gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms.

The war zone is cur­rently cen­tred in the state of North Carolina, where its gov­er­nor, Pat McCrory, sued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment af­ter re­ceiv­ing Obama’s let­ter.

The US jus­tice de­part­ment im­me­di­ately re­sponded with a coun­ter­suit, set­ting up an almighty le­gal bat­tle which, say some ob­servers, will af­fect Amer­i­can civil rights should this es­ca­late to the Supreme Court – be­cause dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans­gen­der peo­ple could be viewed as a form of sex dis­crim­i­na­tion.

In ad­di­tion to chal­leng­ing peo­ple’s per­cep­tions of so­cial norms, this de­bate is ex­pos­ing deep-rooted prej­u­dices as well as mis­per­cep­tions. While 57% of Amer­i­cans op­pose these dis­crim­i­na­tory bath­room bills, the con­ser­va­tive cit­i­zenry are re­act­ing just as vo­cally. Op­po­nents voice their an­tipa­thy along these lines: “Sex­ual preda­tors will now be given free rein to dress up like women so they can stalk fe­male bath­rooms.” This has given rise to the fol­low­ing coun­ter­ar­gu­ment: “If sex­ual preda­tors wanted to dress up like women sim­ply to gain ac­cess to fe­male bath­rooms, they would have done so al­ready – they do not need this leg­is­la­tion to do so.” De­spite the con­tro­versy, what emerges from this de­bate is a deeper un­der­stand­ing of trans­gen­der peo­ple – a com­mu­nity that has, un­til now, been side­lined and per­se­cuted and, most im­por­tantly, is deeply mis­un­der­stood. In the US, one in four trans­gen­der peo­ple are as­saulted and 41% at­tempt sui­cide. As a trendspot­ter, I pride my­self on grap­pling with ahead-ofthe-curve con­cepts, be they tech­no­log­i­cal or rad­i­cally shift­ing so­cial norms. But I have to ad­mit that the past six months have served up an en­light­en­ing learn­ing curve – and I have Cait­lyn Jen­ner to thank for it. Love or hate her, Cait­lyn – through her re­al­ity TV show, I Am Cait – has clar­i­fied and de­fined the stark dif­fer­ence be­tween gen­der ori­en­ta­tion and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. It is an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion and, if mis­un­der­stood, feeds into the prej­u­dice and mis­per­cep­tions that those peo­ple op­pos­ing gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms har­bour against this com­mu­nity. In a pa­tri­ar­chal coun­try such as South Africa, where ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is still not widely ac­cepted – de­spite a Con­sti­tu­tion that pro­tects the rights of gay peo­ple – the nu­ances be­tween gen­der ori­en­ta­tion ver­sus sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion could eas­ily be lost in the blur of prej­u­dice. But there is hope. In 2014, UCT in­tro­duced gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms on cam­pus. At the time, Nthabiseng Mokoena, the ad­vo­cacy co­or­di­na­tor for Trans­gen­der and In­ter­sex Africa, said: “The dif­fi­culty to ac­cept this con­cept is a symp­tom of so­ci­ety’s in­abil­ity to deal with peo­ple whom they can­not place within its con­structed het­ero­sex­ual and gen­der bi­nary norms.” Now it seems the world is be­ing forced to deal with this par­a­digm shift. This year, Wits Univer­sity is also in­tend­ing to pro­vide gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms on cam­pus. Alaine Mars­den, pres­i­dent of ac­tivist group CTRL ALT Gen­der, said: “Wits has a his­tory of trans­gen­der peo­ple be­ing at­tacked in bath­rooms. It is for this rea­son that these spa­ces are en­tirely nec­es­sary.” Some may ar­gue that we need to pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices to all be­fore we tackle seem­ingly “First World prob­lems”. But if we are fair, eq­ui­table and em­pa­thetic in all pro­cesses of pro­vid­ing ba­sic needs, we will have less to re­visit and cor­rect in hind­sight. For those op­pos­ing the need for gen­derneu­tral bath­rooms, I will leave you with co­me­dian Trevor Noah’s take on the topic: “Zero point three per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is trans­gen­der, so the chance of you bump­ing into a trans­gen­der per­son in a bath­room is al­most 0% – but the chance of a trans­gen­der per­son need­ing a bath­room is 100%.” Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit flux­

Cait­lyn Jen­ner

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