When the careless actions of one affect all

There has been much talk this week about a 45 year-old college student who identifies as a woman, but retains his male genitalia, using the women’s locker room at Evergreen College, Olympia, Washington. The college has permitted this student to use the women’s locker room on the basis of gender identity. To refuse her, would be to discriminate.

All good so far. However, the student decided to use the sauna naked, upsetting a 17 year-old girl who witnessed her. A religious liberties group then sought legal assistance and put the college on “notice of possible future harm” if they did not change their policy. This was clearly an over-reaction by the religious group, based on the usual bigoted assumption that those who are homosexual or transsexual are sexual predators just waiting for the opportunity to do unspeakable things in a women’s locker room. So, an over-reaction, definitely, but surprising, surely not?

The college are blameless in this obviously, and to find themselves in legal hot water, after they were scrupulous in doing the right thing, deeply unfair. I find myself laying the blame for the uproar at the feet of the college student who exposed herself.

As anyone who has read my posts before will know, I am pro-equality, but to achieve equality for a minority means bringing the majority with you. Whether we chose it or not, out transgender/transsexual people represent the case for equality every day by our actions in the world. It’s tough to constantly be “on parade”, but it is one of the burdens that one accepts when one comes out as trans, and, as individuals in a minority fighting for equal rights, we have a responsibility to know how far “to push the envelope”.

The college student in question was clearly quite open about being trans, and was therefore, whether she accepts it or not, an advocate for trans people in society. Don’t ask me why, but it is still unacceptable to show full-frontal male nudity on screen, whereas women can get their kit off, and frequently do. The phallus is still one of western society’s great taboos. This student should therefore have known that her actions were going one step too far, and that displaying a male member in a women’s locker room would be cause for the women in the room to run screaming for the exit.

I know that, if the college permit women to use the sauna in the buff, it is discriminatory to suggest that the student in question should cover up when nobody else does. But, in expecting society to consider the feelings of the trans community, the trans community must also be considerate of the feelings of society. Being trans is unusual. It is not something that the majority of people will have had direct experience of. We have to be aware of that, and be sensitive to the fact that people need to get used to seeing transsexual bodies. Being selective about the environment and circumstances in which the trans body is seen naked is part of being a good ambassador for the cause of equality.

This student chose the wrong time and place to fight this particular battle. It was one that she was never going to win. The result: her actions have being shocking enough to make national headlines, with much negative comment, and will have damaged the acceptance of her by many in her local community.

One day society might be comfortable with nudity, in all its forms, but whilst so many behavioural rules surround when and where it is acceptable, the trans body needs to exercise discretion before it reveals all. At this stage in the argument for equal rights, a little discretion will go a long, long way.

Copyright © 2012 Liberation Publishing (www.liberationpublishing.co.uk)