From our kitchen I could hear the diesel engine roar and the chassis squeak as the school bus rounded the bend of the otherwise quiet street leading to our corner. Monday through Friday during the school year, these familiar sounds were my cue to spring into action – to get the back door not only unlocked but also opened because Sam would be charging through that entryway within 30 predictable seconds, making a mad dash for the bathroom. An absolute run-like-your-life-depended-upon-it sprint because he hadn’t used a restroom since he left for school eight hours earlier.
And so it was for our child, as he began to transition from female to male in 7th grade. A difficult age for any kid, let alone one whose mind and biology did not match. The more masculine his appearance became, the more difficult it was for him to relieve himself at school. The girl’s restroom, while corresponding with his biology, was a torture chamber of verbal abuse, as the occupants would scream at his mere presence. Even those that understood would hang their bystander heads and divert sympathetic gazes, leaving Sam feeling alone and vulnerable as he tried to make his way to a stall. And the threat of physical abuse kept Sam from even trying to use the boy’s restroom, which is where he truly belonged.
When we finally understood the extent of the harassment he was enduring, we approached the school looking for help. The proposed solution was for Sam to use the nurse’s bathroom, a common remedy offered by many schools across the nation, that never truly meets these kid’s needs. In a building with three floors, having only one option in a less-than-central location, is a logistical nightmare – especially when students are expected to use the restroom during their 5 minute passing time between classes. But even more troubling was that using the nurse’s restroom was stigmatizing in and of itself. As soon as his fellow classmates began to notice him using the special bathroom, the under-the-breath comments, stares and giggles became more than he could bare. For Sam, 7th grade marked the year that he began to experience chronic bladder infections, just because he couldn’t relieve himself at school.
To go or not to go…that is the daily question for my transgender child and thousands of kids like him all over the country. The simple act of relieving themselves in the public restroom of their school – a basic bodily function and need is the source of stress, confusion, violence, endless meetings and arguments by adults and even lawsuits, just because these students identify with the gender that is opposite of their biology.
With so many important issues to focus our time and energy on as a society, worrying about who is using which bathroom seems like a colossal waste of precious resources. Especially when that worry is based on ignorance. So the next time you hear about a controversy surrounding a transgender child using a school restroom, and believe me you will, please try to imagine how uncomfortable it would be if you were not able to use the restroom of the gender to which you identified. Really think about it. Now, suppose you had to worry about your physical well being in a public area that everyone else considers safe. Envision conditioning yourself to not drink liquids all day to the point of dehydration so as to reduce the need to ‘go.’ And if none of that manages to open your heart and mind then I would ask you to please consider this: how would you feel if this was happening to your child?
It’s really heartbreaking that a basic bodily function becomes such a battle for kids like Sam. At the university where I teach, some effort has been made to place non-gendered bathrooms all around campus to lessen the burden for people who have difficulty using gendered bathrooms, for whatever reason. I’m proud of them for making the effort, but at the same time, it seems that in the absence of greater kindness and understanding, creating a new bathroom category won’t solve the problem in schools.
That sucks and can be dangerous for your kid’s kidneys. I hope things get better.
I was really lucky with this when I was in high school. For the rather similar locker room issue I had been given a key to some event only bathrooms, in a not particularly central location but they were only really for emergencies anyway. When I stayed after school for clubs it was comfortably empty and I could use whichever I felt like.
What you describe sounds endlessly terrifying. Your son is truly brave. I survived high school and went stealth and after a few years I still wouldn’t have it any other way.
Theres no easy answer to the issue, well, the easy one is stealth. So the ignorant masses don’t get an opinion. And the chronic infections sound like a very legitimate and not embarrassing reason for the nurses room. It just doesn’t seem like the sort of battle that should be fought by middle and high school students. I wish I had more to say than ‘it gets better’ but it does and I don’t. Good luck
Thank you for posting. We’re at the beginning of our journey. This is the first blog I’ve read on transgendered children and ironically I have meeting THIS Thursday with the school therapist about how to address the bathroom situation.
Did you find a solution, other than than the nurses bathroom? My son is dealing with this issue right now. Jay is 5 and just entered school. Jay just became our son as he entered scho; school is completely new territory for us…in so many ways. Unfortunately, there isn’t even a nurses bathroom; only girls and boys. Jay has been having accidents because be can’t hold it. We are at a loss as to what to do. We have a meeting with the school next week. They are asking us for ideas; but I am not sure what to offer?