On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that under federal law, it’s illegal to deny me access to the restroom affiliated with my gender identity. The district court still needs to apply the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, but I am hopeful that the case will soon end favorably. I have no way of knowing the true scope of the impact the decision will ultimately have, but I hope it is far-reaching. No person, much less any child, should ever have to go through the demeaning, humiliating experience that I did.
In the summer of 2014, I came out to my family as a transgender boy and transitioned. That fall, I enrolled in my sophomore year of high school as a male student named Gavin.
At first, everything went well. I was almost entirely unnoticed as a transgender student, and the teachers by and large did not tolerate any sort of harassment toward me.
Initially I asked the school’s permission to use the nurse’s restroom, as I was fearful of how my peers would receive me. After a very short time, I realized that I didn’t have anything to be afraid of, so I asked permission to use the boy’s room. After a short deliberation among school staff, they gave me permission.
This went fine, with no incidents, for several weeks. I didn’t receive a single nasty comment. I didn’t have a single back-and-forth with anyone. I was not threatened or attacked. I went in, used the restroom, and left—much like every one of my peers.
But then, apparently a parent complained, and a school board meeting was arranged without the knowledge of me or my family—despite the fact that they were publicly discussing my genitals.
My mother found out the night before, just by chance, and spent that entire night working to put together an educational packet for the school board that would show them the right and lawful decision to make. No one but my family and I spoke out in my defense that night, and no decision was reached. A decision was postponed to the December meeting, so after an agonizing month, we were back at it again, only this time it was much worse.
The room was packed, and the energy was unpleasant. Like before, my opposition far outweighed my support. Person after person stood at the podium, gave some logically flawed argument against me, primarily based around their religion.
I was 15 at the time. I was called a freak by a man who was in his 50s. And I was invalidated over and over and over. I was called a girl, confused, anything but the boy that I am. Some of these people, after finishing their hateful remarks, said that they were only worried about me and my safety. “I was a young man once,” they said. “And I know how I would have acted if a girl was in the washroom with me.”
The school board decided that I was to use either the girl’s room, or one of three yet-to-be available unisex bathrooms constructed from broom closets and all clumped together. In effect, the decision was that I was not allowed to use the same restrooms as my peers.
The people who spoke against me did not see me as a person. That is precisely why this conversation is an important one to have.
I have peers of a similar mindset. I know people who are about as conservative as you can get. I used to think this attitude was synonymous with everything I disliked.
But I’ve grown in my opinions, too. Some of these peers have surprised me more than most anyone else. They met me as a person. And when they saw that I wasn’t some pervert, or some freak, they realized that they didn’t actually have a problem with me. A few even defended me and expressed that they had no concern where I used the restroom.
Once they met a trans person as a person, rather than as the local curiosity, they realized that I wasn’t a threat to them or their way of life. I was just another guy going in to the bathroom. Just by being exposed to the conversation, and being exposed to a trans person, their minds opened up, if only just a little. And that is extremely, extremely important.