It’s every transgender woman’s nightmare. You walk into a public restroom, something you’ve done many times before. Perhaps you’re always a bit nervous, or maybe you’ve done it so often you no longer think twice.
This time is different. Someone confronts you. Maybe another woman there. Or maybe someone claiming to be official, to have the authority to prevent you from doing what you came to do. There’s a confrontation, involving physical force, and nature’s call becomes an altercation.
That very scenario played out in Fishbone’s Rhythm Kitchen Cafe, a restaurant in Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Free Press reports that Cortney Bogorad filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the Wayne County Circuit Court claiming Fishbone’s infringed on her rights and intentionally caused her distress. According to the article, Ms. Bogorad alleges the following events took place around 11PM on January 23 of this year:
While in the women’s room she heard shouting for the man who was inside to exit immediately. A man entered the restroom, and ordered her out. She believed the man to be a security guard and explained that she was a woman, offering to show identification to prove it. He did not listen or allow her to show proof. Instead, he came up to her and shouted at her to leave. Once again she explained she was female and offered to show documentation. A friend of Ms. Bogorad witnessing the scene, also told him she was a woman and that documentation could prove it.
Instead, the guard bodily assaulted her by pushing her out of the restroom. Once out, she sought out the manager and offered proof to him she was a woman and should be entitled to use the woman’s room. This apparently had no effect, because the security guard yelled at her and pushed a badge toward her until it was close to her face. She pushed the badge away, possibly to protect her face, and that’s when the man picked her up by her clothing (including undergarments), carried her from the restaurant, and deposited her in the street. During that time, her body was exposed for restaurant customers to see. Her wrists and shoulders were injured to the point of requiring medical attention.
According to the Free Press article, the restaurant declined to comment.
In a legal analysis of the case, ThinkProgress.org points out that had the incident occurred outside Detroit city limits, it is not clear that she could prevail in a discrimination case. But the City of Detroit does have an anti-discrimination law protecting gender identity.
Even without such protection, though, it is not clear the security guard had the right to physically touch Ms. Bogorad, so the personal injury claim might go forward anyway.
Regardless of legality, Bogorad’s experience seems unnecessary. Yes, maybe the security guard and the manager were both transphobic and had it in for anyone who dared live differently than sex at birth dictates. But most people (and I’m giving those two individuals the benefit of a doubt I’m nowhere near sure they deserve) understand that people need to relieve themselves. And most people could understand that transgender women, as women, need to use female facilities. They have no choice. I even claim that people with an ounce of fair play could understand that bathroom privilege cannot be dependent on how well a transgender woman passes. It doesn’t take a Supreme Court justice to figure out why a passability test can’t be coded into law.
Unless the manager and the guard are ruthless sociopaths who love to see trans people suffer (and I have no reason to believe they are), it’s likely that they just never thought about it. It didn’t occur to them that someone who may not pass perfectly, but is living as a woman, has no other place to answer nature’s call. That it makes no sense that a woman whose gender history is recognizable should be required to use a different restroom from a woman whose gender history is not. They may not even realize that there are transgender women who pass so well that using the men’s restroom would be both laughable and dangerous.
Why do I find that so easy to believe?
Because the Trans community has not made any attempt to educate people about our bathroom concerns. Yes, in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to. In such a world, Detroit maitre d’s and security guards would easily do the human rights math and everyone would study the plights of marginalized people and how to support them.
This world isn’t ideal. Transgender bathroom use isn’t on the radar of most cisgender people and won’t be, unless we change that. It is up to us to make sure that people understand why it simply can’t be any other way.
If we don’t, more incidents like the one in Detroit will occur, and more people will get hurt.