ALICIA WALLACE: Gender expression should not be a restriction but an opportunity

Upcoming 16 Days of Activism against gender based violence events:

1 Femicide: What’s in a Word with Megan Walker - On Wednesday, December 6 at 6pm, Equality Bahamas will be in conversation with Megan Walker, the Vice-Chair of the London Police Service Board, about her advocacy for femicide to be defined in the Canadian Criminal Code. Walker has worked with Myrna Dawson, the lead at the Canadian Femicide Observatory who spoke with us last year about the research and analysis of femicide cases. In this conversation, we will discuss the importance of naming the gender-based and sex-based killing of women and girls as femicide, counting them as femicide, and responding to them as a specific form of violence. Register for this event at tiny.cc/16days23d.

2 Yoga Nidra with Monique Miller - On Thursday, December 7 at 6pm, Monique Miller will guide us through a meditation which is a conscious sleep. This is one of the community care components that is built into Equality Bahamas campaigns. Register for this event at tiny.cc/16days23e.

3 Palestine: From 1948 to Now with Falastine Dwikat - On Sunday, December 10 at 10am, Equality Bahamas will be in conversation with Falastine Dwikat about the colonization and genocide taking place in Palestine. She will bring the historical context and personal experience, and she will give recommendations for building solidarity. Register for this event at tiny.cc/16days23g


Alicia Wallace

LAST week, there were reports of a man attempting to use a women’s restroom at a sports facility. This was later found to be false, and the original report was the result of hysteria. The person who was accused of trying to enter a women’s restroom said that they were merely accompanying someone to the general area of restrooms. It was reported that the person was wearing a crop top. This was an important detail because it gives insight into what the person who made the false report was thinking.

Gender is a social construct. We have created and bought into specific ideas about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man. There are ideas that we regard as stringent rules and put considerable effort into following, and become offended when others do not. Gender, being constructed by society, which is constantly changing, evolves over time. In moments of time, however, it is treated as though it is static.

There was a time when men generally did not wear earrings. They did not have long hair outside of specific fashion eras. They did not drive certain kinds or sizes of cars. They did not work certain jobs. They did not have tattoos on certain body parts. Men continue to be constrained by narrow views of masculinity. There are, however, men who do not conform to the unreasonable rules set out for them. There are men who wear crop tops, just as there are men who who are nurses, men who cook for their families, men who get manicures, men who dance, men who express emotions beyond anger.

Gender expression should not be a restriction, but an opportunity to have fun with sharing who we are with the world. We know that gender is socially constructed because it is different in other parts of the world. Most people are familiar with the Scottish kilt, but completely opposed to men wearing skirts or dresses. Many people may not be aware of the range of men’s attire, especially traditional dress, in the Pacific, for example.

It is important for us to get beyond narrow thinking as a people. It is important for us to, even if we choose to be constrained and make our lives smaller, respect the rights of other people to live beyond the limitations of the ideas of a group of people.

It is critical that we do not make false accusations against people whose mere existence makes us question what we think we know. It is okay to be uncomfortable with a new experience that causes no harm to us. It is fine to observe a person doing something outside of the norm, to recognise personal discomfort, and to seek help with unpacking it. It is a personal issue. It is not a community threat.

Far too much of the conversation about gender and gender expression devolves into a debate about restrooms. Here is are a few simple facts:

1 Most people need to use the restroom. This is the way our bodies our made.

2 Restrooms do not need to be the way they are now. There are other ways to design and maintain them.

3 Restrooms, at present, are often separated by gender.

4 The gender of another person is not always visible to others.

5 There are more than two genders.

6 Transgender people exist.

All of these facts remain, and they can be connected with one another. Look at the first point and the last point. Most of us need to use the restroom at some point, and transgender people exist. This means transgender people also need to use the restroom. Add to this the second point. Restrooms do not need to be there way they are now. There can be gender-neutral restrooms. They exist in many parts of the world. Most of us have them at home. They are often single-stall and they work in the same way the other restrooms do.

It is telling that, when the conversation about restrooms comes up, the focus is on excluding transgender people rather than ensuring that everyone has access to public restrooms. There are real issues that need to be addressed when it comes to public restrooms. Let’s talk about the need for family restrooms. There should be a separate facility for parents to take their children into the restroom and assist them. What is a father to do when he needs to take his daughter to the restroom? What is a mother to do when she needs to take her son? Does one have any easier time than the other? Why? Who is really affected by this?

People with disabilities need to have access to restrooms. To be truly accessible, these restrooms need to be designed differently. It is not just about a bigger stall. It is about the height of the sink. It is about the entrance to the facility. It is about the direction the door swings. There is much to consider and to reconstruct.

Everyone should be able to use the restroom. Everyone should be able to do so in peace. Everyone should be able to express their gender in ways that are comfortable for them. Everyone needs to be able to sit with their personal discomfort with existence of people who, without causing harm to anyone or posing any threats, are living beyond the nonsensical rules to which many subscribe. This is not difficult. This is necessary. Gender is changing. It always has. Transgender and gender-fluid people may be the most visible signs of that, and this makes them particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. This is one of many signs of the work that we need to do, and the failure of the government to fulfill its obligation to educate the public on human rights and eradicate gender stereotypes. The work that looms ahead is both substantial and possible.


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