“I’m Not a Boy, Nor a Girl – Where Do I Pee?” Asks a Transgender
November 14-20 is Transgender Awareness Week, an opportune time to share the stories of transgender, non-binary, and other Gender-expansive individuals. The Quint is reposting this article from its archives which was originally published on May 14, 2016.
“Do you really think those who have faced and lived through violence and abuse all their lives would honestly have it in them to hurt you? Give transgender people their right to use restrooms, they’d be the last to bother you in a washroom. And I wonder – would Swachch Bharat cess be used to make toilets accessible by trans people? Are we not people or citizens of Bharat Mata?”
This is what a friend Leyla, a transgender, shared on her Facebook profile a few days back.
Frustrated by the discriminatory attitudes of people every time she has wanted to use a public toilet, Leyla let it all out on social media. When I asked her what had led to this, she told me stories. Of how at bars, pubs and other public places, they don’t allow her to use the women’s washroom as her face resembles that of a man.
So what does Leyla do then if she wishes to use the loo when outside?
“I suck it up and use the men’s washroom,” she tells me.
“I prefer going to coffee shops which have unisex toilets – if I can find any.”
The Fight for Washrooms for the Third Gender
Transgenders in India have always been subjected to shame and stigma. We either find them at traffic lights begging for money – or at marriages and celebratory events (even in trains), once again, begging for money. But when it comes to answering nature’s call, circumstances are particularly gloomy.
Evidence suggests that TGs across the world face harassment while accessing toilets:
In a survey conducted in Washington DC by The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 76 per cent of survey respondents (all TGs) experienced denied access, verbal harassment, and/or physical assault when trying to access or while using gendered public restrooms. Furthermore, 54 per cent of respondents reported having some sort of physical problem from trying to avoid using public bathrooms – all of whom reported that they “held it in” to avoid public restrooms.
In India, while the fight for legal recognition has achieved some success – it is time now to focus on ensuring separate washrooms for the third gender.
Sure, using a public toilet is probably the least challenging thing on our minds when we’re out – but for a transgender, it can be a traumatic experience, like Leyla’s.
In 2015, a private member bill “Rights of transgender persons Bill 2014”, was passed in the Rajya Sabha. The bill is pending approval in the Lok Sabha.
However, the bill fails to address the problem of separate toilets for TGs. It only mentions sanitation twice in the bill draft, where it mentions the promulgation of necessary schemes and programmes for:
- 1. Safe and hygienic community centres with decent living conditions in terms of nutritious food, sanitation, health care and counselling;
- 2. Access to safe drinking water and appropriate and accessible sanitation facilities especially in urban slums and rural areas.
“Would a Woman Feel Safe in a Men’s Washroom?”
A judgement by the Supreme Court (the same which legalised their identity) in 2014, however, had taken cognisance of this harassment faced by TGs and directed the centre and state governments to take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in hospitals – and also provide them with separate public toilets and other facilities.
However, the social conditioning doesn’t change.
Hardly any progress has been achieved on this front. Last year, the first TG-only toilet in India was inaugurated in Mysore, at the city bus stand, which is praiseworthy, but clearly, this needs to happen all over the country.
As I finished my conversation with her, she asked me: “Would a woman feel safe in a men’s washroom? Would she be comfortable?”