Transgender Rights: Conversation about gender identity unfolds

***Names have been changed.

With twenty minutes left until the bell rings, Liam* raises his hand and politely asks his teacher if he may use the restroom. He exits his classroom and positions himself in front of the female and male restrooms, where he is confronted with a decision that most students do not have to face every day. For transgender and non-binary students like Liam, deciding which bathroom to use is a decision that is not so easy to make.

“There was a time in the beginning of my transition when using the girls’ restroom would feel really dysphoric, but I also felt it wasn’t socially acceptable to use the boys’ one either,” Liam said. “It can definitely be ambiguous for non-binary or transgender people when it comes to choosing restrooms.”

Someone who is non-binary does not identify themselves clearly with the gender they were assigned at birth. A non-binary person might either identify themselves with the gender  opposite of the gender they were assigned at birth, which is often referred to as transgender, or a non-binary person might identify with a combination of the two genders. Given the challenges connected with gender identity, bathroom assignments for non-binary people can be tricky.

However, Sue Lavasseur, supervisor of Health Services for Westport Public Schools, says the school leaves the decision up to the student.

“The issue of where to go to the bathroom is certainly something that we are all trying to work around. However, students that are transgender all have access to the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity,” she said. “…If they feel they want a private bathroom, we give that student access to a private bathroom. Some students prefer to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office; it really just depends on the student.”

Still, Staples has yet to provide gender-neutral bathrooms, a trend in recent years on college campuses. Lavasseur says it is something the school is “considering.”

Andy*, another transgender student at Staples, supports the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms.

“…They’re a space where every person, regardless of gender, can feel comfortable,” he said. “When I’m in public, I’ll try my best to find a gender neutral bathroomit helps relieve a lot of my worries and ensures I don’t feel out of place.”

Liam says the school is doing its best to accommodate non-binary students, but that the current system still has its flaws.

“Staples already offers unisex bathroom and locker options to transgender students, which is pretty great,” he said. “However, single-person unisex facilities can still have disadvantages. It could be difficult for questioning or closeted trans students to access them, for instance.”

On the other hand, Megan Brown ’17 notes that multi-person gender-neutral bathrooms would introduce an entirely different set of complications. “Yes, gender-neutral bathrooms would assure that transgenders are much more comfortable. But it would also mean that girls and boys would be using the same bathroom, which is something not everyone would be comfortable with,” Brown said, noting that the idea of using the bathroom with boys her age would be “so unusual” and ultimately “awkward for everyone.”

Nicole Kiker ’17 supports the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms, as long as they are in addition to the already existing, separate female and male bathrooms. “Ideally, gender-neutral bathrooms would be able to mitigate gender stigmas, but in a high school environment, that’s just not realistic.”  

In terms of Staples’ policy on transgender bathroom use, Lavasseur notes that “we’re still evolving,” but also accredited respect as the “underlying message.”

“It is a new topic but it’s really not that different. It fits right into that anti-discrimination policy,” she said. “However, we do feel like, for students, there needs to be an individual plan as well. Not all transgender students are going to want to do the same thing.”

Andy feels as though this “individual plan” has been working for him, but acknowledged that it might not be the same for all students. “[The administration has] done enough so that I feel comfortable, but every trans student won’t feel the same as me,” he said. “Comfort is a highly individual thing.”

Dr. Valerie Bachich, Coordinator of Psychological Services for Westport Public Schools, thinks all students should be respected, and that that responsibility falls on the student body.

“I think in terms of how students can help, it’s very important for everyone to accept these students for who they are,” she said. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that Staples is a gender-inclusive environment and that we are doing everything we can to make sure that all students feel safe, comfortable and welcomed.”