Growing up in North Vancouver in the 1990s, I heard people comment that girls wear makeup but boys don’t; women wear dresses but men don’t. Men wear pants – but wait! – women can wear pants too, right? It’s confusing! You might say of course women are allowed to wear pants nowadays. But what do you say about men who wear makeup? The rules of gender are changing and society’s attitudes must change too.
As a transgender person, the question I am often asked is: “How do you tell who belongs in a change room?”
My response is: Privacy is paramount in a change room. But, for some reason, transgender people’s bodies are a topic of discussion in change rooms, washrooms, and recreational facilities. Why are we looking at other people in a change room in the first place?
We all need and deserve privacy. Asking “who belongs” in a public space implies that there is only one “correct” set of standards for femininity or masculinity and that should be everyone’s standard. Aren’t all bodies different, whether you’re transgender (people with gender identity or expression that differs from the sex they are assigned at birth), non-binary (spectrum of gender identities not exclusively masculine or feminine), or gender normative (adhering to or reinforcing ideal standards of masculinity or femininity)?
The journey here
The Millennials (born in 1980s – late 1990s) used to be the generation most widely accepting of 2SLGBTQ+ people. These days, those born after me, Gen Z (born late 1990s – 2010s) are the most widely accepting. They are also the gayest, queerest, most gender-non-conforming generation in history.
I mentioned pants earlier because neither Millennials nor Gen Z are responsible for the start of the women’s liberation movement that made it acceptable for women to wear pants. If you remember what that fight was like, you’re likely a generation or more before the Millennials – and society owes you a big thanks! Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) and Gen Xers (1965 – 1980) have paved the way here. These days, however, they are also often the ones to ask me how to “find out someone's gender”.
We can do better
The other week, I heard one woman call another woman brave for getting a short haircut. It surprised me because I thought we were past making judgements like this. Someone’s gender isn’t decided by their haircut or their clothing. If you’re talking to a stranger and wish to know their gender, I’d recommend asking their name and their pronouns – instead of jumping to their gender identity.
From my perspective, washrooms are not great places for conversation. When I use the washroom, I’m literally just trying to use the washroom and leave. If you’re not sure what someone’s gender is, maybe it’s not that important to know. If you feel uncomfortable with the possibility of trans people in the washroom, there are individual rooms or family stalls available in many public facilities.
My wish is for people not to project transphobia (fear, aversion, or hatred towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations) onto others.
NVRC welcomes all members of our community
One of North Vancouver Recreation and Culture’s core values is inclusivity and equal access to its facilities and programs by all members of the community. This means everyone is entitled to feel safe, welcome and included, regardless of age, background, physical ability, or sexual identity.
If you’re going to one of NVRC’s facilities, heading into the pool or going to work out at the gym, please keep in mind that it is not your job to supervise the facilities. There is already fantastic staff taking care of the space. They are committed to making spaces safer for trans, Two-Spirit, and non-binary people – for everyone – in the community.
In my view, the question of “who belongs” must be laid to rest. Not only has this question been used to exclude trans people from accessing community facilities, it’s been used against women in the workplace, as well as people of colour, im/migrants, or racialized people. I hope it’s obvious by now that exercise is good for the body, but judgement is not! It’s time to enlarge the circle and invite every body in.
Andy Warner is a genderqueer writer/performer who loves to let you know how weird you are. She’s a former national poetry champion who has performed everywhere from the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver to Harlem Stage in New York. Check out Andy’s upcoming residency with North Vancouver Recreation and Culture!
Follow @AndrewWarnerPoetry on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, or at @AndrewWarnerPoe on Twitter.