Transgender students seek freedom of restroom choice

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SEVERAL TRANSGENDER students have engaged in focus group discussions (FGDs) with the Office of Student Services (OSS) regarding permission to use their preferred restrooms on campus.

Trans women had earlier been allowed to use the women’s restroom and did so regularly. However, after receiving complaints, the OSS started to approach them.

Beginning of discourse

Trans woman Polo Arevalo was initially called to the OSS, not necessarily because she was using the women’s restroom, but because she wore a skirt that did not abide with the Loyola Schools Dress Code. The OSS then asked Arevalo which restroom she was using while wearing feminine clothing.

Arevalo told the OSS that when her clothes are feminine, she uses the women’s restroom, and when they are considerably masculine, she uses the men’s.

OSS responded by telling her to always go to the men’s restroom instead.

This then opened the topic for discussion about the trans women’s use of restrooms, with Arevalo relaying the information to other transgender students to have FGDs with OSS on the matter.

In an interview with The GUIDON, trans woman and Vice Ganda of Dollhouse (equivalent to vice president) Gianne Esguerra said that the FGD became “fruitful” and that it “was sort of the starting point for future discourse [regarding the issue].”

On gender-neutral restrooms

After the FGDs, the students understood that the OSS allowed them to use their preferred restrooms, due to the agreement that “trans women should be allowed to use the female [comfort room].”

However, OSS Assistant to the Director Maria Paulino told The GUIDON that they are still in talks with the administration about permitting transgender students to use their preferred restrooms.

In turn, this caused dismay among the trans FGD participants, who thought that the matter had already been settled.

“We thought it was clear na kung ano gagawin after the FGD. But apparently, hindi pa pala siya cleared up (We thought the procedures were clear after the FGD. But apparently, it hasn’t been cleared up after all),” said Esguerra after learning Paulino’s statement.

Moreover, the suggestion of using gender-neutral bathrooms was also explained by OSS Director Michael Mallillin, who said that they are still taking several considerations before reforming the use of such facilities.

“What we have to consider most carefully is how the provision of such facilities will impact the general community in terms of operations, i.e. maintenance and security, and culture, i.e. there are sensibilities among students, faculty and staff that will not approve of such ‘gender-neutral’ restrooms,” he said. “It’s not as simple as deciding to accommodate one sector (i.e. the LGBT sector), without considering the impact of other sectors of the community.”

Mallillin emphasized that the OSS has noted the concerns regarding the issue on restroom usage and that they are “approaching it again in manner of consultation with all concerned sectors and careful planning.”

On the other hand, the FGD participants expressed disapproval towards the idea of gender-neutral restrooms. They maintained that trans women are women and therefore must be able to use the women’s restroom.

Sobrang nakaka-offend ‘yung isang statement, ‘it’s not as simple as deciding one sector without considering the impact on other sectors of the community,’ how does my right infringe on your rights?” said trans woman FGD participant AJ Salazar.

Wala naman palang kwenta ‘yung FGD na ginawa namin (The FGD discussion we had was useless, then),” said Martha de la Paz, another trans woman participant.

Need for awareness

In order to address such issues more concretely, Paulino said that the OSS is pushing for the establishment of an office for gender sensitivity, which was proposed by Assistant Vice President for Formation Rene San Andres.

Paulino said that they are “trying to work out that everybody should have a workshop or a seminar on gender sensitivity.”

For Kippie Paurom, also one of the participants, a good example of spreading awareness would be the recently concluded TALAB.

“There were a lot of talks about gender and anything regarding gender,” she said. “I think that was a good way for the Ateneo administration to take into consideration our plight, our struggle.”

Moreover, the participants also said that Ateneo Dollhouse, an organization composed of both LGBT and non-LGBT members will make its own initiative. However, right now, the best they can do is to become ambassadors.

“Being an ambassador is one of the baby steps that we could actually commit to do,” said Esguerra. “Eventually, we’ll never know, baka we’ll develop into something more structured.”

“Trans women are women”

Salazar remarked that trans women have to go through a lot when they use restrooms that do not align with their gender identity.

“For me, I don’t really care if I go to the men’s bathroom. Pero anong posible nilang gawin sakin? Anong posible maging reaksyon ng [mga] lalaki if I actually went to the men’s [comfort room] (For me, I don’t really care if I go to the men’s bathroom. But what could they possibly do to me? What could their reactions be if I actually went to the men’s comfort room?),” she said.

“I go to the women’s restroom not because it’s my right, not because feeling ko privileged ako pumunta doon. It’s for safety and security na rin (I go to the women’s restroom not because it’s my right, not because I feel like I’m privileged to go there. It’s also for safety and security),” she added.

“As someone who sees herself as a woman, I also want to be seen by others as a woman,” said de la Paz. “For me, gender-neutral restrooms hinder the acceptance of transwomen as women, regardless of biological sex because it differentiates us from cisgender women.”

Salazar agreed, saying that gender-neutral restrooms “promote segregation and the idea [that] trans women are different.”

“I want to be allowed to go to the women’s bathroom because trans women are women,” she added.

As of writing, the transgender students’ permission to use their preferred restrooms has yet to be approved by the administration.

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    I'am for the lgbt community but trans women using female bathrooms is just too much. I get that they want to feel like they fit in but they have to take in to consideration that heterosexual women may not feel comfortable with using the female bathroom. I think that what they're doing is insensitive to the female community. They're afraid of going to the male bathrooms because they worry about their safety, but about the females? They would also feel the same. The trans women should stop thinking about themselves and think about others too.