Thai school provides bathroom for trans girls

The BBC reports that a school in Thailand is providing three bathrooms for students, one for boys, one for girls and one for “boys who want to be girls” (phrasing from the BBC).
You can see a short video clip about it here. While I think it’s awesome that they are providing a space for trans girls (or boys who are questioning their gender identity), it only leaves space for one other type of gender expression. What about girls who are experimenting with their gender identities as well?
Bathrooms have historically been a point of contention for trans people, and it’s really crucial for them to have facilities they can feel safe using. But further segregating people does not in my opinion address the underlying problems with the gender binary which can be confining for people in many different places on the gender identity spectrum.
Cultural context is obviously really important here as well, and I don’t mean to criticize the obvious progress this school is making in ensuring the safety of their students. Instead the clip brings up a lot of issues around bathroom safety and gender identity that I wanted to bring up.
See feministing community blogger pow3rful’s post about this news item.
Also, a note about language. When referring to a transgender person, always use their preferred gender identity (and pronouns). So, for example, a boy who now identifies as a girl could be referred to as a trans girl. Or a girl who now identifies as a boy would be a trans boy.

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14 Comments

  1. Rachel_Setzer
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I have an idea, and maybe it’s a little extreme but…
    How about gender neutral bathrooms? I find those so much better. I mean, public bathrooms are bad enough, so there’s no real argument for “using the toilet is a private thing”… why can’t we just get over all this crap and have gender neutral bathrooms already?

  2. shadysexysadie
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    I learned a little bit about Thailand’s tolerance of trans men/boys when I watched this HBO documentary called Middle Sexes. I believe they are refered to as “girly boys” if I correctly recall. They has several interviews with people who were everywhere from not transitioning to keeping their male genitals and having breast implants to full transition operation. It was a really interesting film… covered both sex and gender in US culture and a bit abroad.

  3. Posted July 30, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Rachel, I completely agree. But I also know that some women feel unsafe sharing a bathroom with men. So I think make it separate, gender neutral WCs. Like, you could have 5 tiny bathrooms, instead of two big ones.

  4. Terabithia
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I saw a National Geographic show called Taboo that had one segment on “girly boys” in Thailand. Everyone seemed ok with it.

  5. shadysexysadie
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    When I attended the Creating Change Conference in KC they converted the suit/dress divided potty places into two big gender neutral bathrooms. I liked the idea when I was around those folk; it was pretty sweet (as far as bathrooms go). I think in general though I would feel safer with many small enclosed bathrooms rather than the stall action.

  6. Posted July 30, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I went to Thailand recently and the “ladyboys” seem to be a big part of their culture. They have ladyboy cabaret shows every where. And the shows aren’t just underground or aimed at a specific group like the drag shows in the US. I went to a family friendly, high-end resort and a ladyboy was booked for the New Year entertainment. I never heard much about the opposite, women as men, so I don’t know how the culture feels about that. I just found it refreshing that transpeople were accepted.
    About the bathrooms, I don’t think I would like to have gender neutral bathrooms. I’m fine sharing in some venues, like a indie bookstore or something, but in a place like a metro or a park I wouldn’t feel safe. It’s bad enough when I get harassed, I wouldn’t want someone to be able to follow me into the bathroom.

  7. lyndorr
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of three smaller bathrooms. I often feel women should have more toilets since we always have the line-up. Then I think of going to the men’s if it looks empty and think it’s amazing how much of a taboo there is on using the other bathroom.

  8. Miriam
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    This argument about bathroom safety is a common one, but I think its important to remember that in reality, anyone can walk into any bathroom. It’s just an unlocked door with a sign. So if you have someone harassing you, there isn’t anything to stop them from following you into the bathroom, gendered or not.
    I think we need to deal with the bigger issues of sexual assault and safety (everyone’s safety, not just women’s) rather than slapping women and men symbols on bathroom doors and calling it quits.

  9. Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Back in my hometown of Tulsa, the hip teenagers would hang out at Village Inn all night drinking coffee and eating hash browns, and often we’d have a couple transvestite diners in the nearby booths (some possibly on their way to becoming genetically transgendered, others simply drag queens who’d been out clubbing). I was surprised how many of my female friends were upset at the prospect of sharing the ladies’ room with what they clearly considered men. I thought they were both incorrect and insensitive. And overreacting! I mean, it’s just peeing, everybody does it. And I would understand why in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a man in a dress might fear sitting down in a stall next to a man who might think gays, lesbians, and men who wear dresses are devil worshippers full of demon sperm.

  10. mark_d_o
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    This may be of interest–an expanding directory of gender-neutral bathrooms covering over 400 cities:
    http://safe2pee.org/beta/

  11. Carasande
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I am a trans woman and I’ve had to deal a lot with the bathroom issue. Personally, I think trans people should be allowed to use which ever bathroom they feel comfortable with whether or not there is a gender nuetral stall. For me right now I don’t feel comfortable or safe here in the Midwest if there is a big sign pointing at me saying Tranny. When I first transitioned last year I did try to find a separate bathroom to use. I was scared and it had become clear to me that using the men’s room was bringing attention to me, but I was also afriad that someone would call the police or worse if I used the women’s. I asked the mall customer service if it would be possible to use the security guards bathroom, but a woman there warned me that I’d be safer using the public restrooms. Now at the time I may have liked having that third option, but I’d also feel awkward bringing the attention to myself. I don’t know. In general having gender neutral bathrooms around is a good thing, but I also think that it is important that individuals choose which one is best for them.

  12. calyx
    Posted July 31, 2008 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    In Thailand, trans women are called ladyboys or katoeys. Or when I say trans women… that’s more a Western definition; it encompasses feminine gay men as well. Generally katoeys are expected to be attracted to masculine men (being feminine you see). Like neighbouring Buddhist countries Burma and Laos, the culture accepts the “third gender”, although they are always second class… if a parent has a ladyboy child, it’s their past life karma speaking… boys the best, then girls, then ladyboys. I’ve met ladyboys whose parents are not happy about them being so, but their existence is not denied or actively persecuted in society. (It’s your own karma, your own business.) Ladyboys often go to live in the more liberal touristy areas to make a living, along with other people of marginalised lifestyles or identities. Ladyboys are on just about every sitcom or soap in Thailand; they’re the comic relief. I’ve heard some second-hand accounts of a Buddhist festival of light in Burma where ladyboys and gay men have a special spiritual role… but I guess the government there would repress that these days.
    Trans guys by contrast, are much more marginalised. (This is probably because they’re more likely to scare cis men/the established order of patriarchy there.) They’re usually known as toms. (As in, a butch dyke. From tomboy. Femme dykes are known as dees, from lady. The butch-femme scene is predominant in Thailand.) But I *do* actually see toms moving in society (as with katoeys) in Thailand, even if they’re not really on the telly. I remember: Working the petrol pump in a rural town, for instance. Or hanging with the local ladies in a small Lao town (Laos and Thailand have close cultural connections.) Or hand in hand with their girl on a bridge over a foggy mountain river.
    There’s still a lot of suicides of trans people in Thailand, however, especially after their family (so important for social security) rejects them.
    So, um, yeah, it’s quite good news that a third bathroom is being set up for trans girls. Recognition, at least. There’s been a few stories of katoeys being allowed to be themselves at schools. Of course, it’s only a small (incomplete, flawed, but not terrible) step on the way to full acceptance, and in some ways Thailand is ahead of most countries on this. I hope the katoey kids at this school have an easier time of it.

  13. keshmeshi
    Posted August 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    So if you have someone harassing you, there isn’t anything to stop them from following you into the bathroom, gendered or not.

    No, but in the case of harassment, as we all know, the burden is always on women to prove that we’ve been harassed and to make the case for why we shouldn’t have to put up with it. At least with segregated bathrooms, more of the burden is placed on the perp to explain what in the hell he’s doing in the women’s bathroom.
    I also simply will not accept neutral bathrooms until every and all stalls are separated by floor to ceiling walls with doors that have no cracks in them. Remember Larry Craig? That’s what women are going to have to start dealing with if gender neutral bathrooms become the norm in this country.

  14. RiotGrrl
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    “I also simply will not accept neutral bathrooms until every and all stalls are separated by floor to ceiling walls with doors that have no cracks in them. Remember Larry Craig? That’s what women are going to have to start dealing with if gender neutral bathrooms become the norm in this country.”
    I agree (obviously from my previous comment), I wouldn’t want someone to be able to peer through the cracks or use a mirror on their shoe. This happens enough when women are clothed in public.

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