Gender Obsession Leads to Gender Discrimination

A New York woman who was thrown out of a women’s bathroom by a bouncer who thought that she did not look enough like a woman has filed a lawsuit.

Yesterday, a New York woman filed suit against a West Village restaurant for being thrown out of a women’s room there by a bouncer who, she said, did not care she was really female.

The woman, Khadijah Farmer, 28, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, said in an interview that she was at the Caliente Cab Company restaurant on Seventh Avenue with her companion and a friend after the gay pride parade on June 24 when she left the table to go to the women’s room. While she was there, a male bouncer burst in.

“He began pounding on the stall door saying someone had complained that there was a man inside the women’s bathroom, that I had to leave the bathroom and the restaurant,” Ms. Farmer said. “Inside the stall door, I could see him. That horrified me, and it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. I said to him, ‘I’m a female, and I’m supposed to be in here.’

“After I came out of the bathroom stall, I attempted to show him my ID to show him that I was in the right place, and he just refused to look at my identification. His exact words were, ‘Your ID is neither here nor there.’”

The bouncer then proceeded to follow her out of the bathroom, made sure that she paid for her meal and that she left the restaurant. Farmer is apparently used to being perceived as a man and says that when she encounters a problem she explains that she is a woman and the “concerned” party usually feels embarrassed. As, you know, they should. This bouncer, obviously, did not have the good sense to be ashamed.

With recent discussions about ENDA and whether or not transgender people should be included in the bill, this story seems particularly relevant. Farmer is a cissexual woman, but her case has been filed by The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. And I think that’s absolutely great. Not only because we’re seeing Trans organizations standing up for gays and lesbians when so many gays and lesbians are failing to stand up for trans people, but because it helps us to recognize that the inclusion of gender in ENDA not only helps transgender individuals. It helps everyone who does not conform to society’s gender roles.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Farmer in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. It accuses the restaurant of discriminating against Ms. Farmer because her appearance did not comply with society’s norms concerning gender identity.

A 2002 amendment to the city’s human rights law protects the rights of city residents whose gender expression is different from their sex at birth. The state’s civil rights law does not include a similar protection. But the defense fund argues that it should be interpreted as protecting New Yorkers against sexual stereotyping, in which people are expected to conform to gender-appropriate behavior.

. . . Sexual stereotyping, [attorney Michael D. Silverman] said, was expanded as a legal concept under a 1989 decision by the United States Supreme Court. In that case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the court found, 6 to 3, that a woman had failed to make partner at the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in part because she was considered too “macho.” The court ruled that male supervisors discriminated against her on the basis of stereotyped notions of appropriate female appearance and behavior.

“We’re asking the court to say that sex stereotyping by public accommodation is just as harmful when practiced by a public accommodation like a restaurant as it is when it is practiced by an employer,” Mr. Silverman said. “If Khadijah were wearing pearls and white gloves, would the bouncer have treated her like that?”

Precisely what makes the exclusion of gender-based discrimination in ENDA so ridiculous (it’s wrong for completely different reasons) is that not only trans individuals face gender discrimination. If the current version of the bill is passed, a lesbian could not legally be fired because of who she is sexually attracted to, but she could be fired for not looking enough like how society thinks that women should look. And so could a straight woman.

Trans people and other gender non-conformers are often faced with a double-edged sword that prevents them from being comfortably accepted in any available options. For those who fall outside of gender norms, it is very common for different people to perceive their gender in different ways. In Farmer’s case, as a masculine woman, she can potentially be perceived by different people as a cissexual male, a cissexual female a transman or even a tranwoman all at the same time.

What bathroom, exactly, was Farmer supposed to use when she faces potential discrimination from every option? She obviously has the right to use the women’s bathroom, but supposing that she did want to try to circumvent the problem by using the men’s, it wouldn’t work, because some would and do perceive her as female. What about a transwoman who does not easily “pass?” Women’s bathrooms may exclude her because bigoted types still see her as a “man,” but men’s bathrooms could just as easily exclude her because she is actually a woman, and dressed like one.

Personally, I have to say that I’ve never understood the big deal about unisex bathrooms. Are we trying to keep up an illusion that members of the opposite sex don’t pee? I suppose that we’re worried about men trying to peek in on women or sexually harass them, but I imagine that since men probably do not want to be similarly harassed while taking a shit, the idea would wear off pretty quickly. I say stick the urinals in stalls and be done with it. Or, create large unisex bathrooms with small sections off to each side that are gender segregated for things like changing clothes or for the particularly shy. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable at first — it probably would — but I think that we would learn to deal.

I get that everyone won’t agree with me on that, and I don’t think that it’s necessary that you do in order to agree that we need laws to protect transgender and gender non-conforming individuals from harassment and discrimination. I hope that Farmer wins her case and that it both sets a precedent and increases general discussion around the issue.

0 thoughts on “Gender Obsession Leads to Gender Discrimination

  1. bonnie

    All very good points. I’ve been following this story closely here in NYC (its getting a lot of press) and I’ve also been outraged at the lack of support for a trans-inclusive ENDA.

    and regarding bathrooms – years ago, I went to see queer activist and writer Leslie Feinberg speak. Someone in the audience asked “What do you feel like would be one simple step that we could do to be more trans-inclusive in our society? Where should we start?” and the answer was “In one word – PUBLIC BATHROOMS! I don’t know one person who ultimately wouldn’t be happier with a simple, clean, single occupancy restroom that just says “toilet” on the door instead of gender. WC’s in Europe are already way ahead of us here.”

    Its true. For everyone.

    Reply
  2. lepidopteryx

    I’ve never understood the obsession with sexually segregating folks for the purpose of eliminating waste either.
    And I have been known to go into a public men’s room when the line to the ladies’ was too long, and there was no line to the men’s. No one ever objected. I even took my daughter into the men’s once – she was a toddler and had a “potty emergency” and there was a line ouside the ladies’ room that stretched down the hall. When we came out, I was accosted by a busybody who began berating me for taking my 2-year-old into an environment where she might have glimpsed a penis. I suppose that in her mind, it would have been better for my child to have pissed herself.
    Just shield the urinals (I’m sure the guys won’t mind), and let everyone use the same restroom. Let’s face it, if you’re getting turned on by the activities taking place in a public restroom, you’ve got bigger issues to deal with than which restroom to use.

    Reply

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