My oldest, a baseball fan, coined the term “stallbatting”. Stallbatting is interfering with someone going to the bathroom of their choosing. Bathrooms can be anxious experiences for neurodivergent and disabled people who need assistance. Bathroom bills ratchet that anxiety by emboldening fear and hate. Unisex and family bathrooms are wonderful, and often scarce. We are left with assisting our opposite sex family, friends, and clients in binary gendered bathrooms, hoping nobody makes a fuss, hoping we can relieve ourselves in peace. Bathroom bills steal that peace. Bathroom bills hurt the disabled. Bathroom bills hurt the neurodivergent. Bathroom bills hurt my family and hurt my transgender friends and coworkers. Bathroom bills are incompatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and the norms of work and collaboration.
Kids on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely to be gender non-conforming, adding an often overlooked element to this debate. Protecting LGBTQIA kids protects also neurodivergent kids—and vice versa. The fight is for inclusion and acceptance—for all operating systems, for all of our different ways of being human. Supporting our kids means supporting all of their possibilities and expressions.
Excerpted below is neurodivergent and disabled perspective on bathroom bills. Our lives are complicated enough without ableist intolerance getting between us and a bathroom.
And as many people with disabilities and caretakers can tell you, the right to safe and accessible public restrooms is also important for adults and older children who need accommodation, assistance, or supervision. It’s an issue that becomes especially difficult for people with disabilities who have caretakers of a different gender. Even without repressive state laws, discrimination and harassment against people with disabilities and their caretakers persists.
In North Carolina, however, people with disabilities and their caretakers risk being criminalized just for accessing a public bathroom.
This is thanks to North Carolina’s HB2. While most people are familiar with the way the bill discriminates against trans people, disability community activists have taken to the internet and protest to let lawmakers know that bathroom bills are a violation of many disabled people’s rights, too.
We can see this as one of many intersectional issues surrounding violence against, and the criminalization of, people with disabilities. Just yesterday, graphic news came from Japan that a man had murdered 19 people at a home for people with disabilities in a hate-motivated attack. And days after the shooting last week of a black behavioral health caretaker, Charles Kinsey, Miami police revealed that the officer who shot Kinsey was actually aiming for the patient he was caring for, Arnoldo Eliud Rios Soto, who has autism – as though this somehow made the sick abuse of police power better. It’s a fear that people of color and people with a number of disabilities, and their loved ones and caretakers, know too well: That innocent behavior will be stigmatized, and even fatal, for members of communities criminalized for who they are.
We can look toward bathroom bills as one of many pieces of legislation that reinforce the stigma people with disabilities – who are often marginalized in multiple ways – already face, criminalizing many people’s normal biological functions. These blatantly discriminatory bills have swept legislatures across the country as part of a wave of over 100 anti-LGBT bills. These laws mandate that trans people, and everybody, use the public restrooms of their “biological sex,” whatever the hell that means.
In March, North Carolina legislators passed a law barring trans people from bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates. For trans people with autism, who are often socially naïve and unaware of how they are perceived by others, such laws present a very real threat of the kind of confrontation they are ill-equipped to manage. Strang’s group works to help the children and teens in their program deal with such challenging situations. “We focus a lot on safety,” says Strang, “what it means to be trans in different types of communities.” Autism can create blind spots around those issues, he says, but he and his colleagues also recognize its gifts, such as intense focus and concentration.
Grobman too sees those aspects of autism as integral to her effectiveness as an activist. Her intense focus on trans and disability rights may be an obsession of sorts, she admits, but unlike her childhood preoccupation with the game Pokémon, this fixation is not trivial. Living with the threat of being bullied, assaulted or arrested for using the ‘wrong’ restroom generates near constant anxiety. Grobman says she feels driven to work for the kind of social change that will make the world a safer place for people like Ollie, Natalie, Jazzie and herself. “We need to create an understanding of the validity of trans experience and autistic experience,” Grobman says. “You are fighting for your own existence.”
As a woman with a disability, I require assistance in the restroom. I have always required assistance in the restroom. When I was a child out in public with my single-parent father, using the restroom was always a tough issue to navigate. Family, or unisex, restrooms have only recently become more common.
Whenever I would go out with my father and I needed to use the restroom, he would have to sneak me into the men’s restroom, or I would have to sneak him into the women’s restroom. In extreme circumstances, we would need to ask one of the employees of the facility to put up a sign on the door to prevent people from entering.
Going into the opposite-sex restroom became the norm for us. It was either use the restroom or end our outing and return home.
I couldn’t help but find it entertaining when former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz said that “the idea that grown men would be allowed alone in a bathroom with little girls” was unsafe. Why did I find it entertaining? Because that was my experience when I was a little girl. The only thing that happened to me was that I relieved my bladder.
Another type of relationship affected by the bill is the one between personal care attendants and the person being assisted. According to Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, 89 percent of personal care attendants are female. The U.S. Census Bureau reports just over 17 percent of American men have a disability compared to almost 20 percent of women. This means that men with disabilities are more likely to get attendants who are women. What happens when a man with a disability is out with his female attendant and he needs to use the restroom? Does he hope that there is a family restroom nearby?
If we allow restrooms to be more fluid and accommodating for different life experiences, we include transgender people, people with disabilities who may require “unconventional” assistance and parents with young children. There are multiple ways of examining a social justice issue, and I encourage you to look beyond your personal experience and consider different walks of life.
Anyone, who is caring for a seriously impaired person, who is his/her opposite gender, will also experience hardship from the passage and enforcement of segregated bathroom laws. I often think, when some nasty stranger feels compelled to judge, snark at me, or yell at my son, isn’t our life complicated enough? Perhaps we should instead get some understanding and help instead of dismissal and condemnation.
I’d say the same for what the vast majority of transgender people have endured their entire lives – the dismissal and cruel attacks. What ever happened to live and let live? Must so many people who are different dread something as fundamental as going to pee in a public restroom? Is it more a sign of the degradation of society, that we make exceptions to the rules of segregated restrooms for some people who are different or differently abled, or is the true degradation that the bigotry of some against “other” is so pervasive that we’re reduced now to making laws about where people urinate?
It is crucial to understand that passing strict gender segregation laws not only demeans and endangers our transgender brothers and sisters, but also puts severely disabled people with caretakers of the opposite gender in extreme danger in many cases.
Although I may not be trans myself, I definitely have a vested interest in this issue. As a 33-year-old woman with a disability, I understand what it’s like to have limitations put on you by a little stick figure placard when you are at your most vulnerable – when your bowels and/or bladder are busting at the seams.
Not only could the appearance of more unisex and/or inclusive restrooms be a great solution for those targeted by the bathroom bill, but (on a purely selfish level) it would make my life a hell of a lot easier.
Aside from the concern of too-small stalls and sinks I can’t reach, public restrooms have always been my Achilles heel. I hate them with the passion of a thousand fiery suns.
When I was a teen, I would go to the movies and other events with my dad. If I happened to drink one too many Icees, I was – quite literally – up shit creek without a paddle. Unless we could find the rare unicorn that is the one-seater family restroom (which barely existed back then), there was no good option.
In lieu of driving me into a rage of teenage embarrassment by (GASP!) visiting the ladies’ room with dad in toe, I would just opt to hold it… often for several hours, and much to the detriment of my bladder. At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable going in a men’s room, and it would be weird to see a 6-foot-tall bald cis man hanging around outside a women’s room stall, right?
It’s frustrating, and even more so because I know I’m not alone in this awkward pee-pee waltz with propriety. Ask any cross-section of people with disabilities, and you will hear a choir of amens – and, likely, some amusing stories.
Inclusive restrooms could be a welcome respite for a huge population of people beyond just people like me and people who don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
These bathroom bill crusaders and self-appointed “morality police” probably haven’t considered what a game-changer Ally-McBeal-style bathrooms could be for caregivers of elderly relatives, parents of young people, and adults who, due to intellectual or behavioral disabilities, need assistance in the bathroom.
Today, a father who took his disabled daughter into a men’s room in a public building in North Carolina technically would run afoul of the state’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which requires that people over the age of 7 use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificates. While the law is aimed at transgender people, disability advocates worry that it also could affect people with disabilities who, because they need assistance from an opposite sex caregiver or parent, also use opposite sex bathrooms.
With restroom access a topic of national debate, many people with disabilities and their families are hoping that conversation extends to expanding access to public facilities for every person.
For many of the nearly one in five Americans (and about 5 percent of school-age children) with some disability, lack of access to public toilet facilities challenges their ability to take part in ordinary daily life. For some, like Ms. Serge, 46, who was born with cerebral palsy, the challenges are primarily physical.
There’s also a deeper level to the debate swirling around restroom access, said historian Alice Dreger, author of “Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice.” The need to fit into the world of gendered bathrooms and locker rooms is the justification doctors sometimes give for performing surgery on infants born with ambiguous genitalia. Doctors often guess a gender, she said, but it’s not always how the person ultimately identifies. These surgeries are dangerous and not easily reversible.
And what if, as one writer asked, you’re “an American with traditional views on gender, your kids are in a public school, and the girls’ locker room has just been declared a gender-fluid zone”? Indeed. What if it has been? That declaration was a long time coming, given that all locker rooms, and all of nature, have always been a gender-fluid zone.
So perhaps science can add something to the debate by showing where these restroom laws are not only hurtful but also unrealistic. Not everyone fits neatly into the categories of male and female, but everyone needs to go to the bathroom.