Introducing… Bri Gumbs, Program Coordinator!

The Women’s Center is pleased to introduce Bri Gumbs, pronouns she/her/hers, as our full-time program coordinator and the newest addition to the Women’s Center professional staff team! Please help us give the warmest of UMBC welcomes to Bri! Below is a short bio so you can learn a little bit about the newest member of our team! You can meet her in-person when you come into the Women’s Center as she will be one of the first people to welcome you into our space. 

portrait of new staff member Bri; a person with long brown hair and a wide-brimmed hat smiling.Bri, identifies herself as an unapologetic queer, multi-racial Latinx, womxn. Born and raised in San Diego, CA Bri has devoted her work to being an educator, femtor and advocate for increasing and improving access, representation and retention for students with underrepresented identities in higher education by using an intersectional feminist framework. The revolutionary work of Audre Lorde, The Combahee River Collective, Marsha P, Silvia Rivera and Gloria Anzaldua continues to inspire and motivate her to be an agent of change. Bri hopes to empower others to speak their truth, mobilize and cultivate community care and joy in their various communities. Bri loves her two cats and her extensive hat collection! Bri expresses her truth through zine making, personal narratives, affirmations and through the various community programs she continues to create and facilitate. Bri holds a B.A in Psychology with a minor in Counseling and Social Change and a M.A in Student Affairs.  

Nonbinary in the Classroom

A person with short brown hair smiles into the camera.

This post is written by Sam Hertl (they/them pronouns), a social work intern completing their field placement in the Women’s Center.

*Trigger warning*

There are heavy topics mentioned such as the rate of violence against trans lives, suicide, and mental health issues. Please read with caution. 

There are two hearts pictured in gif form. The heart to the left has a black border with a top to bottom pattern of the colors blue, pink, white, pink, and blue. The heart to the right also has a black border with a top to bottom pattern of the colors yellow, white, purple and black.

The two hearts pictured show the trans flag to the left and the nonbinary flag to the right.


Can I just say that living in a society where the highest court must debate and make a decision as to whether or not LGBTQ+ people will be safe from workplace discrimination is incredibly taxing as a queer person? When protective factors (like employment) for marginalized communities are up for federal debate, holding one or multiple marginalized identities becomes increasingly difficult no matter if you are in the workplace or preparing to be. This means that finding a space where your identities are not only recognized but respected and affirmed is crucial to living a healthy life.

This may not be news to most, but the trans community faces tremendous minority stress and endures an alarming rate of violence. Trans students have been vocal about their struggles in educational settings, for example. They’ve reported being less involved in school due to lack of visibility, little to no connections with campus and local trans communities, burn out, mental health concerns, and structural barriers in their institution. 

Even with all the drawbacks, there are a lot of reasons why trans folks would and do go to college. Some go to learn more about themselves and the world. Others go to help increase their chances of entering a better position in the workforce. Regardless of one’s motivations, trans people in the classroom are preparing for the workplace and already seeing moments of inequity

At UMBC, students face similar issues. Recently UMBC’s student newspaper, The Retriever, posted an article noting the lack of protection for trans students who are misgendered during their time at UMBC. Journalist Johanna Alonso features trans students who detail their personal experiences being misgendered both in and outside of the classroom. 

A cartoon giraffe with heart shaped sunglasses on. The glasses have a moving rainbow color to them.


The following are specific issues myself and my nonbinary peers have experienced while in college:

Avoidance & Misgendering 

  • Being told by people, both peers and professors, that they need time to grapple with your pronouns and/or gender identity.
  • People actively avoiding using your pronouns even when you’ve asked them to use your pronouns, and instead using only your name every time they address you. 
  • Professors completely avoiding addressing you. This can be for a variety of reasons such as avoiding using your pronouns altogether, avoiding messing up your pronouns, or because they personally disagree with your gender identity. This unknown can cause excess stress. 
  • Preemptively avoiding participation in class to avoid more people misgendering you when they address you.
  • Professors deadnaming you during roll call due to numerous structural barriers that prevent you from having your name legally changed or alternated in school databases. 

Tokenization 

  • People asking extremely personal questions with the expectation that you have to share with them.
  • Sharing extremely personal experiences with people anyway to communicate how important it is for folks to use your pronouns (and they still don’t use your pronouns correctly).
  • Peers misgendering you while in class with no space to correct them in the moment. Sensing those peers didn’t realize they misgendered you and then just sitting with that through the rest of class, feeling that it’s too late to bring it up.
  • Being the only openly trans person in the classroom and feeling isolated in your feelings.
  • Acting as an educator and spokesperson for the entire trans community when you are only one person.

Content Erasure

  • Hearing and seeing “he/she” in assignments, powerpoints, and lectures when a singular “they” could easily fit into the sentence grammatically and be more inclusive.
  • Having to dissociate throughout class because attendance is mandatory even when it’s not a safe environment for trans people and being unable to learn properly because of this. 
  • Learning classroom content that applies to, but never mentions the experience of people in the trans community. 
  • Never learning about the trans community’s specific needs in classes and knowing that your professors and peers will continue to perpetuate a trans exclusive world because your professor, department, or curriculum isn’t doing the work that it should.

Take a moment to let that all settle in. Reread it. This is important. This is not made up or abstracted. These are experiences that I myself and my peers have had.

A cartoon blue owl with a pink heart on its chest is sitting on a branch. The owl opens its wings to show the trans flag colors on each wing. The colors from top to bottom are blue, pink, white, pink, and blue.


If you’re reading through these pieces and thinking that some of these things are avoidable, you’re totally right! The following are some terms and concepts that’ll help you understand how. 

Minority Stress Model

Stress that stems from systemic prejudice has a real and lasting negative impact. The National Institute of Health published an article by Ilan H. Meyer defining minority stress as, “The excess stress to which individuals from stigmatized social categories are exposed as a result of their social, often a minority, position.” There are some limitations to the focus (specifically on sexuality) in this article, but it can be extended to gender identity and other people who have marginalized identities. Meyer details the four main processes of minority stress in relation to the experiences of sexual minorities:

  • External factors, objective stressful events, and conditions (both chronic and acute).
  • Expectations of such external events and the vigilance this expectation requires.
  • The internalization of negative societal attitudes.
  • Concealment of one’s sexual orientation/identity. 

The social environment often provides meaning to people. Situations in the social environment can lead to stressors such as listed above. Although stress is not linked only to holding a minority identity, it is certainly an important aspect to note. I will use the processes in this minority stress model to further explain the three categories featured above about the nonbinary classroom experience. Refer to the listed points above while reading about each category. 

Avoidance & Misgendering

As an aspiring social worker, this is disappointing to see in my classes. Nonbinary students in other majors, such as STEM-related fields, may not get the opportunity to study other people’s identities and thereby have even less space to learn about differing identities. 

When considering the minority stress model, it is clear that external factors in educational settings such as the lack of knowledge and awareness about nonbinary identities can create stressful moments for nonbinary students. It doesn’t help when nonbinary students are exposed to harmful educational environments where professors and peers repeatedly misgender the student. Therefore, nonbinary students often anticipate these scenarios ahead of time. Worrying about when the next time someone will misgender them can cause excess anxiety and discomfort for nonbinary folks when in these harmful environments. 

Students who have “non-western” names, whether cis or trans, often face similar avoidance in their classes. Professors mispronounce names, mix up the names for students of color in the class, or actively avoid addressing students with names they frame as difficult to pronounce. This communicates to these students that their name isn’t worth learning. Rita (‘ree-the’) Kohli, an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside noted, “Is it framed as my inability to say someone’s name or is it framed as the student doing something to make your life more difficult?”. 

Tokenization 

Being an openly trans student in the classroom sometimes means that you are the only publicly known trans person in the room (and for many, the only trans person they are aware of in their lives). This often somehow translates to cis professors and peers that you are the spokesperson for the entire trans community, and that’s only if they acknowledge your trans identity. For this reason, many professors and peers expect you, the local trans person, to provide the class with real-life examples so they can better understand you, or trans people as a whole. It’s burdening to be seen as a representative of a community that you only partly embody. 

It’s endearing that some cis people want to learn, but it shouldn’t be the burden of the only trans person in the room to teach everyone about trans identities and trans lives. As a social work major, this is increasingly harmful to experience in my classes, but again it’s essential to note that trans students in courses outside of the humanities and social sciences often don’t even get the opportunity to learn about different populations of people. 

Many departments in college settings do not have a gender-inclusive and trans-affirming curricula. It’s typically only Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies courses (whose express mission it is to expand our lens on gender) that mention trans people at all, let alone those with nonbinary identities specifically. In relation to the minority stress model, being isolated as the only openly trans person in the room can create even more stressful events for trans individuals and inherently cause trans folk to internalize the act of othering created by trans unaware peers and professors. 

Erasure

Although all people experience otherness, there is often also an erasure of identity. With gender identity, it’s a constant battle in the classroom. Many professors may not realize the power and influence they have. Some students end up keeping their gender identity hidden if they face other stressors. Many LGBTQ+ students with disabilities tend to disclose only one of their potentially invisible identities when in a group setting. They may not be given space to disclose any of their identities in the first place. 

This lack of space may create an unsafe environment and make it harder for those who hold multiple invisibility identities on top of disability status to disclose other aspects of their identity such as gender identity and sexuality. This leads to an overwhelming amount of erasure faced by students with these intersecting identities which can result in both shame and isolation for these folks. Looking at the minority stress model, this can be noted as the concealment of one’s identity. 

A person is dancing by moving left and right and lifting their foot up into the air. From toe to toe, a rainbow appears while the person kicks their leg up.


Impact on Students

There is a strong need for affirmation in the classroom that is not happening. For example, language professors use in their lectures and assignments has a harmful impact. Binary language can be the usage of “he or she”, “mom or dad”, and “sister or brother” when “they”, “parent”, and “sibling” are easy and gender-inclusive alternatives for these terms. It’s increasingly difficult to learn as a nonbinary person in an educational setting that doesn’t make space for nonbinary people. The repeated exposure of seeing binary language can make nonbinary people feel invisible.

It’s also all too common for professors to teach content that applies to trans folks without mentioning them. In a social work class I took, for example, the professor dedicated a class discussion to adolescent suicide; however, there was not one mention of trans adolescents who face suicidal ideation. For the record, trans adolescents face suicidal ideation at a much higher rate than their cis classmates. When I raised this concern in class, as we are often encouraged to share our own knowledge and perspectives in the classroom, the professor seemed tense and tried to move on quickly. A nonbinary peer took this same class the following semester with the same professor and had a similar experience during the class dedicated to adolescent suicide. Avoiding these topics will cause a ripple effect in the rising class of professionals and continue to harm those who have marginalized identities that aren’t talked about in class. 

The alarming rates of violence against black trans women are a testament to this truth. Each year the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) tracks the disparately high rates of violence against the trans community, mostly impacting black trans women. This year the HRC has reported that, “2019 has already seen at least 22 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means”. It is indisputable that people within the trans community are faced with tremendous challenges that can put their lives at risk. For this reason, trans folks (especially trans people of color) need extra support and resources to maintain a safe and prosperous livelihood.

The probability of hardship and discrimination faced by the trans community can lead to poor mental health. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey documents the overall health and wellness of the trans community and states that, “Thirty-nine percent (39%) of respondents were currently experiencing serious psychological distress, nearly eight times the rate in the U.S. population (5%).”


The following is a quote by feminist Adrienne Rich which adequately sums up the immense impact professors can have on students. 

“When someone with the authority of a teacher describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing”

Everyone has felt invisible before. Think of a time you felt this way. Consider this in relation to everything aforementioned.

Administrators, please monitor your educational environments and aim for inclusive excellence. Professors, please put in the work to revamp your classroom content. Peers, be an advocate for your nonbinary classmates. Parents of nonbinary and trans folks, pay attention to how school impacts your child. Everyone, ask the nonbinary and trans people in your life how you can best be there for them.


I don’t have all the answers, nobody does. I just ask that you take this seriously and start to do better. The following are a few tips I have for you after reading this blog:

  1. Learn how to look at gender differently. Challenge yourself, ask genuine questions, and do the research. 
  2. Ask your nonbinary and trans friends for their preferences (and consent) when it comes to how publicly they use their pronouns and how they want you to correct yourself if you misgender them.
  3. When introducing yourself to someone new, make it habit of telling them your name and pronouns. Follow up and ask for their name and pronouns. This might not be something that you accustomed to doing, but we are in the process of unlearning, and you can’t assume someone’s name before meeting them, so how could you assume their pronouns? 
  4. Learn how to give a quick and easy presentation on pronouns to give to people who aren’t familiar with the importance of pronouns. 
  5. When someone corrects you after you’ve misgendered them, tell them thank you for correcting you and restate the sentence with the correct pronouns. 

If this work is prioritized in the classroom, imagine how inclusive the next generation will be? 

Six different people are dancing with hearts, stars, and sparkles above them. There is a trans flag in the background showing from top to bottom blue, pink, white, and part of the pink line. The people and their shadows block the bottom part of the flag.


Additionally, I want to thank the professors and peers who have been putting in the work to affirm and normalize nonbinary and trans identities. Keep up the amazing work and encourage your cis friends to do the same. 

Here are some epic resources for folks to learn more:

Resources for cis folk:

Videos

Websites

Resources for trans & nonbinary folk:

The words, “THANK YOU” appear from top to bottom seven times. Below the word thank you, the phrase, Have A Great Day” is included.


*Disclaimers*

Hi, I use they/them/their pronouns and my gender identity is nonbinary. I recognize that this is only one perspective. I am not able to represent all nonbinary identities. 

I use the term trans when discussing the whole trans community and I use the term nonbinary when talking about nonbinary people specifically within the trans community. I will also be using nonbinary as an umbrella term that is extended to, but not limited to genderqueer, genderfluid, and gender non-conforming identities. Some nonbinary people do not identify as trans, although the language I use in this blog post suggests that all nonbinary folk do. 

Face the Faceless

Content warning for sexual assault.

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Morgan is a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. If she’s not working at the Women’s Center you can find her watching Ghost Shark (2013) with her friends. 

You know who Brock Turner is. 

In January 2015, Turner sexually assaulted “Emily Doe.”. His face was splattered everywhere in the media. Sometimes it was his mugshot and other times it was the shining photo of him competing on Stanford’s swimming team. He’s a rapist but look, he’s an athlete! One year later, in 2016, you knew his face and you knew his name. Prosecutors recommended six years. He was sentenced to six months. He served ninety days. In a letter to the judge, his father stated that legal repercussions were a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” 

We were all forced to reckon with the reality that for many victims of sexual assault they get no real sense of justice, in court or otherwise. Emily Doe was a blank space and Brock Turner’s narrative was the one that filled it.

That was until Chanel Miller revealed herself to be the “Emily Doe” in the case of Turner vs. the People. Now, the case takes on a different face. Not only is Chanel Miller a survivor of sexual assault, but she is a woman of color, white and Chinese-American. I, along with countless others, had assumed she was white. It immediately became clear why there had only been a six-month sentence, why the judge was so quick to discredit her, and why her facelessness resonated so deeply. Chanel Miller, like many before her, was another woman of color who knew all too well the intersections of white supremacy, rape culture, and violence against women of color.

Her pain feels familiar in too many ways. Miller was violated in the same way that white men historically and continually perpetuate violence (especially sexual violence) against women of color over and over again. Take for instance, the expected sexual violence against black women by their white slave owners. This was normalized so much so that raping a black woman was not a crime for much of history. How can you violate your own property? Or the comfort women of Eastern Asia–women and girls forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Army around World War II. Women from China, Korea, the Philippines, and many other areas were objectified by the Japanese who believed themselves to be a superior people. For the Imperial Japanese Army, it was not just about sex; rather, it was about power and domination.

Rape is never about pleasure. It’s about power. Chanel Miller was incapacitated beyond the point of consent and Brock Turner knew that — despite what his testimony might tell you. He saw an opportunity to exercise his power as a white man and he took it, leaving lasting harm on a woman of color he doesn’t know. 

In the aftermath of rape and sexual assault, his mugshot was in every headline and on every news report. Chanel Miller, in identity and aftermath, remanded faceless left with her perpetrator serving three months in jail with a six-month sentence from a judge who was later was recalled partly due to the public’s accusations of the negligence in the People v. Turner case.

In court, Chanel read a particularly powerful impact statement that went viral. I read the whole thing in one breathless sitting when it was first published. I remember my heart beating out of the chest as I read and read through Chanel’s (then “Emily Doe’s”) words to Brock Turner. “I am no stranger to suffering.”

She continues, “[Turner] made me a victim. In newspapers, my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am.”

Her words rang in my head and resonated with me. In leading Take Back the Night the past two years, sharing my own survivorship, and hearing the stories  of other women of color that sense of erasure feels reclaimed in a way.

 

It’s not about the Brock Turners anymore and their faces and all their harm. 

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This is a list of questions Miller was asked at Turner’s trial. Read through them. Every single one. 

How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? 

Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.

Sources:

 

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra

 

https://eji.org/history-racial-injustice-sexual-exploitation-black-women

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dear-christine-blasey-ford-i-too-was-sexually-assaulted–and-its-seared-into-my-memory-forever/2018/10/03/2449ed3c-c68a-11e8-9b1c-a90f1daae309_story.html

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2019/09/24/chanel-miller-brock-turner-rape-emily-doe-book-review/2073117001/

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/opinion/chanel-miller-know-my-name.html

 

https://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1324&context=rrgc

When Work Becomes a War Zone

This year, I became one of the many women who leave their jobs because of sexual harassment. I always knew it was something that happened; I just didn’t think it would happen to me.

I’m not alone; reports have found that 60% of women say they experience “unwanted sexual attention, sexual coercion, sexually crude conduct, or sexist comments” in the workplace. It’s a scary and isolating experience, and deciding what to do about it is difficult. After it happened, I did everything “right.” I didn’t wait, I went directly to my HR representative, and I told the truth. It didn’t matter that I followed protocol; they still didn’t do anything about it. 

The fact that I reported my harassment already puts me in the minority. It’s estimated that 90% of people who are harassed at work never report it, for a variety of reasons. Some workers are undocumented and face the threat of deportation if they come forward, something their abusers know and exploit. Others are afraid of retaliation — a very real fear. 71% of people who report their harassment to The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission also report retaliation. Others simply don’t think they’ll be believed. Every day, women are forced into a situation where they must continue working with their harasser.

I continued working with the man who harassed me for six months. I would hide in the bathroom during downtimes on my shift so that I wouldn’t have to see him. My income went down as I gave shifts away on days I knew he would be working. Eventually, I was able to switch around my hours to avoid him, but even then, I never felt safe at work again. I knew that if anything happened to me, I would not be taken seriously.

So, I quit. But not until I found a new job, which took months, and not without taking a pretty significant pay cut. Again, this is a tragically common occurrence. For many, sexual harassment leads to not only to a decline in mental health, but significant financial stress. One study found that as many as 8 in 10 women who experience sexual harassment leave their job within two years. For some, this means leaving a job before a new one is found and facing the economic hardship of unemployment. For others, this means abandoning well-paying jobs or leaving their field altogether, limiting opportunities for career advancement or tenure. 

It’s also important to note that women of color are disproportionately affected by this. Already, women of color are presumed to be less competent no matter their qualifications. This negatively impacts their potential for professional advancement on top of all the impacts that sexual harassment has on their careers. The power imbalances between women of color and white bosses put them at an even greater risk. In 2016, black women reported harassment at 3.8 times the rate of white women. We know that most women never report their harassment, so it’s likely that the real numbers are much higher.

I paint a bleak picture, I know, but it’s important to understand that this is still happening and that despite all the progress that’s been made, too many employers still don’t take it seriously. It’s important to keep talking about the harassment we face, to continue to speak out against it and not let our stories be ignored or brushed aside. I want to talk about what happened to me because it wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t have happened and I won’t stop shouting until something changes. My story is not unique. I am not alone. And neither are you.  

Additional Information and Resources 

What it’s like to return to work after being sexually harassed

Guide for potential ways to respond if you’re being sexually harassed at work 

Racial disparities in sexual harassment statistics 

More information about workplace sexual harassment 

Our 2019-2020 Staff!

As we enter into the 2019-2020 school year, we are excited to introduce you to the brilliant, creative, and driven UMBC students working in the Women’s Center! Please take a minute or two to read through some short bios below, and hopefully, you’ll be able to meet and make friends with each one of these lovely folks working with us over the school year. group photo of the Women's Center staff membersKaitlyn Kylus, Social Work, she/her

Headshot of KaitlynHello! My name is Kaitlyn and I’m a junior this year. I’m majoring in Social Work with a minor in Psychology, and I’m super excited to be working at the Women’s Center this year. I can’t wait to meet you all!

I’m also the Secretary of We Believe You and the Vice President of UMBC Debate Club.In my spare time you can catch me painting, watching cat videos, or taking a nap. Feel free to come say hi, and if you have pictures of your cat, please show me!

 

Kay Hinderlie, Psychology, they/them

Hi folks! I’m Kay, and I’m a senior at UMBC. I am pursuing a BA in Psychology with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. When I’m not in the Women’s Center or in classes, you would probably find me watching cartoons or taking napping. I love trying new things! I’ve taken up playing video games and listening to podcasts less than a year ago. If you see me around, please feel free to say hi!

Morgan Mullings, Media and Communication Studies, she/her and they/them

Hi! My name is Morgan and I’m a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. I am a poet, photographer, and aspiring filmmaker and most of my work stems from my own identity and experiences as a woman of color. If I’m not working at the Women’s Center you can find me watching Ghost Shark (2013) with my friends. I am also a huge stationary nerd and I worked at commonvision so ask me any question about a piece of paper.

If I could be any mythical creature it would be a unicorn that only speaks in quotes about intersectional feminism.

Sam Hertl, Social Work, they/them

Hello! My name is Sam and I’m a Social Work major with a Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies minor at UMBC. I’ll be working in the Women’s Center this year to fulfill my senior year Social Work Field Placement. I’ll be helping facilitate the discussion groups Between Women and We Believe You. I am passionate about advancing gender equity especially with a focus on the trans and genderqueer community. I’m looking forward to the connections I will be making and the knowledge that I’ll gain while a part of the Women’s Center community!

Additionally, I’m a big animal person (please show me pictures of your pets)! I’m an RA on campus, an aries, an artist, and an activist. Feel free to chat with me anytime!

Inclusive Excellence Means Inclusive Access: A Treatise on All-Gender Restrooms at UMBC (and Beyond)

Written by Women’s Center Coordinator Amelia Meman, ’15.

A pink toilet on a rainbow gradient. Text reads

With the recent opening of UMBC’s first ever multi-user/stall all-gender restroom, I have become incensed to finally publish this very argumentative blog on all-gender restrooms. In this piece, I’m trying to deconstruct all of the myths, misgivings, and misinformation surrounding all-gender restrooms, and offer some ways of seeing (and potentially peeing) differently.

The MYTH of All-Gender Restrooms: Creating all-gender restrooms is dangerous because it provides an opportunity for sexual predators to attack vulnerable populations (women and children).

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms: They exist and have existed for a while through anti-discrimination protections and there is literally no evidence that these policies and the creation of all-gender restrooms lead to more attacks on anyone.

The REALITY of All-Gender Restrooms, Pt. 2: In creating and actualizing discriminatory policies that relegate particular people to particular bathrooms, we increase the likelihood of violence against vulnerable populations–in this case, trans and gender non-conforming folks.

We’re a STEM-heavy school, so let me put it this way: there is absolutely no empirical evidence that would support the hypothesis that increasing access to all-gender restrooms also increases violence against vulnerable populations like women and children.

Fine, done, end of blog.

Just kidding.

I want to continue deconstructing this myth and how damaging it is to the transgender folks in our world—and subsequently, how the perpetuation of this myth is totally antithetical to UMBC’s values of inclusive excellence, diversity, and social justice. So let’s dive in:

The myth of all-gender bathroom bills promoting violence against women and children implies two other dangerous notions that need be dispelled:

  1. Trans people = sexual predators
  2. Transgender people do not have the “correct genitalia” to use with their respective gender’s restroom (“if you have a penis, you need to use the men’s restroom”)

First: Who are the “sexual predators” we keep referring to?

Let’s take this first one apart, “trans people = sexual predators.” This line of thinking stems from the (not so distant) historical pathologization of people who don’t conform to socially constructed gender roles; AKA “trans people are crazy and dangerous.”

Not to totally historicize this issue because it is still a present challenge, but in the past, any and all people with non-heterosexual, non-traditional gender conforming identities were considered sexual deviants. In the early 20th century, a sexual revolution in Europe was pushing the boundaries of the way these “sexual deviants” were understood, especially through a medicalized and scientific lens. A cure to deviancy was no longer about keeping problematic individuals away from the public, but around diagnosis and treatment.  

Time rolls on and we move through many sexual revolutions, progress, trans and LGB icons, marches, revolutions, etc.. If you were transgender in this time, then you had “gender identity disorder,” a mental illness through all of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders through the Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; AKA the Bible of psychiatry and other mental health practitioners). Thus, the idea of transgender people as those who are mentally ill is cemented by The Experts.

Fast forward to 2013: the DSM-V (the fifth edition of the DSM published by the APA in 2013) now uses the term “gender dysphoria” to describe the distress associated with not being able to be the gender we are. The difference here is very nuanced but important. To quote the APA, “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.” In other words, it’s not that being trans or non-binary is crazy. It’s that not being able to be the gender you are (and the barriers society constantly throws up) results in gender dysphoria.

We need to dislodge the synonymity between “transgender” and “problem,” because people are not problems; gender is not a problem. The barriers that we have put up between people accessing (or even just experimenting with being) our truest selves, is the problem.

A group of people hold signs at a protest against military ban on transgender people. Two signs in focus read

Second: “But what if a man in a dress uses a women’s restroom”

This is the token visual that opponents of all-gender restrooms look towards. We’ve all seen and experienced this joke: a big burly masculine man is in a hyper-feminine outfit. We’re made to laugh at how these two things don’t go together—but this “joke” is founded on the idea that people who look particular ways have to also act and present themselves in a way that matches our assumptions. This is what we like to call “gender essentialism.”

Gender essentialism/biological essentialism is the idea that there is a particular set of female or male genitalia that indicates your gender (e.g. penis = man; vagina = woman), and therefore should be the criteria by which people act, dress, use a bathroom, etc. The insistence that people with certain biological criteria or physical characteristics are particular genders is an essentialist way of thinking–and it’s also a restrictive way of thinking.

Most of us grow up learning to think as biological essentialists. We’re often taught about sex/gender binaries in our health class or with our parents, right? We’re taught that women, girls, females have vaginas, breasts, hips, higher voices, XX chromosomes; men, boys, males have penises, testes, facial hair, lower voices, XY chromosomes.

Biological essentialism rules the rhetorical roost of how we think about gender and sex; however, a different way of seeing gender and sex is to understand both as “socially constructed.” This is not to say that gender or sex is something we, as a society, have made up; rather, the meanings we ascribe to each of these things has been made through social patterns, behavior, etc. that are continually repeated until they read as fact. Fact becomes synonymous with objectivity and truth. I’m not trying to get into a philosophical discussion of what social constructionism is and how we should unlearn the meanings we learned about in school (if you want to get into that, see my office hours), but what I’m trying to get to is that biological essentialism is not the only way of seeing the world. We can see through a lens of social constructionism which enables us to do more questioning about the conclusions that we come to.

A line of 8 people icons, each a different color with different male, female, transgender symbols overlaid on their faces.A conclusion you could (should) question (always) is how we police gender and sex by creating rules around what each of these is defined as. Not every woman has a vagina. Not every person with a penis is male. People with XY chromosomes can be any gender in their lifetime. People can have a variety of different biological sex characteristics that do not align with the sex or gender they were prescribed at birth.

To go all the way back to that initial worry that a “man in a dress” will pee next to your daughter or your grandma or you, we can use a more inclusive lens for thinking about this scenario: three people have to pee. There are three private stalls in which they can do their business. These three people pee however it is they do so, and they simultaneously respect each other’s privacy. These three people might look all different sorts of ways, but it doesn’t matter because they came into the bathroom with the same goals–and having completed those goals, wash their hands, and exit in peace and respect.

My final word on this (as if I haven’t had enough already): If you dream of world peace, consider also dreaming of world where all people pee in peace. 

Fact Sharing

Okay, so I hope my mythbusting was validating, revelatory, or rote for you. Either way, here’s a fact that I want to share to displace the ugliness above that many opponents like to spread.

FACT: All-gender restrooms are an issue of discrimination and access.

Let’s break this down the same way we did the myth:

First: All gender-restrooms undoing discrimination

When we tell particular people that they are too different to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using, we are ultimately telling people that they are not, in some way, worthy of being in the space they deserve. This is discrimination.

Some folks in this world believe that by pressing for progress in trans rights, we are, among other misguided notions, setting a bad example for our children. But here’s the thing—the more we repress gender fluidity and multiple ways of being, the more undue violence we are perpetrating against children as they understand themselves as individuals. The tangible effects of discrimination do not come in the form of less trans people; rather, trans people will always exist, have always existed, but they will continue to meet a negative message that causes mental, psychological, and social distress. Not allowing transgender children to live their gender identity is harmful and potentially deadly. When you’re constantly met with the message that you’re too different to belong, you begin to face the alternative of belonging… which is shame and isolation.

We combat discrimination and its effects through inclusive access and affirming care. Hence, the importance of all-gender restrooms and ensuring their creation.

Second: All-gender restrooms as practical solutions to access issues

I want to bring this back to UMBC for a second with a little test: Do you know where the closest all gender restroom is?

If you do, congratulations. If you don’t, you’re not alone.

In total, there are almost 60 all-gender restrooms on our campus.

In the Commons? Two.

In the University Center? One.

And these are all just single-use restrooms.

Regardless of what you think in terms of trans rights or issues of identity, it’s a fact that UMBC is home to folks who live outside of the binary and those who are not cisgender. Whether they identify as trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, etc., they should be able to use a bathroom without having to search an entire building for the one restroom that exists.

The Williams Institute performed research on how transgender students with limited public restroom access were impacted by these restrictions. In their study, they found that those who experience problems accessing restrooms consistent with their gender identity report greater absenteeism, poorer school performance, withdrawing from public spaces and events, physical and mental health impacts (such as bladder infections, discomfort, and anxiety), having to change schools, or dropping out.

Wrapping Up

Did you read Everyone Poops? Truly a seminal piece of children’s literature, the message rings true even in today’s modern world. Everyone poops. Everyone needs bathrooms. As teachers, workers, students, people living in this world in the soft fleshy body we call Homo sapien—we need to have an efficient, clean, accessible method for disposing of our waste. We have actually found the key in publicly available toilets and bathrooms. As a frequent user, I endorse that they’re pretty fantastic in a pinch, even if they’re stinky or crowded or awkward.

The cover of the book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi.

If I’m dreaming, I believe that one day, maybe we will find the technology that allows all people on this earth to shirk public restrooms, but until that day… please just let people use the toilet in peace—and if you’re feeling fired up about ensuring other people’s access, see the resources below for ways you can help out.

Finally, if you don’t like all-gender restrooms, you don’t have to use them. But as our campus and many other places progress in ensuring broader access to all-gender restrooms, it might be a nice experiment in perspective building to go in search for that rare one gender bathroom all the way across campus that affirms your identity, that you feel totally safe in, and in which you can use the bathroom however you need to.

See what I did there?

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC's first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Student leader, Autumn, standing with a balloon arch we made to celebrate the opening of UMBC’s first multi-user all-gender restroom.

Resources and further reading:

UMBC All-Gender Restroom Map (2019)

UMBC Community News Message on All-Gender Restrooms from President Hrabowski and Provost Rous

GLAAD Report: Debunking the Bathroom Bill Myth (2017) 

Williams Institute Study – Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Laws in Public Accommodations: a Review of Evidence Regarding Safety and Privacy in Public Restrooms, Locker Rooms, and Changing Rooms

Transgender Rights: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Breakdown of Transgender bathroom laws in the United States

Parental Guidance Necessary: Gender Equity in Parental Leave

Alexia.JPG  Alexia Petasis is a student staff member at the Women’s Center. Alexia is pursuing an individualized studies degree with a concentration on social justice and dance. She is a co-facilitator for Pop-Culture Pop-Ups.

Originally with this blog I wanted to to explore the ways in which the gender wage gap could be mitigated by giving fathers the same parental leave policies as new mothers. However, as I started researching I found that there many more benefits than pay equity; more equitable parental leave policies have the capacity to end the traditional gendered division of labor.

In order to talk about this issue through an intersectional feminist lens, I want to add a disclaimer about the language I use in this blog post. I will be referring to mothers as those who give birth and fathers as those who co-parent with mothers; however, this is a heteronormative and cisgender-centered assumption. There are many different people who give birth who may or may not identify with the label of “mother.” In spite of this, our language for parental leave policies has remained stagnant which is a problem in and of itself. I will be dividing my conversation among “maternal” and “paternal” conceptions of leave as they are articulated by policy, but I hope that I can also offer space to challenge those conceptions and show the diversity in sets of parents that exist in the world.

Let me start with explaining what paid paternity and maternity leave is and what our policies are here in the United States. Paid paternity and maternity leave is when new parents have access to a select amount of paid time off after having children. Obviously, the time given off for new mothers or those who give birth fluctuates based on their employment and which state they live. On average, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), maternity leave can ensure up to 12 unpaid weeks off. In the United States, we currently do not have any policies in place to give mothers paid time off or fathers any time off, paid or unpaid. This discourages new parents from taking any time off work after having a child. Having only the mother stay at home with the new-born child perpetuates the stereotype that the father is the breadwinner of the family (this is further complicated when we think about lesbian and gay couples raising children). Mothers might only take a limited period of time off, they might take off and then stay home for a while and rejoin the workforce, but regardless there are usually consequences to any time off they take. Women in the workforce also face pregnancy discrimination, which results in being fired, not hired, or otherwise discriminated against due to being pregnant or intending to become pregnant.

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To give some context to how this is related to eliminating the wage gap, experts argue that the wage gap is not only due to women getting paid less on the dollar than men, but because of the “motherhood penalty.” This penalty is the effect of the time women take off from their work after having children and the negative impact it has on their ability to get promotions, get raises, or gain more years of professional experience. While there are plenty of women that go back to work soon after they have children, women are often still the ones who engage in childcare work or unpaid domestic labor while still doing professional work, known as the “second-shift.”  

For an issue as complex as this one seems, it actually is not too hard to see how gender norms are deeply ingrained in us growing up and how the policies then reflect that. For example, growing up I am sure you were relegated to play with certain types of toys based on your assigned gender. For me, that meant playing the stay-at-home mom with the very realistic baby doll I had, being gifted an ironing board playset, and spending my free time pretending to be an elementary school teacher. Clearly, all these toys and pretend games had a theme; they were all things I had seen the women in my life doing. They were tasks that involved staying in the home, taking up childcare responsibilities, and embodying the caring and nurturing traits that women were expected to hone and perfect.  In contrast, my brother had a range of different Superman, Batman, and Spiderman costumes he would dress-up with alongside a collection of hot-wheels race cars. Now, if we think about the gendered division of toys and play, we can understand what society expects out of us solely based on our gender.

Reflecting on this dichotomy as a 21-year-old, I cannot help but also note the irony of how I have grown into an adult woman:  the fields in which I have the most work experience are babysitting and teaching.

I use this as an example to demonstrate the harm that arises when we grow up thinking our talents, abilities, and traits are determined by our gender and the expectations that we believe we have to abide by when wanting to have a family. I’d also like to bring up the hetero-normative structure of these policies since the expectation is having a mom and dad, but the reality could be having two moms, two dads, a single parent, or two non-binary parents. Instead of the division of labor being equal and both parents being confident in their ability to stay at home and raise a child, that responsibility is socially cemented as women’s work. In doing so, men stay at their job and advance their career while moms face the consequences of their time off, and those fathers actually receive higher wages after having a child, known as the “fatherhood bonus.”

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Regardless of whether the mom stays home for a bit, goes right back to work, or the parents hire a nanny, working mothers almost always engage in the second shift, something  I have seen in my countless years of babysitting. Mothers and fathers might work the same amount of hours a week but whereas a father is only expected to work and then come home, the mother makes sure dinner is made, the house is cleaned, the kids are picked up, and everyone in the family and home is in order (which often involves a heavy emotional and mental burden).

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Paid paternity leave policies would not only benefit new-fathers in hetero-sexual relationships it also benefits new fathers in non-heterosexual relationships, where both parents are fathers and in relationships where the father is the one giving birth. In Soraya Chemaly’s book, “Rage Becomes Her:The Power of Women’s Anger” she discusses how in LGBTQ relationships, parenting relationships are usually more egalitarian unless there’s a stronger butch/femme expression of gender, in which case the disparity of parental duties begins to resemble heterosexual partnerships more clearly. Giving all new parents paid leave, no matter their relationship to their partner, could result in cultural shifts that give space for all types of parents to be present in the beginning of their children’s lives.

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I was motivated to write this piece as a personal way to reflect on parental relationships that I have seen who did not divide childcare responsibilities equally and observed the unfair expectations for mothers to “do-it-all.” I wanted to tie in how that mentality hinders any progress for an equitable home and workforce.To do so, I had to look back on how my gender shaped so many aspects of my personality and how I always thought the traits of caring and nurturing just came easily for me. This realization pushes me to consider how I will raise my children in a way that rejects this gendered expectations of emotional labor, childcare, and professional work. Moving forward, my hopes are that an equitable parenting relationship is respected by my partner and my workplaces.

This gets me back to my main point. In order to create equality in the workforce and at home, policies should ensure that both mothers and fathers receive equal paid time off after having children. This would reward and motivate parents to take their time off and engage in the responsibilities of being parents. It would also mitigate the motherhood penalty and pregnancy discrimination as now both men and women would be expected to leave their place of work when they have a child. Furthermore, it would create a new generation of men that will not shy away from care-taking and embrace their abilities to be nurturing.

Check out these resources to learn more about the topics that were covered in the blog:

The Impact of Equal Pay on Poverty and the Economy

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/01/the-daddy-track/355746/