To Pee, and Where to Pee
15 Jun 2016 by Suparnee Pongreungphant
My name is Jay and I am a Thai transman working with UNDP in Thailand. Over the last month I’ve been following the Bathroom Bill controversy in the US and it has got me thinking about my experiences using public bathrooms in Thailand and during my time in the US.
The ongoing controversy in the US originates with a basic question: Should people be allowed to use public and private bathrooms based on their gender identity?
In February this year, the city council of Charlotte, North Carolina passed a law that allowed people to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity. So, if you are a transgender person who identifies as a man, you use the men’s room – simple enough…right? The law is premised on the principle of non-discrimination while protecting transgender people from violence and intimidation while they attend to a very basic human need.
However, North Carolina’s state lawmakers convened a special session to overturn Charlotte’s municipal law and legislated House Bill 2 (HB2) – now better known as the Bathroom Bill – blocking local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules to grant protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. HB2 also requires that a person use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender specified on their birth certificate and denies victims of discrimination any recourse through the law.
When I went to the US in December 2015 for a vacation in San Francisco, I didn’t think twice before using the men’s room as California does not have a HB2 law. However, I was often stared at in the men’s room and was once asked to use the ladies’ room. When I used the ladies’ room, people also stared. As a transman who does not fit neatly within stereotypical ideas of what a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ looks like, where and how am I supposed to use the bathroom in peace without my ‘gender’ being policed?
In Thailand I am commonly seen as a tom (a person who was assigned female at birth but who acts and dresses in a masculine way) rather than a man. As a result I am expected to use the ladies bathroom. But since Thai people are so used to toms I rarely get stared at and never get asked to leave. However, it is likely that if I tried to use the men’s room I would have a much different experience. There were many times when I wanted to use the men’s room, but I wasn’t confident as I didn’t think I looked masculine enough and was afraid of people’s reactions.
My experiences have made me hopeful of the Gender Equality Act (2015) that was passed in Thailand last year. In August 2015, UNDP partnered with government and civil society to launch this Act. This law is the first and only law in Thailand that provides LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) inclusive protection from discrimination. To have my homeland pass such a law that can protect me and other transgender people as we go about our daily lives (including using the bathroom) is a source of pride for me as a Thai transman working with the UN in Thailand.
Globally and in Thailand, I see a positive trend with regards to laws, policies, and social structures towards greater acceptance and advancement of rights for LGBTI people. However, it is also clear that conservative attitudes remain persistent. It is important that we continue to strive for a world free from discrimination, a world where ‘no one is left behind’.