There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom?! ~ Jayleigh Lewis

Via elephant journal
on Mar 5, 2013
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Photo: Sterling Ely
Photo: Sterling Ely

Coy Mathis, a six-year-old transgender girl in Colorado, has been told she cannot use the girls’ bathroom at school.

She began publicly identifying as a girl midway through her kindergarten year but, according to her parents, has identified as female for as long as she could express herself.

Yet she was born with male sex organs.

And that’s the problem.

The Fountain-Fort Carlson School District, where Coy is a student, sent her parents a letter last December saying they had to take “into account not only Coy, but other students in the building, their parents and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older.”

The letter referenced a future where those at the school were likely to become increasingly uncomfortable with her use of the girls’ bathroom, “as his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body.”

Coy’s parents were told their daughter would have to use the boys’ bathroom, the gender-neutral staff bathroom or the nurse’s bathroom. They are concerned that this difference in treatment would make her vulnerable to bullying.

Where do transgender people fit in a world that sometimes divides into all-male and all-female spaces?

Bathroom issues aside, living as female and living as male are and have been, across cultures, two quite different experiences. It can be liberating to have spaces where each gender can explore those experiences among others who understand. It can be empowering to have spaces where there is lessened pressure to perform one’s expected gender role, thus freeing people to express themselves in different ways.

In theory, all genders would benefit from these spaces. Transgender people no doubt feel the pressure of gender-based social roles just as acutely, if not more so, than those whose genitals match their genders. Why not open all-male or all-female spaces to them?

If we don’t, we might say it’s because transgender people have not experienced being male or female in the same way as those who have always been one or the other have. A person who was raised male and transitions to female, for instance, has had the opportunity to experience male societal privilege in a way that someone who has always been treated as female never will.

But, this argument doesn’t apply in the same way to a six-year-old (especially not one whose transgender identity has always been known and accepted—debate over the causes of this identity aside).

Is it all about the genitals?

If we still want to exclude children like Coy from single-gender spaces for the gender they identify with, it really does look like it is all about the genitals.

My first naïve thought upon reading this story was to wonder what impact anyone’s genitals could possibly have on anyone else’s bathroom experience. I’ve always thought it odd that there should have to be separate male and female bathrooms anyway. It’s not like we’re parading around naked in there. Couldn’t there just be a separate “urinal room” for those who want to use one, and let everyone else use the bathroom they want to use?

My second thought was that that would absolutely not work.

There’s a power differential between male genitals and female genitals. Humanity has a long history of male genitals being used and seen as weapons. In the minds of many people, the need to provide protection from that possibility overrides concerns about practicality.

It might also override concerns about discrimination based on gender. I have to wonder if this is part (though certainly not all) of what’s going on in Coy’s case.

What should we, as fair-minded and compassionate people, do?

This is the question that’s been on my mind for the past week.

I would never say that those who perceive single-gender safe space to be predicated on an absence of opposite-gender genitals are wrong. There’s been too long a history of gender-based violence, particularly of females, to ignore the need for this kind of safety.

I also want to see children like Coy treated with compassion and sensitivity.

Right now, her parents have opted to home-school her while a legal battle with the district goes forward. They have filed a complaint with the Colorado Office of Civil Rights. The outcome remains to be seen.

I hope we’re paying attention.


jayleighJayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel


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10 Responses to “There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom?! ~ Jayleigh Lewis”

  1. brianna says:

    My college dorm bathrooms at UC Santa Cruz were shared by both genders. This included showers. To be honest, it took a little getting used to—to pee with a boy in the shower next to you, but that's all it took—getting used to. I think the the separation we force internalizes the feelings that these normal bodily functions (yes, everyone does them!) should be be done under lock and key from the other gender. But this kid is 6 years old! I can understand MAYBE an issue arising in later years IF Coy appears male, but in that case, it it the school's responsibility to educate their students on transgender people in order to create acceptance (which they should do anyway), not separate them out and create taboo. Again, we're talking about 6-year-olds here. They will accept whatever it is we teach them as "normal" or not. If there's a power differential it's because we create it, which only means that we can change it.

    I too hope we will pay attention. Thanks for sharing, Jayleigh. My heart goes out to Coy and her family.

  2. Helen says:

    This is an example of how the social programming begins…these children don't care who has what, the adults are teaching them to care. This could be a great opportunity to educate about diversity and acceptance since they are all friends at this point and ready to accept the differences. I have felt for the past several years that we, as a society are moving backward.

  3. brittany says:

    The author seems to be, and most likely many/most readers of this website probably also are, coming from an idealistic viewpoint. I am a proponent for the rights of LGTB people, however there is a safety standpoint to keep in mind. There are people out there who would take advantage of gender neutral rest areas. What is to keep a “pervert”, or sexual predator from video taping people in the rest room or attacking them? Sure, people of the same gender can already easily do this, but I’m sure the instances of it happening in a mixed gender setting would be much more common.

    Also, the idea of “transgendered” is a slippery slope. Recently I was listening to a podcast interview with a person in transition (Shadi Petowsky) and she brought up an interesting point: What is to keep a man from throwing on a dress and lurking in the women’s restroom? Where is the line exactly?

  4. Jayleigh says:

    Thank you for reading and commenting. This is such a complex issue that no one article can do it justice. I agree completely that there is lots of room for sexual predation in gender-neutral restrooms. I see it as a sad commentary on humanity that this is the case. Because of that all-too-likely possibility, I can't recommend that solution completely without reservations. You're right that I may lean toward the idealistic. I am looking for, and hoping others will also look for, the action of most compassion while still keeping in mind the difficult realities.

  5. Maj says:

    Great post! We are such a conservative country I think as far as discussing sex with small children is concerned but then why do we automatically label a person by what we beleive is between their legs? Love your post, gender, nor life is black and white. Embrace it.

  6. Alexis w. says:

    This reminds me of something that happened when i was in summer school in ,i think, third grade. Somehow the door to the only boys bathroom on the playground, and one of two we were alowed to use whith most of the school locked, got closed. The problem being that the doors auto lock when shut.( Im still sure it was rather odd that it managed to happen just as one of my quieter class mates had to tear himself away from the rest of the boys in our grade…) The only other bathroom was the one on the far side of the playground and past the preschool & kindergarden classrooms near the front enterence (in california we have breezeways instead of hallways and the breezeways and classrooms tend to be in either grids or lines) and a classmate had to choose between running to the other bathroom and probably not making it or hoping that some of us girls, myself included, who ran to find a teacher found someone with keys in time. One of the girls went back into the bathroom and started talking to the girls inside,there had to be at least 12 of us counting both the ones in the bathroom and outside of it, and by the time i got back it was to see a teacher running over and the boy coming out of the girls bathroom with 3 of the girls. The teacher asked what he was doing and that he was to go imdeitly to the office but one of the girls hend his arm and said that they had asked everyone inside and they had said it was ok with them and that they had to all but drag him inside and that she was sure the were boys in the looked boys bathroom but they didnt answer to knocks on the door and that it was an emergincy and not his falt that there was no other bathrooms. All the rest of us chimed our agreement and the teacher looked suprised but let it go and chased us all off before he got the boys bathroom unlocked. It Says something that its adults who insist on gender seperated bathrooms and not kids. I means i can understand the seperation makes it easier to keep kanoodeling down once puberty hits but most kids dont think that diferent is the same thing as bad even if thay are more likly to question diferences.

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