11/12/2013 05:55 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Transgender People Belong in Your Bathrooms


When I was in high school there was a rule that students couldn't cross dress when we came to school in our Halloween costumes. It was considered inappropriate, and it was one of the "bad" costume types that required teachers to be positioned in the lobby before school, waiting for students who would dare to violate the policy. Those students would get sent to the dean's office and made to change.

For many closeted transgender people, Halloween is sort of our annual "free pass" day where we can present how we want to without fear. In 11th grade I very much wanted to dress as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I loved the show so much. I really wanted to be Willow, because I identified with her so much more, but I thought Buffy would be more quickly recognized. But regardless, I was too afraid that I'd get in trouble at school, so I went as Xander instead. It was a dumb costume, and no one got it. I'd have rocked the Buffy outfit I'd picked out.

To this day I can remember that feeling of being told by my school that there was something inherently inappropriate about how I felt about myself, that identifying with female characters enough to want to dress as them in a costume was something I would deserve to be punished for. I'm not going to be so self-martyring as to claim that this was the sole cause of the years of shame and self-doubt that I endured before I started to live openly as a transgender person, but it didn't help. It contributed. The fact that I can still remember that exact feeling of walking in the front door of the school and seeing administrators waiting to catch me in the act of being myself, and get that sinking dread in the pit of my stomach as a result, means something.

There is great weight to the way that institutions, educational or otherwise, treat those who are "othered" by society. If a group of students is labeled "the bad kids," other students will avoid them, whisper things about them, share rumors. In my school the kids who hung out just off school property and smoked in the morning were "the bad kids." Never mind if those kids might have been extremely bright students who just happened to enjoy smoking or didn't feel invested in the coursework presented to them; they were "bad." And if a school labels gender-variant presentation as a sin, then the students of that school will, in no insignificant way, be influenced by that label in how they interact with those who do indeed break the gender-identity mold.

And that's what the law currently being challenged for repeal in California is all about. It recognizes, at the state level, the inherent right of a human being to self-identify. It acknowledges that the science of what makes sex or gender isn't as airtight as people once believed, and that there are people who were identified as boys or girls at birth who actually aren't. It is an early step in what I hope will be a continuously fortuitous journey toward understanding that there is nothing wrong with us that makes us transgender, and that being transgender is the simple fact of our being.

And it does this not just by protecting those trans kids who desperately need protecting but by teaching those cisgender kids in their schools that we exist, and that there is nothing scary or dangerous about us. It establishes that we don't just belong in their spaces but that they are our spaces too. This law is important because of two very important words: We belong.

The horrifically misleadingly named Privacy for All Students organization seeks to end that. Under the false banner of "protecting the privacy non-transgender" students, they want to write into state law that trans kids' rights are less important, that trans kids deserve to be treated as if there were something wrong with them, something broken. They seek to continue the cycle of ignorance, misunderstanding, and flat-out hatred that brought about such an initiative to begin with. And that is just as much a disservice to the cisgender children of California, and of every other state in the union, as it is to the transgender children whom it seeks to vilify.