Gender Discrimination at the Y

I’ve been working at the YMCA for a while now. About a week and a half ago, my boss called me into her office. Among other things — like my having overwhelming emotions at work, holy shit who knew that guards were human — she told me that I was no longer allowed to use the men’s locker room. She said, “I know this is a sensitive issue, but we’ve received complaints.” I just mumbled okay to get out of her office, since I was already wiped out trying to convince her that I was psychologically healthy enough to work. I was extremely depressed for the rest of the day.

This is just plain fucked up. There are more serious things that could happen here, like being fired or beaten up in the locker room, or having to show a picture of my genitals to prove what gender I “really am.”. However, it’s still fucked up and it was completely inappropriate for her to ask that of me. One of the more practical concerns about this situation is that it leaves me no other options for locker rooms. We have a women’s adult, women’s and girls’, men’s adult, men’s and boys’, and children’s co-ed locker rooms. My boss said that I should use the children’s one; however, it specifically says on the door that it is not an adult changing room. While I’ve used it before, and I do look like I’m twelve, it is not appropriate at all for a 20-year-old to be using that room. I sure as hell am not going to use the women’s, and they would probably get even more complaints about a man using the women’s room. This leaves me with no options but changing in my car. This is unacceptable.

While I do not like the slippery slope argument (if we allow gays to marry, soon we’ll be allowing people to marry their dogs!), I feel that it is okay to use it in this context. The reason I am prohibited from the men’s room is more on the basis of my appearance and voice than my genitals, since I am hardly ever naked in there anyway for fear of having the shit kicked out of me…and I don’t like being naked in locker rooms anyway. The only reasons that my boss even knows that I’m trans is because I was open about it, and she’s seen my driver’s license that says F on it. This means that a man that’s short, has a high voice, or just threatens others’ masculinity by not being “manly” enough, could be kicked out of the locker room, since that’s the same reasons I was. I think everyone would agree that it’s not okay to kick someone out of a locker room because of how they look. This also could apply to a woman with short hair or something. If it’s about what’s in my pants or what letter is on my license, they would have to check everyone before they went into the locker room. It’s excessive gender policing. I think that people can gender police themselves well enough. Most people would agree that these scenarios I’ve drawn out are ridiculous and shouldn’t happen. But it’s equivalent to my particular situation.

It also makes it seem more okay to discriminate against me or other nonnormative folks. I could be fired because Y members don’t feel comfortable with their kids around a person with an ambiguous gender expression. I could be harassed, physically or emotionally. Every time I walk into a public restroom I’m afraid I’m going to get my ass kicked. I had felt safe at the Y, because they have a stick up their ass. But when I am treated as second class, as less than, it seems more okay to treat me like that in other ways. I’m sure the Y does not condone harassment, but when I am denied privileges given to everyone else in this building, what is keeping me protected? These scenarios are a bit more far-fetched, but that does not mean that I feel safe here anymore. It’s very uncomfortable and nerve-wracking to work here now. It’s fucked up to feel unsafe at one’s own workplace.

While this may not be a legal issue — transgender people are not protected from discrimination in Wisconsin — it’s still not cool at all. I appeal to the YMCA Core Values: honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility. These Values are posted everywhere in the Y. Lots of big posters with smiling children on them. The Y really does have a stick up its ass, and has very high standards for how we treat other people. I think that trust is the other side of the coin of honesty. You have to trust someone else to be honest with you. I expect people to trust me to be honest about which locker room I feel is appropriate for me to use. I trust that others in the men’s room identify toward that end of the spectrum that day or do not feel comfortable in any of the other locker rooms, or whatever. It’s not for me to question their presence, and people should trust my honesty enough not to question my presence.

Caring is feeling compassion for other people’s well-being, or at least acting that way. I no longer have access to some of the Y’s facilities (including a hot tub and sauna!), and I no longer feel emotionally and physically safe here. It is uncaring to think that prohibiting me from a men’s space would not hurt me. Additionally, it could have been said in a more caring way. When I was a counselor at Girl Scout camp, and it was troop camp with lots of moms and troop leaders, I was asked to “look less gay.” It was explained that they totally loved me for who I was and that it was totally unfair for them to have to ask that of me, but there have been lawsuits and big hullabaloos from parents about gay-looking staff members molesting their kids. It sucks. They said that I was free to dress how I wanted, but that I would be less likely to get sued for something I didn’t do if I just wore a skirt or something. If my boss at the Y told me that it sucked but I would probably be safer if I didn’t use the men’s room, it would have been a different situation. If she said that there was a high probability of harassment in the locker room because of the attitudes of some members, and that she was concerned for my well-being because the situation was out of her control, that would be caring. What did happen to me was carelessly hurtful.

Respect is treating everyone like equals, with the idea that there is no such thing as a second-class citizen. I expect to be treated with respect as an adult, as an employee, and as a human being, just like I respect others. When I am singled out because I’m different and expected to go out of my way to shield others from my icky existence, that is disrespect. It could be said that I should respect other people’s wishes to not feel uncomfortable in the locker room, that you should go out of your way to make others happy. But that’s stupid. It’s the same thing as wanting an ugly person to stay at home so others don’t have to see you. Or keeping people with disability out of public spaces because it makes other people feel bad. If a complaint is received about my using the men’s locker room, the response is not, “We’ll make sure he stays out of there,” but, “I’m sorry, but we respect all members’ right to use the locker room they feel is appropriate.” I’m really not that threatening, and I have enough self-respect to know that I am not less than.

I have many responsibilities here at work. I am responsible for people’s lives and safety. I am responsible for putting a friendly face on the Y. I am responsible for being a good role model to children. But I am not responsible for others’ discomfort about my body. The reason that the YMCA has such high standards is that it takes on the responsibility of being a leader in the community. I think one of the things it strives to be a leader in is anti-discrimination. Contributing to a world of discrimination is neglecting that responsibility. It encourages prejudice and ignorance, instead of openness and respect.

The first thing I did after the meeting with my boss was try to hold back tears and concentrate on guarding for the last half hour of my shift. Then I went home and sobbed, and talked to as many people as I could think of who could help. I contacted my therapist who gave me the name of the queer group faculty advisor at the university. I contacted the LGBT center in town. I talked to awesome cool college friends on Facebook. I contacted the Queer Resource Center at my college in California. No one answered though, and I had to leave messages. I think it’s pretty slow over the summer. I did have a good conversation with a college buddy though. Made me feel a little better. I also watched TV. It didn’t help that my parents weren’t home and I’d already lost my other job. My life felt really weird then. The QRC called me back about a week later, and gave me the number for the Transgender Law Center, which is mainly for California. They didn’t know much about Wisconsin law, and couldn’t help me out too much. They did give me contact information for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, since they were more likely to know about Wisconsin. But, I’m not a lesbian, so I don’t know if they’d know lots about transgender issues. I could contact Human Resources at the Y. I can’t trust they they would understand better than my boss though. I’m sure most everyone in Wisconsin is prejudiced against, or ignorant about, everything trans.

It’s exhausting being here. I feel like a freak and an outcast wherever I am. That’s why I’m having trouble making friends. I’m seen first as a freak, and then as a person. It’s that same mindset that allows my boss to think that it’s okay to ask me to not use the men’s locker room.


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