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Here's What I Think About Ben Carson's 'Trans Only' Bathroom Idea

Here's What I Think About Ben Carson's 'Trans Only' Bathroom Idea

Michael Hughes
Michael Hughes

Following the heartbreak in Houston, and GOP presidential front-runner Ben Carson's terrible comments about trans people, Michael Hughes has something to get off his chest.

In an interview last week, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said transgender people should have their own bathrooms. Seriously, Ben?

Separate can never be equal. History has proven that this is not an acceptable answer to questions of inequality, and as a person who's known that he was transgender from a very young age, I can assure you that going to the bathroom safely, and with as few issues as possible, is not "extra rights."

As a native Houstonian, I am both ashamed and disheartened by the outcome of the vote to repeal our Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I'm appalled that so many voters allowed themselves to be manipulated into denying equal rights to 15 different groups of people because these anti-HERO activists played on their fear of the transgender community -- a fear that was never based in reality.

We fear what we don't understand, which is why I stepped out of my own comfort zone earlier this year, and launched my #WeJustNeedtoPee photo protest. Transgender people aren't going into bathrooms and locker rooms to peep on anyone or otherwise cause trouble. We are no different from anyone else using the bathroom. We just need to pee.

In fact, it is far more uncomfortable and dangerous for us to be forced to use the wrong bathroom than to be trusted to choose the appropriate one for ourselves. It is especially dangerous for trans women. Transgender people often face harassment and even violence from those who fear us -- and public facilities are one of the places we're most vulnerable.

The fear-mongering advertisements that brought down HERO led many Houstonians to believe we were a danger to them. Tell that to the (at least) 21 trans women murdered so far in the U.S. in 2015 -- women who lost their lives at the hands of people claiming that we are the ones to fear.

I get that we make some people uncomfortable. I get that some people don't know how to wrap their minds around what it is to be transgender, and how to categorize us. Because after all, society needs to be able to put us all into neat little boxes.

My story began much like any of yours. I had a wonderful, quite happy, middle-class upbringing. But when I was 4 years old, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I self-identified as a boy. I wasn't especially troubled by this realization, only by the fact that I didn't know how to make others understand how I felt. This would follow me throughout my life, and it is just as hard today, 42 years later, to try and make people understand that I am not "crazy," nor am I "confused" -- and I am most certainly not a danger to society. Nor are my trans brothers and sisters.

Whether you know it or not, you have more than likely come into contact with a trans person, either in your neighborhood, at church, at school, in the workplace or at the gym. We are not men donning wigs on a whim, or women trying to dress like men to gain entrance into forbidden spaces.

We're human beings. We're sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and we want the same things you do. We have families, friends, careers and dreams. Voters were led to believe that we are malicious, heinous monsters in your midst -- but I believe society is capable of better. I believe that people are already realizing that their lack of knowledge about the transgender community was weaponized and exploited by politicians and those working in the interest of sinister, repressive political agendas.

By focusing on transgender Americans, these anti-HEROs were able to take your attention off the fact that by voting "No," you were saying "Yes" to discrimination affecting many others -- discrimination in employment, housing, and accommodation that hurts our active military, veterans, pregnant women, disabled Americans, as well as people of color, and people of many different religions.

I've already had several people explain to me how they really believed HERO was a law that would allow any and all men to access women's facilities. Then they went on to tell me how bad they felt for voting "no." None of these people I spoke to took the time to read Proposition 1 before voting against it. None of them were aware that there wasn't even any "bathroom language" in the proposition. All three of them said that they felt "duped."

As sad as I am that Prop. 1 failed, I am at least hopeful that people are seeing the opposition for what it was. Hopefully next time around -- and we will see this come back around -- they will be more aware. Hopefully, they will take the time to educate themselves, and will be less likely to be manipulated.

I believe that we are in the midst of a historic shift. I can see how much better things are for the trans community now than they were even 10 years ago. In the words of Deepak Chopra, "All great changes are preceded by chaos." We're living in the chaos right now, and that is a sign that we cannot give up.

I implore my trans community to keep your chin up and keep pushing forward. To our allies, do recognize how very important you are to helping your peers understand the importance of equality and mutual respect. And to those of you who are unsure how to feel about the transgender community, or maybe a bit afraid of us -- try sitting down and having a one-on-one conversation with one of us.

There are so many trans people out there happy to talk about their experiences. If we've put ourselves out there to educate and inform, most of us will welcome your respectful questions and a little constructive dialogue. Get to know us and see that we aren't all that different from you. You'll see that we aren't scary people with a malicious agenda.

And as for Ben Carson's suggestion that we add separate transgender bathrooms -- I just wonder if he will have them come with separate drinking fountains as well.

Michael Hughes

MICHAEL HUGHES is a trans activist, husband, father, blogger, and fifth-generation Texan.

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