*Dodie’s Place Cajun Bar & Grill shared pictures of its bathroom doors on social media and people have reacted extremely negatively. What’s all the fuss? The eatery denoted the men’s room with a picture of Bruce Jenner from the Olympics and the ladies’ room with an image of Caitlyn Jenner.
I admit that upon first glance I didn’t see much wrong with this situation. In fact if asked I would’ve argued that the bar & grill was being progressive by putting Caitlyn Jenner’s image on the door of ladies’ restroom – they were referring to her as an example of a woman which, to me, meant they must be accepting of her.
But then I read the article that was attached to the social media post. I was surprised that the restaurant was doing this as a way of ridiculing Caitlyn Jenner for her history. My second wave reaction was I am surprised that this was an issue that people were up in arms about. To get upset over using someone’s actual history and/or a photo of that history seems to be an overreaction. I would’ve argued that people who use Caitlyn Jenner as an example of female couldn’t be trans-phobic and that we should look past the Bruce Jenner image. Ultimately I posted the story with my commentary on it. I made it clear that I am always looking to improve the clarity of my perspective. Luckily a former co-worker stepped up to the plate.
She reminded me of things that I had already known, but couldn’t really appreciate as a cis-gendered person. That bathrooms in particular for trans people are a sensitive area because bathrooms are seen as a place where trans-people are getting over on the cis-gendered. Bathrooms are the place where trans people commit to the ruse that they are not their birth gender. In doing this bathrooms are the place where trans people solidify the identities that they use to forward their sexual predation on cis-gendered folks. Because of that, bathrooms are often the area where trans people are attacked – and often brutally so. Of course trans-people are no more likely to be criminals or sexual predators than any other segment of the population. In fact they might be less likely to commit crimes after being victimized so often throughout America’s history. But because bathrooms carry such a connotation, hanging a picture of Caitlyn Jenner on the ladies’ room could very well be a sign to some to attack.
Secondly, Dodie’s use of Bruce Jenner image from the 1970s was a micro-aggression at best. I confess that I cannot always wrap my mind around the idea of a micro-aggression – they sometimes seem to be the insults that everyone grew up with. But the thing I have to continuously remind myself about micro-aggressions is that they are not mere jokes or insults based on an individual; they are jokes or insults tied to a power dynamic in society that the person would be hard pressed to change. Using a picture of Bruce Jenner to document the 1976 Olympics should be acceptable. Using a picture of Bruce Jenner as a contrast to Caitlyn Jenner in this context is to assert that her former male identity. This can be scarring for trans-people who by definition do/did not feel comfortable with their gender at birth.
I do not claim that I understand all of this. I do not claim that I am comfortable with all of this. As much as I can think and write the last paragraph, it is a mental challenge to put myself into the shoes of a trans-person to truly “get” it. But here’s the thing: I don’t have to “get” it; I don’t have to be comfortable with it. It isn’t my reality so my personal feelings on this situation are almost irrelevant. What I need to do is accept that last paragraph as true and then advocate on behalf of trans-people accordingly.
One of the major blind spots of black people in the United States is the plight of other groups of people. The story of African-Americans in America is well documented, mostly negative, and acknowledged as such. So African-Americans often feel as if they have an authority to declare what is and is not acceptable treatment of other groups. Historically this has included pronouncements on American society dealing with Native Americans, women, immigrants, people of Japanese ancestry specifically, and most recently homosexuals. It seems as if trans-people are the current group to gain the spotlight and attempt to normalize their existence within American society. But it is the duty of African-Americans to resist the temptation to pass judgment on the treatment of trans-people. This isn’t a zero-sum game of who’s had it worse because there is nothing that will erase the history of black people in America. We should all, no matter which particular group(s) you identify as being a part of, have enough contempt for and energy to combat mistreatment of any group – especially American citizens inside of American society.
This isn’t about my experience or understanding. It’s about accepting someone else’s humanity and the way they experience and understand it; it’s about the attack on their humanity. And ultimately it’s about good people mounting a common defense.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.