The Importance of Trans/GNC Safer Space

Written by JJ K

At each Grease Rag Open Shop night, usually near the halfway point, the facilitator(s) asks everyone to gather and do a “go around.” That go around includes saying your name, your preferred gender pronouns, and your response to a prompt (like, “What’s your favorite bicycle tool?”). The concept of “preferred gender pronouns,” and asking people to name them, is a component of best practices when being intentionally inclusive of gender identity. It de-centers the notion that gender can be read and is a constant. It allows people the rare opportunity to tell those around them how they wish to be referred to when someone speaks about them in 3rd person.

Just this past weekend, I had the great privilege of offering my school as the setting for the Grease Rag Winter Skill Share. It took place last Sunday, and happened on the day we set our clocks back an hour. I woke up that morning, ready to drink my coffee and eager to get to school and ready things for this amazing event. I think that part of my excitement is due to the fact that the Winter Skill Share was my first Grease Rag event a few years ago. It’s an anniversary, of sorts, and now I have the honor of hosting it in my work space.

I got to school early, following the procedures for security. (Schools are so weird when they’re empty and quiet.) I had thought a lot about the space, and I wanted to be sure to be mindful about welcoming people into it. One of the things I made sure to do was to print out “All Genders Welcome” signage. With a little tape and a few pieces of paper, one set of “men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms became a judgment-free place to pee. Why all the fuss?

All genders welcome bathroom sign

People who are cisgender–that is to say, whose identity aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth (or during an ultrasound, as most babies are assigned before birth now)–have the privilege of using gendered spaces without giving them a second thought. It is this luxury of normal –enjoyed and taken for granted– that is at the heart of all privilege. Gender non-conforming (GNC) and trans people can be traumatized by the simple act of entering a “gendered” space. They worry, “Will I be safe?” “Will people be upset by the way I look?” “Will I be told to go to the right bathroom?” By creating All Genders Welcome bathrooms, the categorization of gender is removed from the process, and people can attend to their bodies’ needs in peace. I have heard many stories of trans/GNC people who have developed chronic bladder infections in junior high and high school because they simply refused to enter a gendered bathroom space. For these same reasons, many trans/GNC students quit participating in the highly gendered experience of school sports as soon as they can. Because of this, many trans/GNC youth stop exercising and don’t hydrate or eat in a healthy manner.

Think about how WONDERFUL a community like Grease Rag is for trans/GNC people. On top of being deliberate about de-centering gender norms, Grease Rag encourages WTFs to get out there and ride their bikes. This is such an empowering and potentially life-saving connection for trans and GNC WTFs. Through Grease Rag, people are encouraged to think of themselves as completely deserving of the opportunity to ride their bikes, take to the streets, be independent and meet other people who welcome them and stand in solidarity. According to the findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, titled Injustice at Every Turn, “health outcomes for all categories of respondents show the appalling effects of social and economic marginalization, including much higher rates of HIV infection, smoking, drug and alcohol use and suicide attempts than the general population.” Taking the step of intentionally including trans/GNC people and truly welcoming us to be part of a community is empowering and very encouraging. The fact that trans/GNC WTFs are being encouraged to cycle and be active in the community certainly is helping trans/GNC people see themselves as active, athletic people who can get around independently and confidently, on their BIKES!

I have been with queer students many times when they have had their first experience with All Genders Welcome spaces. They are always exhilarated by the notion that they don’t have to betray themselves, put themselves at risk or “hold it” all day. It feels so welcoming in a way that is so simple but powerfully symbolic.

I was heartened to see a post online about the temporary “All Genders Welcome” bathrooms at the Winter Skill Share event. I enjoyed reading how people reacted to the space. I’m also proud to say that the temporary nature of those restrooms will soon change to permanent at my school. We see it as a necessary step, putting our money where our mouth is. If we say we value and welcome trans and GNC students, parents and faculty, then we need to provide a place for anyone to use All Genders Welcome restrooms. It’s a simple but necessary step.

So, the next time you’re at Grease Rag, and you are asked to state your preferred gender pronouns, you might think about how important it is that you’re answering that question. Try to avoid the “I use female pronouns” answer–that’s gendering and assumes a norm. Just say, “I use she/her/hers,*” or, if you’re like me, say “I use they/them/theirs.” And then, use those pronouns and respect the person’s identity. Smile and be proud, because you are doing some revolutionary, vanguard-type intersectional work. Keep on being rad at Grease Rag. And, thanks for the safer trans/GNC WTF space!

*or whichever pronouns are the ones you prefer!