Gender and School Washrooms

Today, a local story about a 7-year-old trying to find a safe washroom in school.

Note: This is an emerging story. I will faithfully follow the facts as reported in the press, but as we all know, there may be corrections over time.

Note also that in Alberta, parents have the right to a Roman Catholic education for their children. This is an interesting historical contingency, beginning with the Treaty of Paris (1763) and further established with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).

A 7-year-old child in Edmonton Catholic Schools just wants to use the school washroom and get on with the day. Unfortunately, the school and local school board politics are getting in the way.

This child, I’ll call her C, is a girl. By all accounts, C has no doubt that she is a girl. C is in the difficult position of having stereotypical male anatomy. That is, she has a penis. As for the rest of her anatomy, that’s something C, her parents and her doctor likely know more than anyone else, and certainly more than any of us have a right to ask.

For most of us, C’s position is extraordinarily difficult to imagine. I am physically, psychologically and socially male. At no point in my life has there been a conflict on that point. Oh yes, there were parts of my youth where I wondered if I were masculine enough, or when I entertained little doubts about my identity, but at no point have I ever truly believed myself to be female or “non-male” in any way. And that’s how it is for most of us. But C—even at the tender age of 7—is in a different situation. As her mother reports, C recognizes that she is female in her mind and heart, but not in her body. And, again according to media reports of her mother’s words, C is hurt and confused, and she wonders what possible purpose God could have for her. What’s worse, she wonders if she would be better off dead than alive. C is seven years old.

Why is C in the news? She wants to go to the washroom at school, and this is causing a furore.

Maybe I’m out of touch, but it seems a pretty straightforward issue. C goes to the bathroom, excretes in the privacy of a stall, washes and grooms and goes back to class. Where’s the problem? The school doesn’t see it this way. In what seems at first glance to be a reasonable compromise, the school has set aside a “gender neutral” washroom for C—or any other student who feels so inclined—to use. C has not found this to be a satisfactory solution.

I’ve not seen direct evidence on this, but I suspect that the problem is that C doesn’t want to be further separated/excluded from her peers. She simply (?) wants to be a girl in school.

I will return to this in a day or two, but I’ll end inconclusively with a pair of thoughts.

First, we hear from parents who think that a penis has no place in a girls’ washroom. This is precisely the sort of condescension I wrote about last week. We have this odd social notion that girls must always be sexually protected from boys. Presumably the thought behind this is that girls are innocent and vulnerable, and boys are wicked and opportunistic. I think it’s time to challenge both sides of this supposition.

Second, we have a number of people in our society who are not prepared to accept C’s and similar situations. There is a refusal to believe that a 7-year-old could suffer from gender dysphoria. To this we can only roll up our sleeves and begin the long and difficult process of public education.

I shall return to this issue.

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