The linked story below is from today’s Pitt News (emphasis is mine):

While Johnston did not comment on the complaint to the Commission on Human Relations, commission Director Charles Morrison confirmed that Johnston did file a complaint against the University.

Morrison said that the Pittsburgh commission will have jurisdiction even though Johnston was a student in Johnstown, because the University’s policy regarding gendered facilities is the same in Oakland as it is at branch campuses.

Morrison said that while Johnston was the first student to file a complaint against the University, he encourages anyone else who feels discriminated against to come forward.

We believe people whose rights have been violated should stand up and fight it, because otherwise, nothing will change,” he said.

I really appreciate Morrison voicing this idea. In a comment to my first blog post on this subject, Katherine-Anne who is Seamus’s wife left a very long message detailing her take on what had happened to Seamus. In my opinion, she sets up a binary- that either Seamus did what he did or there was no other option. Morrison demonstrates another action- file a complaint. I can easily imagine a whole different scenario today, had Seamus file a complaint way back in in the Fall when the situation happened. Please don’t misunderstand me- I am not blaming him. I am saying however, that both sides in the controversy made choices about their actions and reactions.

One option when Seamus was told he couldn’t use the Men’s locker room would have been to use the Referee’s locker room and immediately begin to publicize what he felt was discriminatory. He could have begun a complaint and not been expelled. But his approach was to rebel against the campus authorities and continue to return to the locker room, even after he was told he wasn’t permitted, and return several times. Seamus wasn’t expelled because he is trans. He was expelled because of how he chose to refusal and protest the University’s offer of a gender-neutral locker room.

Had he gone directly to the Commission on Human Relations, he may have had to deal with using the Referee’s locker room while the investigation was underway, but he could have taken the men’s lifting class, which was possibly his real interest, and he would probably still be a student today.

The issue of a gender-ambiguous person in a locker room where nudity is expected is an important issue. One that deserves to be brought up, discussed and Pitt ought to have a policy that articulates how the University handles this type of situation. But I’m not sure it is really is as simple as that the University, or the other students in the locker room must simply accept that Seamus is a man because that is how he self-identifies. Imagine the outcry if a MTF (male to female) trans person with a fully functioning penis decided she had a right to use the women’s locker room and shower facilities.

Truly, the best solution is to have private changing rooms and private shower stalls in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms, or to have all changing areas be gender neutral, but in older buildings, that may be cost prohibitive. Pitt is already treating new construction differently, but the older buildings may be slow to be changed.

When one experiences being discriminated against, one has the right to decide to take on the world all by themselves and rebel against all rules, or they can use existing mechanisms to seek change and bring justice. No one should ever accept discrimination, but not everyone will agree that Seamus was discriminated against. No one told him he had to use the women’s locker room. No one told him he couldn’t take the men’s weight lifting class. He was simply asked to use a facility that was gender neutral for dressing and showering after there were complaints by other students. I would go so far to say that even that may not have been an ideal solution, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and in my opinion, the goal is to work at getting closer to a perfect world together as opposed to by trying to fight each other.

Aside from the specifics of this case regarding Seamus and the school, is the larger issue of sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression.

Consider a disabled person in a wheel chair. Should that person claim the University is discriminating against them by forcing them to use an elevator instead of making the steps accessible to the chair? Or do we discriminate against girls/women by requiring that they use a women’s locker room?

I can accept that Seamus is “male” but I am not so sure I accept that he is a man. His gender identity is incongruent with man-ness, but fully congruent with male-ness. I am not sure if a men’s locker  room is a place where men (sex) change and shower. I think it may be. I don’t think it is the place where males are, if that makes sense. If Seamus had full top and bottom surgery such that his sex appearance was congruent with being a man, then I’d have no trouble with him in the men’s locker room.

You may have different opinions, please leave comments below, simply try and be respectful to everyone.

via Former Pitt transgender student files complaint with Pittsburgh commission | The Pitt News.

8 Comments

  1. Actually, “man” is gender, “male” is sex. Male is the medical and biological term. I’ve never seen any gender scholars draw a distinction between sex and gender – and then use “man” in the sex sense.

    People obviously use male and man interchangably (as Pitt does when they intend a locker room to be male-only but refer to it as the men’s locker room).

    As for your wheelchair example, if the wheelchair enterance was on the back of the building, or the administration created a stigma for using the elevator, yes, that’s discrimination.

    • Thanks for posting a comment. It isn’t hard to find, in the literature those who see no difference between sx and gender, and others that do. The idea that “male” is sex and not gender is interesting. Worth more thought and research. I’m of the camp, that all of the language fails to a point, because all of the language we have or use still encourages looking at a binary system.

      In terms of the whelchair, I wasn’t clear I suppose. We accept in our culture alternative accommodations as a way to provide access to all. For example, an elevator may be added to a building to make it accessble. In terms of transgender, the addition of a gender nuetral shower room is a similar type of accommodation. Seamus didn’t accept the alternative accommodation and expected, even though he still presented as female, to be able ti use the men’s shower room.

      Again, thanks for your comment.

  2. THANKS!

  3. This is definitely an issue where there needs to be a lot of listening, learning, and understanding.  It is a complex and difficult topic for many people (including those who totally support tans rights/equality) because it touches an area of self-understanding for persons on both sides of the issue.  Even getting past the “exoticness” of the topic for some, it is an issue that perplexes most people since in their own experience of gender seems to be a fixed characteristic and this I think makes understanding and engaging in this discussion fraught with difficulty. 

    Were the actions of Seamus and Katherine correct or helpful in dealing with the discrimination they felt (and very well may have) experienced?  That probably depends on a person’s personality and how they deal with conflicts in their own life (I for one am more an in-your-face kinda activist).  Discussing the methods used is an important one though and I think Thom you are right to throw your thoughts into the ring.  Because in all actions against discrimination we want to use those that are the most helpful and meaningful in bringing about the desired change in attitudes and behavior. 

    At this point I would argue that it depends on at what point in transitioning a person is for what type of changing/restroom they should use.  Certainly once a person is in the post-op phase of reassignment they should use the gendered facility that fits their transition and identity.  It is in the in between time that it becomes a bit of a balancing act.  There does come a time in hormone and psychological treatment that trans persons are told to live fully in their maleness/femaleness and it frequently here that things get murky.  Should a woman dressed as a man and living as a man go into a women’s restroom or changing area?  Some argue it would depend on how well they pass or not. 

    This is definitely something we as a community and society need to deal with.  Hopefully we can do it with a lot of respect and care.

    • Thanks for your comments Rob. I’d only add that in this case, the issue wasa about a locker room/shower, and not a restroom per se.  In both cases perhaps there is a similarity of issue. Gender expression can be a determinant as for action. In the case of going into a restroom. A transman can go into a stall, just as many CIS men might, and their gender expression is completely congruent with other guys. In the case of a locker room/shower, where nudity is expected, that same male may no longer express the same as female genitals are a part of that expression.

      Pitt’s legal counsel offered the opinion, which may now be the standard for Pitt that sex is determined by what is on the birth certificate. This grew partly out of the controversy over Seamus’s situyation where there was no official policy. The birth certificate rule has been denounced by many as too conservative and out of touch with the reality of, especially student’s experiences of gender identity. I’m hoping that we can see a better policy adopted soon.

  4. Steve Zupcic says:

    This is the best analysis that I have read of the situation to date. It takes into consideration both short and long term outcomes, as well as “the principle” of the thing. I also like it that you avoided pulling in the that confusing and needlessly bomb threat and grand jury stuff.

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