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January 18, 2017

Guest Blog by Theo Kahn

We’ve likely all experienced the desperation of needing to use the restroom and being told there wasn’t one available. Remember the discomfort you felt, the leg jiggling and the frantic search for a restroom? If Virginia Del. Bob Marshall has his way, that desperation will be my consistent reality.

Using the restroom shouldn't be a scary thing, but for many transgender people, like myself, it is. Trans women have been beaten for using the women’s room. Trans men have been raped in the men’s room. We are accused of being perverts, threatened and arrested for existing. Before I began consistently passing as male, I was forcibly dragged out of the men’s room at my job by a complete stranger.

On Jan. 12, Delegate Marshall and the Virginia First Foundation put on a press conference to drum up noise about Marshall’s proposed House Bill 1612, the Physical Privacy Act. The act would make it so that trans people would be forced to use the restroom or changing facility that correlates with the gender on our "original" birth certificates, not with the gender we are.

I chose my clothes very carefully that morning. I wanted to look as unthreatening and as masculine as possible. I wore a polo shirt and a blazer.

I had to have a conversation with my wife about what to do if I was arrested and how long to wait before worrying. I didn’t intend on causing trouble but I was afraid. I set my intention before I left and posted on Facebook about my fears. My great friends offered bail money and support.

I got to the conference room way too early, sweating in my blazer after the long walk. The room was bigger than I expected, with far more Capitol Police than I'd ever seen in one place. It filled in with a mix of people in suits and reporters with cameras. From my front row seat I nervously chatted with a nice officer.

Del. Marshall and his entourage finally arrived. The press conference was being run by the Virginia First Foundation, a conservative political group, and for the next hour I sat and listened to some of the most polite hate speech I have ever heard. My stomach churned as I listened to Judith Reisman say that transgender people like me shouldn’t exist, and that we were all sexual deviants. She claimed there was no clinical evidence that gender confirmation treatment was effective, despite plenty of research to the contrary.

We were told over and over again that this bill wasn’t about denying transgender individuals the restroom. It was about protecting the women and children from men who would dress as women and molest them in "intimate spaces."

We were told that this was a women’s health issue. That allowing transgender women to use women’s only areas violated legal protections.

Finally, after hearing from pastors, anti-abortion activists, school board members, and mothers, Del. Marshall took the lectern. He called on his fellow party members to keep the bill alive. He claimed that North Carolina suffered no financial repercussions from HB-2. He just wanted to protect the children from the imaginary male sexual predator dressed as a woman.

Then the floor was opened for questions. I was first to raise my hand.I didn’t hear the question before me, the blood was ringing in my ears while my hand stayed in the air. Finally Travis Witt, a board member with Virginia First Foundation who was fielding questions, called on me. I stood up and asked, “Where would you like for me to go to the bathroom?”

"Not here,” Marshall responded. 

Suddenly there were cameras clicking, people moving and angry murmurs. It felt like everyone in the room turned to the person next to them and asked, “Did he really just say that?"

I reworded my question and asked again, “Which bathroom would you like me to use?

This time, Witt answered for Marshall and gave some speech about family restrooms. I told him I wasn’t a family but a person. Other people started talking about how the legislation didn’t address a family restroom.
Del. Marshall responded, “Read the legislation.” 

I had read the legislation. I began to respond when Witt interjected with “Excuse me, Sir!” 

Sir? After an entire press conference of deliberately misgendering trans people. I sat down while Witt spoke at the crowd until the conference ended. It wasn’t until then that I realized maybe I had done something.

Reporter after reporter fired questions at me. I think I spelled my name about 20 times that day. I had business cards and crumpled pieces of paper with scrawled phone numbers shoved in my hands. I gave TV interviews where I said impassioned things that I don’t remember. I met activists, used the men’s room and hoped that my parking time hadn’t run out. I answered questions while walking to my car and made it just in time to not get a ticket. 

All because I asked a question. 

I never expected my greatest accomplishment to be asking someone where I should go to the restroom. I didn't go to cause a ruckus. I went to stand up for all the trans people who can’t. To show that his bill affects real people. I went to look Bob Marshall in the eye and ask him what he expected me to do if his bill passed.
In the end, he had no answer. 

But I can answer the question, “Where does Bob Marshall’s bill belong?”

"Not here."

This blog reflects the individual opinion and personal experience of Mr. Kahn. We are grateful he chose to share his story with us and with you.

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