Intersectionality: Boundaries, Bathrooms, and Black Lives

I’ve been in a wheelchair for nearly twenty years, due to an accident that left me paraplegic. So I’ve experienced my share of exclusion: by doorways too narrow, by stairway access, by hills and cobblestones and grass and other obstacles, by the arrangement of banquet tables.  Generally I just accept exclusion as my lot in life.  After all, the Appalachian Trail was carved into rugged terrain laid out millennia before the Americans with Disabilities Act was ever envisioned.  It’s my problem that I’ll never check it off my bucket list now, not yours.  My exclusion is usually the result of neglect or oversight, not deliberate dismissal.  Although my worth as a human being sometimes seems diminished by my use of a wheelchair, nobody, as far as I know, viscerally despises me for my disability.

But once I experienced rejection as an intentional act. And the experience, for me, shines a light on the lives of other vulnerable minorities who are deliberately disenfranchised and oppressed.  I think I have at least some insight into how people who are the targets of the current “bathroom bills” must feel as they are singled out for discrimination by zealous legislatures.

It was at a weeklong conference in western New York. I was among a crowd of enlightened liberals, a thoughtful, well-educated group that had gathered to hear Bill Moyers, among others, talk about politics and compassion in presidential election cycles.

The iconic facilities were largely inaccessible for persons with mobility challenges, in spite of the fact that the majority of those in attendance were in their golden years. After all, who else would have the time, money, and inclination to retreat for a week to listen to intellectually stimulating lectures?  Every venue was littered with walkers and scooters, like the aftermath of a successful healing crusade.

But there were plans being drawn up to improve the site and to make it more accommodating. In fact, a tour was offered to present the new vision.  I gladly signed up to learn more and perhaps offer observations from my experience.  The tour was enjoyable enough, until the tour guide led our small group of about a dozen down a ramp that was far too impossibly steep for me to follow safely.  I sat at the top and watched my group descend.  When they reached the bottom, I called out, “EXCUSE ME, BUT I CAN’T GET DOWN THERE.”   The group looked at me like cows across a field.

“SORRY,” the tour guide offered.

“WELL, COULD YOU MAYBE COME BACK SO I COULD HEAR THE REST OF THE TOUR?”

The tour guide thought about this for a minute, and then surveyed the group. “How many of you would like to continue the tour?”  A show of hands.  “OK, how many of you would like to go back up where that guy in the wheelchair is?”  Another show of hands, but from a smaller sampling.

“SORRY. THE GROUP VOTED TO GO ON.”  And that was the last I saw of them.

My participation had been put to a vote!  And I had lost!!  A group of my peers, ostensibly interested in making accommodating changes to this venerable venue, had voted, right in my presence, to abandon me because they didn’t want to be inconvenienced by my special needs.  I vowed to never set wheel in that venue again.

I wonder if that’s how my gay, lesbian, and transgender colleagues feel when waves of state legislatures are busy enacting laws to prevent them from using the public restroom facilities corresponding to their gender identity. But no, it can’t be.  Not quite.  Because my LGBTQ colleagues are also exposed to vitriol and disgust spewed by the legislators who enact these laws and by their hate-driven supporters.  I may be ignored, but I’m not reviled.

Public restrooms and fitting rooms are already menacing enough for people with non-conforming gender identities. A masculine-appearing female colleague of mine writes that she and her wife always share a joke when she goes to the bathroom: “Okay, honey, if I’m not out in five minutes, come look for me.”  But the joke isn’t funny anymore, as actual laws prohibit transgender persons from public accommodations, as actual police drag gender non-conforming individuals from bathrooms, and as bigots post threats that they will now be packing heat when they go into public bathrooms.  My friends are no longer safe taking a pee.

Don’t talk to me about protecting our wives and daughters. More people have been sexually assaulted by lawmakers than by transgender individuals with full bladders.  Don’t bring up your “Christian values” unless you’re also prepared to give up shellfish and football.  I’m a pastor myself.  I’ve been studying scripture professionally for forty five years.

I know what it feels like to not fit in – literally – when my chair is too wide to fit or can’t negotiate the stairs. I have my own bathroom stories.  But I don’t imagine that architects are scheming over their blueprints to deliberately keep the disgusting cripples out of their facilities, or that sinister tour groups are secretly plotting to jettison the worthless rolling persons trailing after their tour.  In my case it’s just neglect, self-absorption, and lack of attention.

For the LBGTQ community, this is raw bigotry aimed squarely at them. Mean-spirited, hateful, unenlightened folks have found a way to lash out against the encroachment of civil rights for all.  As the arc of history bends inexorably toward acceptance and inclusion, there are those who feel threatened by this trend and who are desperate to derail or delay it.  To the point of regulating the potty behavior of their selected scapegoats.

These people will attempt to preserve their worldview and privilege by any means possible. They will build walls to keep Mexicans out.  They will put mosques under surveillance and restrict Muslim immigration.  They will carpet bomb the enemy and waterboard its combatants.  They will exclude gender non-conforming people from their bathrooms (since they can’t seem to legislate them out of existence).  They will aggressively and sometimes violently counter any claim that Black lives, like the lives of the dominant culture and race in this country, should matter too.  They will refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Disenfranchise millions through stricter voter ID laws.

The battlefields will vary: Stairs and ramps.  Bathrooms.  Seats on the bus, lunch counters, and drinking fountains.  Head coverings and accents.  Waistband height.  Wedding cakes.  Photo IDs.  But the pain is common to all who don’t fit the majority narrative.

 

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17 thoughts on “Intersectionality: Boundaries, Bathrooms, and Black Lives

  1. “like the aftermath of a successful healing crusade.”

    I love when a teacher uses humor to soften me into a difficult place.

    A few years ago, I was in the city for a conference at the UN with a group of colleagues from around the world. Our delegate lived in the Upper West Side and invited us to her home for a potluck dinner afterward. After many of us had arrived and began socializing, we discovered that one of our colleagues was in a wheel chair. With help she was able to get into the building and hoist herself up one flight of stairs, but she couldn’t make it to the second floor apartment. Thus small groups of us took turns sitting with her during the evening. It was awkward. The stairwell was tight. Sefakor was immobilized on the landing. Forced to wait for others to bring her food. While we were forced to spend some of our night in a stairwell instead of in a home. There was laughter. Conversation. Connection. Photos. Learning. In the stairwell. Sefakor told me about her fight for those with disabilities in her country of Ghana. Of how much better it was here, in the US. (The stairwell wasn’t even vacuumed. What is she had to go to the bathroom? What if she had her period?)

    I am so grateful for advocates. Those who shout to tell us what is wrong. Especially in the face of our inconvenience.

    “As the arc of history bends inexorably toward acceptance and inclusion, there are those who feel threatened by this trend and who are desperate to derail or delay it.”

    I am so grateful for the arc, and I am equally aware that not all who fear it or feel threatened by it have sinister aims. Fear. Ignorance. Inconvenience. These are all human.

    When we say, “These people,” we divide us from one another. We widen the gap of separation. We lessen the opportunity for learning.

    “The battlefields will vary.”

    I’m grateful for those who have the wisdom to point out all the ways we distract ourselves from our fear. But what if we re-imagined these moments in history, not as fights on battlefields, but as windows of learning. Like my moment in the stairwell with Sefakor. And your moment at the top of the ramp.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a biblical counselor, father of 7, and the granddad of 11 grandkids. I have served in Christian ministry for 35 years. Thank you for sharing your view point. Yes. You write a very well written article.

    However, I disagree. According to the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, I have the freedom both in public and private discourse to share my views.

    I’m not sure what you are trying to accomplish by labeling people who disagree with you as bigots, haters, etc. Why can’t you just say they share a different view point?

    It is my view (biblically, scientifically, and protected by the First Amendment) that God made and still makes males and females in His Image. (Read Genesis)

    I do not believe a person has a chromosome configuration different from what their gender is. God assigns gender. It matches the person’s chromosomes and male or female physical attributes.

    I believe this is not a civil rights issue. It is a moral issue. Men should not be around 8 year old girls, for instance, in a vulnerable private environment. If God has created you with a make sex organ and you do not have ovaries or a womb, you are a male, a man, a guy.

    I believe we must protect, honor, and defend our children.

    Oh yes… At one pro baseball game, I went to the men’s bathroom. It was packed. The woman’s bathroom was even more packed. A few ladies came into the men’s bathroom due to urgent issues. It felt a bit strange but I understood. Their line was just too long. I was in my 40’s at the time.

    If I were an 8 year old girl, and a man comes in to the lady’s room dressed like a lady, I would be a bit scared. That man should have the courtesy to go to his own male/ men’s room. That’s how I see it. You can disagree. I won’t stoop to calling you names and I won’t say, “Shame on you!” Nope! I will respect you and your right to hold to a different viewpoint. I suggest you do likewise. Take care!

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    • James, thank you for your civil response. You may be right that disagreement doesn’t always indicate bigotry. I should have softened my tone, perhaps. But, though the foundations for your opinions may be of the highest order, you are simply wrong. I have indeed read Genesis. Several times. We know more about the world today than our ancestors in the faith did. Though the Bible says that God created us male and female, we know today that that is a gross oversimplification of the facts. There are multiple identifiable gender types, based on the various combinations of X and Y chromosomes that are mathematically possible. You are entitled to your opinions, but when scientifically dubious opinions result in the oppression of entire constituencies of God’s people, this is very much a civil rights issue. The moral position here is not separating the genders according to tradition, but to be open to how this practice has hurt people. Thanks for staying in the conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read the “gender” document. This is a tasteful and orderly explanation of gender issues as you and many others define them. I, however, hold to my original view of two sexes with corresponding two genders. To go against that, to me, Says our Creator just doesn’t know what in Sam Hill He’s doing. To agree with your premises also goes against common sense. Our culture would further unravel as it is trying to do now ( bathroom wars ).

        In 1912 when the Titanic went down, one side of the ship had ‘first come – first serve’ to determine who got into the life boats. On the other side of the ship it was ‘women and children first!’ in the life boats! Men will sacrifice for those they are supposed to protect.

        Now can you imagine the chaos that would have ensued on top of the already tense situation if, say, the men on this second side of the ship claimed to be female gender on the inside? The reason it did not happen is because of honor, common sense, and the fact that men were men and women were women. Nothing has changed in my book. I believe God made men with the inherant desire to protect women and children. This is what I believe and embrace. Call me old fashioned…

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    • If a male to female transgender goes into the women’s restroom, not you or anyone else would suspect she was born a male. We as a society, regardless if we all agree or not, need to be educated on transgender issues. If people are more educated alot of the misconception will not be there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really do not think I need more education. Two genders / sexes: male and female. Science and Scripture are utterly in sinc on this one. Oh… Common sense and about 5 thousand years of civilization speak loudly to this.

        Yes, sin has corrupted all the earth. Perversion and that which is an abomination to Almighty God unless repented from, will be met with sure judgment and eventual destruction.

        Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God and His Angels
        Genesis 19:4-5 reads, ” 4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

        And if you read on, it even gets worse. I share this not to judge anyone. But rather I desire to humbly warn those practicing acts of perversion. A similar despairing end awaits those who reject God’s Truth and commands.

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    • James: You come across as a sincere Christian. At the same time, you come across as tragically unaware of the difference between gender and biological sex. It’s well established—across all disciplinary fields of knowledge today–that biological sex and gender identity are not synonymous realities. You would far better serve your counseling clients if you would educate yourself on this matter. That may be like asking a fish to ride a bicycle however, given that certain conservative evangelicals (I’m a progressive evangelical) aren’t prepared to acknowledge what’s known as ‘the social construction of reality’ and systemic, collective sin, but instead attempt to deal with the world and all its problems through a highly narrow, individualistic lens.

      Here’s a link to one of many resources on the internet about the difference between gender and biological sex. Please, at least read it and think about it. https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/

      Liked by 2 people

    • Should a man be around 8 year old boys in a “vulnerable private environment,” as you say? If that a large part of your argument, then no adult should be in a public bathroom with a child at the same time.

      But if this really is about molesation of children, statistics show it is more likely to be done by someone known (or related to) the child, not by strangers in public toilets when the parents are usually with the kids.

      Liked by 1 person

    • James Grunseth – There are now, and always have been, people who have ambiguous genitalia and/or chromosomes other than XY or XX. The external signs have always been recognized; the chromosome variations were discovered only recently. What gender do you suppose God assigned to these intersex individuals? I believe that every aspect of creation reflects the image of the God that authored it. I further believe God knew wide variations would arise out of the complexity of creation and declared them good also. The fact that we sometimes have a hard time accepting the “other” doesn’t mean God does.

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      • Hi Joyce,
        The chromosome aberrations are rare. Biblically, it was man’s original sin that corrupted God’s creation. -Not God.

        The bottom line is that God created males and females who compliment one another.

        There are no girls inside of boy’s bodies. That is deception.

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  3. Would it be ok for me to put this message into our churches monthly. Of course it will be under your name. I think it is important for a rural congregation to hear this message.
    Thank you for a very thoughtful piece.
    Don Frandsen
    Pastor
    St Paul’s UCC
    Defiance, MO

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  4. You kindly didn’t name the site in Western New York, but as a frequent attendee there I am embarrassed. Sorry to lose a participant with your gifts.

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  5. Thank you for this! At the first job after getting married 40 years ago my boss once complained about all the city construction projects converting street curbs to being wheelchair accessible. He thought it was a waste of taxpayer money. I tried to ask him what if he ended up in a wheelchair some day, wouldn’t he want it done? He didn’t care! I was baffled to say the least.

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  6. Wonderful article. Thank you for offering your perspective. I have come to view it as my duty as a follower of Jesus (and member of a UCC church) to notice who is being excluded and make sure we’re setting another place at the [Communion] table.

    I have one small but significant correction to your article which I only just learned about myself. The female-bodied colleague you referred to uses the pronouns they/them/their.

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