Interview with Ethan St. Pierre on #WeJustNeedtoPee

Transman and long-time activist Ethan St. Pierre started lobbying Congress in 1995 on behalf of transgender hate crime victims and survivors after his aunt was murdered for being trans. He is a former curator of TDOR.info, the Transgender Day of Remembrance Archive, which catalogs the murders of trans and gender non-binary people worldwide.

Ethan St. Pierre, 2010
Ethan St. Pierre, 2010

I asked for this interview because I know you’ve been involved with the movement for a long time, and I feel like #WeJustNeedtoPee is about to blow up, so there’s finally enough steam behind this to do something.

Yes, it’s important to understand that we’ve been trying to push this for a very long time, and I really think that transmen are the most important factor in the whole issue because these laws put women at risk. Not from us, but because most people can’t tell the difference between trans and cis, so this is really allowing cisgender men to have access to the women’s restroom unchecked. If this becomes law, any predatory man can go into a women’s bathroom, and this is what women fear the most.

The right wing is saying this is to keep women safe. They say they’re afraid of having to explain why there’s a “man” in the ladies room, but this will actually put men in the restroom with them.

This is going to be extremely dangerous for transmen as well. Women have pepper spray, they might think they’re in danger when a man comes into the restroom, and may be proactive in defending themselves.

It’s difficult to explain the rationality of the lawmakers behind this. They say they just don’t want trans people using public restrooms, and that’s not how it works, people have to use the bathroom. This is going to make a real issue for the public.

#WeJustNeedtoPee has been about public restrooms in the media so far, but anybody who’s been around the movement knows that restroom discrimination has also been an issue in the workplace for a lot of transpeople.

I went through that when I transitioned at work. I had to use the restroom on a floor that was under construction until I really started exhibiting changes. I knew it was time when I put my hand n the ladies’ room door, and some guy yelled “hey dude, wrong door!” Now it’s been awhile, so I don’t even think about it.

If a law was created where I had to go into the women’s room, I still probably wouldn’t do it and nobody’s going to know the difference.

Unless lawmakers are willing to institute pants checks.

Yeah. Why do so many male law makers want to use the same facilities as transwomen? I’m just wondering what that’s about, do we have some chasers in the legislature?

Now in Texas they’re trying to pass a law where you get $2,000 reward for turning in a transperson using the wrong restroom at school, but male teachers can monitor the female bathrooms. Which seems more perverted to you?

Most states don’t have laws against using the wrong restroom, if they do it’s a misdemeanor, and in any place where the laws have changed in order for transgender people to use the right restroom for themselves, there’s never been a case of an attack. Their fear mongering is unfounded. They think “you have to be a pervert if I don’t understand you.”

A lot of people are saying that the laws won’t pass, so why is activism like #WeJustNeedtoPee so important?

These anti-trans lawmakers are educating the public, they’re teaching them to fear. I know how my mother has been my whole life with me and my brother. I mean, don’t mess with a mom. And I know how a mother would fear this if they didn’t understand. You’re putting a person in their most vulnerable place, and they don’t get it, they have lawmakers that they look up to spreading this hatred and fear throughout society for people who don’t know any better, and that’s why we try so hard to educate the public but we don’t always have the platform that lawmakers have. They get to spew all this crap, and it’s so hard to defend this, even though we have facts on our side, fear is a big driver, it drives a lot of people. It’s easier to scare people into submission, even though they don’t have any facts to base this on.

It’s maddening to me, especially having been doing this for a very long time. That picture is from 2010. We understood back then that this is an issue. It takes so long for us to get other people on board and to get it. “oh duh, there’s going to be men in the ladies’ room,” which is what they’re afraid of to begin with.

Do you feel that the bathroom selfie thing is going to be sending the message home? Do you think there’s finally enough buzz around the issue that we can get some traction in terms of non-discrimination rights?

I do, but the message needs to be clear that this is opening the door for cismen to have access to the womens’ bathroom. This is going to put women in danger.

Not because transmen are dangerous, not because all cismen are dangerous, but some are. And if a predatory man has ideas and is going into a womens’ facility, they’re not going to be stopped. Imagine somebody getting used to men in the ladies room? They’ll think that must be a transman because that’s the law.

I do think that people will think more about this. Not because of transmen, but because of cismen, which is what they absolutely don’t want. Women don’t want men invading their space. Women are taught to fear men. Think about how many women cross the street when they’re alone and there’s a man on the same side as them. Women don’t talk to strange men. This is definitely what lawmakres are preying on. Its not transpeople they have to worry about, it’s the lawmakers that make this scary.

I think #WeJustNeedtoPee will help with the education process.

So we may have a flood of people going into the opposite gender bathroom and taking selfies. Do you think this is going to be problematic, or do you think it’s going to be a good thing?

I think this is going to be a good thing. I’d like to see transmen working with cismen. Maybe if you took a picture of a bunch of guys in the women’s bathroom and asked which one “belongs.” None of them belong, but that’s the point, no one can tell.

I don’t think that transwomen are going to start going into the mens’ room, that’s dangerous. If they have to go into the mens’ room, if they’re made to do that, I think it’s extremely dangerous.

When they started the law, it was all about women. They didn’t want transwomen in womens’ restrooms. They’re saying that she’s a man in the womens’ room, but if you don’t want men in the womens’ room, then you don’t want this bill.

I don’t think ciswomen are going to go running in the mens’ room, but maybe that would be a good piece of activism. We could show that this is so ridiculous by having a group of women, cis and trans in the men’s room, like which of us “belongs” here? None of them.

That brings up a point that’s been talked about by other news outlets, which is the idea of passing privilege. A lot of people who are taking these bathroom selfies are passing, they could go to the restroom of their gender, but they’re taking these selfies for other transpeople who don’t pass, who would have trouble.

Absolutely, and that’s the issue. Most transmen after a few years of testosterone have passing privilege and I think that this has been a great gesture by transmen who maybe haven’t been activists, but now they’re outing themselves for the sake of our whole community.

I’ve been an out transguy for a long time, so it’s nothing for me to so this, but if you live in a very bad place, something like this is extremely heroic. This stuff can be dangerous for some people. So kudos to these guys who are stepping up for our whole community.

What would you say is the best possible outcome of #WeJustNeedtoPee?

To educate the general public enough to know that these types of laws are dangerous for everybody and that the lawmakers who are putting this forward need to be out of office, and not be voted in again. That’s the best I could hope for. That will save lives.

These lawmakers are putting personal bigotry ahead of public safety.

That’s exactly right, and for any lawmaker to pass a law that endangers the public, it’s unconscionable, and this is not just transpeople, that’s all people. This is for all citizens.

Thanks for doing this. A lot of articles are acting like bathroom laws became a thing yesterday, and I know that this has been going on for decades. A lot of cisgender people don’t realize that this is an issue that a lot of transpeople have to deal with every day.

I live in Massachusetts and an anti-discrimination law was passed a few years ago that excludes public accommodations for transpeople. That’s not just bathrooms and facilities, it’s every public place. It’s shopping malls, it’s stores. That’s a park. So now you’re saying that people have a right to discriminate against transpeople nearly anywhere. We had been in the bill, and then it was removed. Not only were we not included, we were actively excluded. That was the lawmakers intent; To exclude us.

For example, if we went to a restaurant, my wife is trans, and they decided they didn’t like that, they could throw us out for being trans, and it’s okay for them to do that. It’s perfectly legal in the State of Massachusetts. Home, by the way, of the first same sex marriage law.

And that’s still on the books?

Oh yeah. We’re fighting this right now. And do you know who’s dead against us? Barney Frank! He’s actually spoke out against us. He’s tried to exclude us from so many things when it came to Federal legislation. That guy is a terror to transpeople.

2 comments