In light of recent events, one that has seen an uproar from the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond, we look into the comfort room as the conduit to the continued fight for equality and why we need to stand and speak up more than ever.
“For the love of God, do you really have to go to the washroom four floors down? Why don’t you just pee here?” I asked my friend in an admittedly impatient but innocent huff as we trekked to the mall’s cinema that night. “Previews are starting, and you know how I hate missing the trailers.”
“It’s the only place with a non-gendered restroom in the mall,” she replied. “There I won’t be shamed for relieving myself.”
Right then and there, my world came to an abrupt halt, as if displacing the arrangement of my heart, mind, and soul to an unrecognizable mess. Clearly slapping me to my senses, an old conversation we had surfaced, bringing with it a violent wave that crashed on my still veneer. Having been completely consumed by my own prejudice and privilege, I had glazed over her apparent of entering a gendered restroom in a space outside of what she would call safe. You see, many years back, my friend and sister, Thysz Estrada, was outright and dare I say, aggressively denied access to the ladies restroom where she had figured for an event.
“I had to pee, so I fell in line along mothers with their kids, office workers, and other shoppers, all of whom didn’t even so much as bat an eyelash that I was with them. When it was my turn to go inside, I headed to an empty cubicle. When I was inside, a janitress caught a glimpse of me and loudly said, ‘Ay, bawal kayo dito.’ Of course, because I was already about to close the door of the stall, I ignored her and went ahead with my business,” she recalls of the incident that still gnaws at the hem of her more confident stride these days. “The cubicles had open spaces at the bottom. There she pushed the mop she was holding against my feet repeatedly, and told me loudly to get out. Already humiliated, I took a deep breath and stepped out. I asked her: ‘Ano pong problema?’ She said, ‘Bawal bakla sa pambabae, sa panlalake na lang kayo.’”
“Ate, hindi ako komportable mag-CR doon,” retorted Thysz in full confidence.
“Samahan na lang kayo ng guard,” she said.
“Hinding-hindi ako magpapasama umihi.”
“Pasensya na, management rule lang,” the janitress asserted, to which Thysz asked, “Nasaan ang manager mo, kausapin ko.”
At that point, Thysz vividly remembers how the other women in line were all visibly agitated that she was being accosted by the janitress. “Sa pagkakaalam ko, walang rule na nagba-bawal sa’kin na mag-CR dito. Ignorante ka,” she finished, leaving with her head held high.
Since then, she had mapped out which restrooms in the considerable scope of the metropolis were non-gendered, where she could do what is human of her in peace. It was and still is an inconvenience, but the added effort she and other transwomen have to exert relieves them of something more haunting—judgment and fear.
Two days ago, an incident broke the lull of a dreary end-of-day on social media. Making the rounds of many a fired up timeline, a live stream on Facebook stirred people into a frenzy with an account from an aggrieved Gretchen Diez, a transwoman who just like Thysz Estrada, was denied a right and truth by a janitress employed by Farmer’s Plaza in Araneta Center. The disturbing, disgusting, and completely devoid of humanity display not only sent shivers down my spine and a collective of enraged community, it rendered me still as I watched the entire incident unravel from bad, to terrible, to the worst possibility.
Unless you don’t give a fair amount of care, which you should be ashamed of, you’ve all been brought up to speed at this point. In the live video, the janitress accountable was explaining to the officers what had happened, which then escalated to a shrill barrage of statements that went, “Alam mo sir, kanina nag-CR ka sa babae tapos in-assist kitang maayos sa lalake,” she began. “Anong papel mo? Ha? Para sumikat ka? Hoy, hindi ka artistahin. Hindi ka maganda para maging sikat ka. Sirain ko ‘yan.” And then she hits Diez in an effort to shut down the live video she was taking in an effort to collect evidence of the insufferable treatment she was merely at the precipice of then. In between tears and scrapes of confidence, Gretchen Diez, who was all alone at the time would then be shamed, dragged and cuffed to a police precinct to answer to a reprehension of Unjust Vexation.
While I admittedly struggled to find the words to express my own heightened feelings of anger at the perpetrators and the system, as well as of course, an empathy for Gretchen Diez, every possible dormant volcano erupted simultaneously, flooding social media with a hostile flow of palpable rage, all settling to a similar outcry in defense of the obvious dehumanization and discrimination: Respect equal rights and pass the Anti-Discrimination or SOGIE Equality Bill.
Naturally, this being held up in the people’s court of social media and the internet, everyone threw in their share of opinions, some of which were reeking of both the heteronormative and masculine prejudice and privilege. Thumbing down with their thoughts and points-of-view, it has become apparent how misguided the world is today. Some would throw in the argument of education, but while it is certainly paramount, education isn’t a guarantee of good manners, human empathy, and kindness. And insisting on a skewed and selfish narrative is a disservice to the hallowed name of education.
Over the course of the past few days, the issue of denying Gretchen Diez her human right and lived out truth in a public space grew on a new pair legs, gaining traction for the wrong reasons, which was to uncover the values that some people would say prefaced with the cowardly, I respect you but…
“…I will never compromise the security of our women.”
“…You are still not a biological woman.”
“…What about our rights as straight people?”
Even the mere act of typing out these words is extremely uncomfortable and unnerving, and yet some people stand by these and so many other iterations as if it were biblical truth. Now, don’t even get me started on bible thumpers wielding the tome manifested by Jesus Christ as a weapon against our discriminated brothers and sisters. With no understanding in sight, there will be no end to this bigotry. Taking a life of its own, the issue of finding comfort in a room prescribed as such has stream-rolled into a bigger conversation with so much gravity that it has pulled in wave after wave of reactions, support, and efforts that both pull and push from the elusive progress we all desperately yearn for at this point.
Honestly though, will letting a human being live out their truth make you any less of a man or woman? The insane lengths a chunk of the population has to go through in order to convince themselves of their unbecoming bias is severely disappointing. It doesn’t even take so much time for anyone to go in and out of the comfort room, and yet here we are, threshing out the issue and navigating a tempestuous divided discourse.
Think about it, even something as mundane as urinating has socially paralyzed many transwomen in particular, who would either clip their wings, swallow their pride, and even worse, hold it all in just so they can keep the status quo unshaken. All for your convenience and unchallenged liberties? Who are you to deny a person when they have not taken anything from you, nor do they have the remote desire to do so? Where they stack up on one life altering traumatic experience after the other and you get a free pass to what should be accessible for all?
More than anything, this is an issue of humanity and the apparent erosion of the morals and values we have all suddenly decided to forget in favor of what we feel and believe is right by us. We aren’t even asking for your respect, because last we checked, we have done nothing to even lose it to begin with. It isn’t something we have to earn back since we are all rightfully accorded the same amount of it, right? So, why do some people have a complex of superiority over others, especially in light of what is truly unjust for Gretchen Diez. When did we decide to stop being human beings in all of what it’s meant to be?
But perhaps that is the due process of progress, I guess. Despite being collateral to the damage done, Gretchen Diez is standing her ground and holding her head up high, as most, if not all of us in the LGBTQIA+ community have been reared by our version of life to do. Owning up to the responsibility of being the face, the voice, and the complete realization of the movement in this fraction of time, the mobilization has begun to make things matter and happen. Clearly, we aren’t taking this sitting down or quietly even, because we’ve had enough. A spark has been lit and the fans of the flame is consciously and consistently being fanned in order to even just as much reach an equilibrium of understanding for equal rights and a complete denouncing of discrimination once and for all.
From where we stand, it is not only a long way to go, but also a tough mountain to climb, which has to end somewhere. We aren’t going to allow the world to relent to a decay in heart and spirit, but rather, it is high time we rouse living, feeling, and thinking souls to make sure this hate and bigotry, especially on a national level, ceases to exist now.
As a gay man, I will be the first to say that I am not privy to every issue and experience of the community, especially held against what our transgender brothers and sisters have to go through every day. But as a gay man, I believe I am equipped with enough empathy to stand by and with them, understanding that their truth needs to be treated equally and not just tolerated. If more spaces will deny them the comfort that they so rightfully and well, lawfully deserve, then at the very least, I can exponentially multiply their plea and plight to make sure that one day, hopefully soon; they won’t have to tap their mental maps of non-gendered restrooms to seek comfort in. Perhaps one day, if all goes well, women like Thysz Estrada and Gretchen Diez will no longer have to hesitate and consider their trauma, and instead, walk in and out that comfort room with their head held high.
And trust me, when this happens, the sky (or heaven, if you will) won’t cry out or fall down on us. Instead, slivers of light will poke through, breaking through the barricade of clouds as if saying, “Go on, live a new day as you will.”