“My son (born female-bodied) has started to socially transition. He uses male pronouns and a new name, and has cut his hair short. I’m getting used to the new pronouns and new name, but I’m having a hard time allowing him to use the men’s bathroom. I’m just so afraid for his safety, but he says that he gets weird looks in the women’s bathroom. Is it okay to let him use the men’s bathroom in public places?”
Question submitted Anonymously
Answered by Rex Butt
First, congratulations on gaining a level of comfort with the new name and male pronouns. Those are huge hurdles for most parents, and it can feel like rejection when our kid “vetoes” the name we cherish, but your willingness to adapt is providing a huge lift for your child. Our children’s safety is always on our minds, and the issue of restrooms is fraught with concerns. Your question suggests that you are maintaining an open dialog with him, which is important now and will remain so in the future.
Your son’s statement that he gets “weird looks” in the women’s room is a clear indication that his presence in the women’s room makes others feel uncomfortable as well as your son. It seems that he has gained a level of comfort in using men’s rooms. With a male haircut and clothing, it’s likely that he “reads” as boy. He’s less likely to draw attention to himself in the men’s room than in the women’s room.
Some parents post themselves outside the men’s room while their kid is inside, and doing that might be an effective way to help you with your fear, but it might also make your son feel corralled. You could ask him if he has ever felt threatened or uneasy while he is in the men’s room. Regardless of his answer, tell him you want to talk through ways to deal with the issue. Possible strategies include going in with a friend or a family member or finding a gender-neutral or “family” restroom. You can certainly ask him to stay tuned-in for possible trouble and to leave ASAP if he gets anxious. He may say something like, “Duh! Mom!” If so, just smile. Moms have been creating that kind of response from teens for centuries.
We offer two additional items to check out:
(1) It is possible that your state or municipality has a law that protects your son’s use of the facility of his choice. You can find out more here and here.
(2) The Transgender Law Center offers specific guidance here
Thank you for the question. We hope you’ll let us know how this goes for you and your son, and we welcome any other concerns or questions.
Rex Butt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at Bronx Community College of CUNY. He served for several years on the Board of Directors for the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center and is a member of the PFLAG National Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Advisory Council. He and his wife Karen live in Poughkeepsie and are the Transgender Coordinators for the Kingston, NY, chapter of PFLAG. Since 2008, they have presented at regional conferences and mentored scores of families who have transgender loved ones. His book, Now What? For Families with Trans and Gender-Nonconforming Children, offers a comprehensive approach to the concerns and challenges encountered by families with a transgender child—regardless of age.
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