Lately, there has been a lot of discussion in the news about bathroom rights for individuals that are transgender. States and courts are fighting the rights of these individuals at the Federal level. While some states are incredibly accommodating to the needs of this group other states are fighting tooth and nail to keep these individuals out of the bathrooms. I can tell you from my own experience bathroom issues go far beyond the rights of individuals that are transgender, but by this being propelled front and center it gives voices to others of us that struggle with this same issue. The fact of the matter is that as long as you are able bodied, toilet trained, and identify with the gender as your sexual organs, you have no problem going to the bathroom in public restrooms. However, there are millions of people that fall outside of those categories.
I am a caregiver to my child, who is 4, and is disabled. One of his disabilities includes that he is incontinent. We don’t know how long it will take for him to train on a toilet, and if he will ever train on a toilet. Currently he is beyond the size of an infant, and we have no safe place to change him when we are out in the world. My experiences dealing with this issue have been nothing short of humiliating for me and for my son. Since there is no place to effectively change his diaper, we are often forced to pick dirty floors. I have laid him on the floor with blankets beneath him in bathrooms all over the place. Sometimes there are no places to take him that are private enough and give him the dignity of privacy while being changed. If you think about it, the changing tables at restaurants and stores are often on the side of a wall in the public part of the restroom. Not only is this awkward for me, but it’s incredibly humiliating as strangers gawk at us while we change him! Imagine your 4 year old’s private parts being exposed to anyone that walks through a door. We have had more inappropriate stares by strangers than I care to even share. I often feel horrible for my son.
As he has gotten older, it has gotten harder to find places where we can change him. We rarely go out of the house at some times of the day for fear that he have a messy diaper. There is nothing worse than a child sitting in a diaper that not only stinks but is messy and have no place to change them. There are numerous times we have had to force him to stay in that dirty diaper for much longer than necessary as we search for a place for him to be changed. We have left places early to deal with his diapers, and we have resorted to changing him in parking lots in the car. It’s the most challenging issue we face when we go out in public as he gets older.
I am his full time care giver. The state of Minnesota is amazing and enables me to be his paid care taker. I will be able to be his PCA for as long as necessary, but I am also of the opposite sex as him. As he ages, it becomes less and less appropriate for him to follow me in to a bathroom. Not all stores or restaurants have family restrooms either. While at age four he’s still not outside the norm in a Women’s bathroom, I am sick to my stomach thinking about what we will do when he’s 10 or even 15 and needing to be changed. I know many parents dealing with this issue as we speak. There is no place for them to go where it is socially acceptable. In the health care field, and specifically in the world of personal care assistants, it is extremely common that you have opposite sex care givers. I had a friend point out to me that we can’t be forced to only hire care givers of the same sex so our children can be changed in the bathroom of their biological sex. Where do we go with our kids at this point? Do we accompany our child in to the bathroom of our own sex or of their sex? There is no answer at this point that seems to make sense to me.
Bathroom issues are so much more than a single issue. Society as a whole seems to be blind to those of us that do struggle. Whether an individual is transgender, or if they have a disability, these issues effect millions of people in our country. To date there is no answer or no solution for either of these parties. I ask all people to be aware that for many people bathroom issues are a highly sensitive, personal and incredibly difficult situation. No individual that identifies as a man and looks like a man should be forced to go to the bathroom in the restroom that matches their biological sex. Additionally, no individual that is incontinent should be relegated to being changed on a dirty bathroom floor, in a corner, or in a parking lot in a car. We need to find solutions that are inclusive and will enable all people the dignity and respect of using a bathroom. We as caregivers of children with disabilities, should be rallying with the Transgender community. Their rights are our rights. There is nothing truly more personal than going to the bathroom, and all people deserve to be able to go while in a public setting without fear of being hurt, humiliated, or scared to use the bathroom. We need bathroom options for all people. I would encourage you to take a stand for the millions of people, like my son, who deserve a place to be changed outside of a bacteria ridden floor.