“Gender Assignment” Problems

Let our comfort rooms be not rooms of discomfort for others. We should not oversimplify the gender assignment problem of toilets as one of discrimination against trans people.

When Gretchen Diez tried to use the female bathroom in Cubao, Quezon City and the janitress prevented “her,” the janitress was right since Gretchen turned out to be Gregorio Diaz in real life. The incident could have ended there (he going to the men’s room), but Gretchen recorded the episode in a cellphone, then uploaded parts of it in social media supporting his claim of “harassment,” setting off a national discussion about sex and gender.

Sex of course is biological (anatomical, chromosomal, even legal), and gender is social (what you as an individual and the society itself constructs and approves of). Traditionally, architects have only recognized two sexes/genders. With the increasing prevalence of transgenders, the two-way classification is becoming problematic.

This is an asymmetric information and signaling problem: I don't know your gender, but you know. You are aware of your sexual orientation, but I can only presume. So if I make a mistake, should it automatically be my fault?

We should not oversimplify the gender assignment problem of toilets as one of discrimination against trans people. It also entails a security issue, i.e., transgenders possibly assaulting or being assaulted by other users, or non-transgender users feeling uncomfortable with trans users. And there could be people faking their gender, too, for sordid purposes.

I think there is agreement that there is a need to create at least three designated spaces. Indeed, some establishments already have toilets for exclusive use of transgenders. For practical purposes, others have suggested that the toilets assigned to PWDs be used by transgenders.

But in the ensuing Senate hearing, the transgender community turned out to have a broader agenda than just toilet assignment. Sen. Risa Hontiveros shared a draft Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification and Expression bill that mandates legal recognition of transgenders’ status. Some advocates want to go as far as the removal of sexual identification at birth. My, my, these are just dizzying demands. Can we just deal with the toilets first? 

Let our comfort rooms be not rooms of discomfort for others.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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