That High School Gender-Neutral Restroom

la-1460594069-snap-photo

Every Monday, I give an Article of the Week to my students. It’s my attempt to get their noses out of their phones to try and give them some glimpse of what’s going on in this world, a world they’ll be expected to independently interact with very soon. This past week’s article sparked quite a good conversation in class (as good a conversation that CAN be had anyway, being so close to the end of the year).

Santee High School in LAUSD is opening up a 15-stall, gender-neutral bathroom. Anyone can use the restroom here regardless of gender or gender-association (the gender you associate with regardless of the one biology assigned you). The idea was proposed by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club in an effort to provide a place for transgendered students to safely empty their bladders (because no one craps at school…don’t you remember?).

After bouncing around ideas and opinions on the matter, we arrived at a place where the topic generally broke down to two issues for them.

First, nearly all students agreed that a place is indeed needed where everyone can feel safe to do something as natural and human as emptying their bladder. While anatomically male, a transgendered girl, for example, might not feel comfortable using the men’s restroom; a feminine appearance may cause not only them but any men in the restroom to, in the least, feel awkward but at the very worst, become hostile and violent. A similar scenario can be played out for a transgendered boy having to use the women’s facilities. In a nutshell, my students agreed that everyone should have a place to take their piss in relative comfort and safety.

The second issue, however, was not as clean cut. There was not a clear consensus as to whether this particular example at Santee HS was a good idea or not. The most pressing point that made them say “Hmm, I don’t know…” had nothing to do with the transgendered students – despite it being a poor barrio, I’ve found the kids at my school to be a very open and accepting lot and have a “live and let live” attitude for the most part. Instead, their concern was that other students might take advantage of the situation. The chances, as they put it, of “things” happening inside an open restroom simply increase.

It turned out that “things” had little to do with sexual assault. “Things” essentially was the word they used to mean that a guy and a girl would go to this restroom to willingly and consensually have sex. As one student eloquently clarified, “You know they’re gonna do it, Mr! Stupid, thirsty-ass foo’s!” They had more concern for the need to have the bathroom supervised against consensual sex than with the presence of a transgendered student.

…though this is not saying that there wasn’t a concern about trans kids. Would girls feel comfortable if, say, they were in the restroom and a trans-girl walks in? Conversely, would the trans-person be comfortable walking in to this gender-neutral restroom that could be simultaneously occupied by cisgendered students?

“Cisgender”: [adjective] relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender. In other words, most straight people.

For my students, safe access was agreed upon. Normal restrooms were simply not going to offer this. Would a gender-neutral restroom with 15 stalls available to all students be the answer or simply give way to other problems? There was no clear answer to this and they were left, for the most part, skeptical.

Another separate solution was offered, though not without it’s own issue. What about providing all students access to a gender-neutral single tall restroom? There are a several on campus, mainly used by faculty. Since it’s a small room with only one toilet and one sink, why not make it accessible to all students, regardless of gender-association? The only issue was one of perception – would it become the unofficial trans restroom? Would it become “that restroom over there” for “those kids”? It had a slight air of segregation, though it would certainly not be so officially.

A single-toilet restroom, available to all, that can offer complete privacy. We find these at coffee shops and no one seems to make a fuss. Why not at school as well?

This new restroom at Santee HS is, to a certain extent, an experiment. A successful one? Time will tell, more sooner than later. It has seized the attention by many from both inside and outside the school. A few days ago, a group of devoted disciples of the love-your-neighbor-and-enemy variety protested across the street from the school as the students were being dismissed. Words were exchanged and a fight broke out. The following day a peaceful rally was held without incident.

It seems to me that there’s excessive and unnecessary noise over all of this. To use the restroom in relative safety and privacy does not merit our energy to debate because there is nothing TO debate. Trans or cis, gay or straight, we all need to piss.

Things Learned From My Mother’s Passing

Version 2

Let Go

Death began as a distant hypothetical since the word “cancer” was first uttered two years before. Acknowledging the word early was perhaps my brain’s way of beginning to protect itself from the weight of an ending that could, and in my mother’s case, ultimately did occur. Still, it’s difficult to pinpoint the moment she crossed a point of no return, when all other avenues darkened and left only one final and inevitable lit road my mother had left to take.

Her cancer, as with most other situations in life, arrived accompanied by a host of possible outcomes. The idea of my mother dying, unpleasant as it was to acknowledge, stood on equal footing along with all other probabilities, prognoses, treatments, and outcomes. It all became like a party our family was suddenly and inescapably tasked to organize, Death being one attending guest among many. Like all the rest, I welcomed it. What other choice was there?

Throughout the months, we made our rounds to get to know each guest. This treatment was attempted and that chemical was injected and that other method was employed and still that other was discussed and pondered.

Like all gatherings, these different guests slowly exhausted their stay. They offered all they could possibly offer and began to make their way out. In the end, only the one guest remained. Silent. Sitting patiently. I recognized that ultimately this was its house and the rest of us were the guests. There was nothing left to do but to acknowledge it.

Alright.

That’s the only thought that remained.  A defeated, accepting Alright.

In the end, Death was not the nemesis. We did not come to see it as some frightful specter to be feared. In those last days, I learned that Death had the soothing face of Mercy.

There’s A Scent

Medicines on the night stand. Body ointments rubbed over and under and throughout. New bed frame, new mattress, new bedding. Drip line and packaging plastic. An inactive body. Equipment on and humming. Washing of the body. A stranger in the room nursing, doing her job; a stranger in the room nursing, as if to her own mother. Modified diet served in smaller portions. New patient gown, old patient sheets. Latex gloves. Coming and going of visitors. Opened bottles of tequila. Emptied glasses of brandy. Food containers. Pots and plates in the sink. Chemicals. Worry. New folded towels, old wet towels. Tea bags in cold mugs. Half finished water bottles. Baby food. Closed windows. Illness breathing. Life dying. The peace of release.

The house, the bedroom – there was a scent. Not foul. Just different.

It went away a few days after she did.

Small Things Are Now Big

She died in the morning, which meant that she left us the whole day to make and take phone calls, to accommodate visitors and plan plans. The house filled quickly. Around midday, the kitchen sink did as well. I began to clear the rack of dried dishes before washing the rest.

She had the not-so-amusing mannerism, when searching for a specific cooking pot, of loudly and indiscriminately moving everything around in the bottom cupboard until she found just the one she wanted. Early mornings were a special delight for this — a quiet and sleepy house was roused with the sudden metallic whack and slam of pots being tossed and banged together.

In clearing the drying rack, it was opening the bottom cupboard that gave me the small stop. The pots and pans stacked quiet and still.  Lifeless.

Two months after she passed, my father was going to entertain a visitor. The head of the company my father retired from likes him well and seeks him out for food, drink, and conversation whenever he visits. This being the first time my mother would not be around, my father wanted us there.

After drinks and talk in the backyard patio, everyone gradually moved inside to the dining table for dinner, continuing their conversations from outside. Sitting there in the kitchen, an uneasiness began to grow in me, dim and slow. Something wasn’t right — a sense similar to the moment right before realizing that a picture frame was misplaced in a room you’ve walked through all your life. Something was off.

Slowly, it came, blurred at first: no one yet was eating. A moment or two later and it was all completely clear: no one was eating because no one was serving. Like the pots in the cupboard, the space in front of the stove was still and empty.

As with all people, my mother was obviously more than just one thing. She was more than a provider of food for the family, more than just the space in front of the stove. The kitchen, however, was always the heart of the house with my mother its constant heart beat. She was not there anymore.

I got up, brought out dishes and utensils in an uproar, and started serving dinner. It’s what she would have done.

I’ll Remember Words

The last words she offered freely and willingly to me:

A friend of my parents stayed at their house to help for a few weeks before she passed. As my dad continually mentioned to me, she, as well as a few others, became indispensable in caring for her.

Valdo. Do you see her? This lady.
You don’t know but she’s an angel. She’s an angel. She’s my angel.

My mother was not one to be expressive or to freely and easily offer her inner most emotions. Ever since I was old enough to be aware of such things, I knew there was always a conversation within her. When she said this, it was unprompted and unexpected. Even her voice was different – the chemo left her mouth and throat blistered.

It wasn’t her speaking, the mother I had always known. I felt like it was that person she’d always kept inside her. It was strange and slightly terrifying.

The last words I heard from her:

I’m in her bedroom by the front yard window. She’s in bed laying on her side, wrapped in a sheet and facing away.

We’ll be back, mom.

Her weak body gives a slight perk.

A donde van?

We have a meeting with a specialist to see if we can get the help you need.

She releases the perk. Her body folds, sinking, going back to where she was.

M’hm.

There’s a Plan

The memorial service. Plans needed to be made. Contact the mortuary. Select a memorial service plan. Line item the mortuary services for the final cost. Choose the time and date. Choose the program language. Choose what portrait to use. Would you like to be at the incineration? Announce the date and time on social media. Reach out to family and friends. Select the tie to go with the suit. Agree and sign the final contract. Make sure they have that one photo for the video. Would you like to transfer the ashes into the urn? Do a final walk-through with the mortuary. Arrive early. Shake hands. Give hugs. “Thank you.” Sit with family. Watch the video. Shake hands. Give hugs. “Thank you.” Stand in the back to greet people. Help bring out more chairs, it’s overflowed. Direct people to empty seats. Direct people to refreshments. Shake hands. Give hugs. “Thank you.”

What is it?

My wife, shortly before leaving to the memorial service. I must have had a face.  I’m staring off, thinking this service is not for her. How could it be? She’s gone. I’m thinking this is for people that are still here. This is to help in their process. This is for tradition. I’m thinking, well, this is just what people do. I put that all together and say:

This is stupid. I hate this shit.

After the rosary, the moment to give the eulogy arrived. My father had offered it to both my niece and myself. I wasn’t able to make notes before the service so I told her she could handle it fine on her own. And she did. Her words had presence and meaning, her tone wavered only slightly through the tears, her delivery was fluid and natural, her message was poignant and meaningful and humorous and heart-breaking. It was everything a eulogy, a good eulogy should be.

There Is No Plan (or the Plan Sucks)

It was probably best, I thought afterwards, that I did not speak at the service. Beginning with her passing the previous week, up to and including my niece’s eulogy that evening, people offered one of these two sentiments attached to their condolences: 1) It was all for a reason, for some plan and/or 2) She will be watching over you / You will be with her again. The sentiments are well-meaning but it was probably best I didn’t speak. I was ready to throw a chair across the room by the last time someone offered this.

1) It was all for a reason, for some plan.

Not two years before, at the first uttering of “breast cancer”, she willingly and stoically removed one of her breasts and was told she was in the clear. Not eighteen months before, she insisted we meet at the downtown cathedral to be with her as she fulfilled her end of a bargain she had struck against her cancer, leaving flowers and a kneeling and tearful “Thank you!” at the feet of a Virgin Mary statue. Not six months before she was in my living room, singing and dancing during Christmas Eve. Now it was June and she was gone.

If I’m wrong, if there is indeed a plan to it all, it has to be said that it’s a fucking shitty one, sadistic and mocking, nowhere near worth anyone’s praise, much less their recognition. It’s either that it’s a poor and awful plan or, quite possibly…quite probably, that there’s no plan at all.

2) She will be watching over you / You will be with her again.

I can think of no worse fate for anyone that just endured the thrashings of cancer than to spend an afterlife looking over others. If there is indeed an afterlife, I’d like to think they earned a well-deserved vacation far from all of this.

I don’t know what ‘you will be with her again’ means. Which me? The boy? The teen? Me on the day she died? Me on the day I die? Which ‘her’ would be with me? The child? The bride on her wedding day? The woman through the fires of menopause? The matriarch in the joy of grandchildren? The young, fresh girl with flowers in her hair in that picture I love? In each instance, these would be different people with different essences.  Which, if any, turn up to be there in the end becomes some silly metaphysical wheel of fortune.

Better leaving the notion alone. Better simply saying that, when she was here, it was good.  When she was here, she always attempted to be the best person she possibly could be to those around her and that I appreciated her for it.

That’s a good plan.  I’ll keep that one with me.

mom

Commencement Speech – Class of 2015

2015

Good evening friends and family, teachers and staff. Good evening Elizabeth Learning Center Class of 2015.

Writing a speech for this event has always been a bit of a challenge for me. The challenge comes from trying to encapsulate what an entire section of the student body is within the limitations of a few hundred words.

I’ve found, however, that the best places to gather the inspiration to write some words about you guys, has always been, well, you guys – being around you, observing how you interact, seeing what the spirit of the ELC Class of 2015 is all about.

I caught my first glimpse of that spirit during your Senior Holiday gathering back in December. That was the first time that I saw all of you together simply being you. I came away from that evening with a better idea of who you are and what this year means for you.

Specifically, though, I came away with three point, one serious and two not-so serious. I’ll begin with the two not-so serious points.

Continue reading “Commencement Speech – Class of 2015”

Letter to Downey

lawn

Sent to and published in The Downey Patriot.


As a new resident of only one year, I have to say that I am very happy to call this city home. As a child of immigrant parents and growing up in the barrio, purchasing a home here through some hard work, a bit of sacrifice, and a little luck has become the fulfillment of an American Dream. I look forward to being a part of this established yet still growing city.

However, as a new Downey resident, I can’t help but to set an all-too observant eye upon my new city. For better or for worse, being new has made it easier to arrive at a piece of constructive criticism. It has to be said that this criticism is not exclusive to Downey – it’s one, in fact, that can be applied to many places in this country, especially here in the Southwest. Still, because Downey is now home, because I have no intention of going anywhere else, and because a little fault-finding can be a seed of change, I’ll just lay it out here.

Continue reading “Letter to Downey”

Playing the Religious Freedom Card

Response to conservative uncles concerning the recent focus on ‘Religious Freedom’ laws around the country. 


Here’s the bottom line:

Yes, most businesses will see the wisdom in keeping their religion to themselves. Yes, this law will only be exercised by a tiny fringe of business owners. Yes, everyone has the freedom not to give their money to these fringe businesses.

I think we are both in agreement up to here.

From this point, my position is this: as a person of faith, you have the freedom to believe and worship whatever you’d like, so long as it does not become an incursion on the outer social civilized world.  If we were talking about certain tenets of Islam, you would agree with me. These business owners that are making a fuss are (as certain conservative Christians tend to do) playing the victims, looking to government to make laws that say all should tolerate their religious intolerance.

This distorts the tenet of religious liberty that’s part of the foundation of this country. It bends the boundaries of this freedom to the breaking point and, like we do when a child misbehaves or is publicly acting selfish, it has to be told, “No, we don’t do that here,”…’here’ in this case being the public space.

Continue reading “Playing the Religious Freedom Card”