Taking the Piss: Toilet Troubles in the UK

I was 13 years old when I was first attacked in a public toilet. It has been obvious that it was going to happen for months. Every time I went into the toilet that was designated ‘female’ a gang of girls followed me, shouting abuse and climbing on toilets to spy on me. I didn’t identify as trans at the time. I was simply perceived as different. I kept asking my guidance teacher if I could have a key for the accessible toilet, but she said it would be unfair for the one wheelchair user in the school if I ‘monopolised’ her toilet. One lunchtime – the most frightening part of the day for self-professed geeks and freaks everywhere – it all came to a head. I was sitting on the toilet, trying to pee, when something landed square in my underwear, followed by the sound of giggles from above. I looked up into the face of a sneering fifth-year, who exclaimed, ‘Looks like your packing meat, wierdo’. I looked down and, to my horror, saw a raw chicken breast in my underwear. In revulsion and panic I slid my legs out of my clothes and hunched up into a ball on the toilet seat, my fingers in my ears until I thought they had gone. When I finally exited the stall, I was pelted with more raw meat. I ran straight out of school and sat in the local park for the rest of the afternoon, trying to calm down. Of course, to add insult to injury, I got a detention for skiving.

I now know that I am not alone in these experiences. In 2010, research found that 40% of girls avoided school toilets. By 2015, both media and school governors were discovering that non-gendered, open plan toilets, with floor to ceiling privacy, unsurprisingly reduced bullying and improved levels of school attendance. I was relieved to find that difficulties like those I had experienced were being taken seriously. It seemed as though gendered toilets were gradually becoming a thing of the past. I was glad. Not because I am trans, but because I know from experience, conversations, and research that multi-stall gendered toilet blocks are not safe. Back when I was at school, the answer was “wait until you get home, or go use the public loos”. I was so pleased that things were changing.

Fast-forward to 2021 and, following the American ‘toilet wars’ – in which cis women were pitted against trans people, forced into tired roles of victim and assailant respectively, the United Kingdom has taken a massive step backwards for the safety of all. Less than two months after the latest school to introduce safe school toilets cited gendered toilets as a cause of ‘bullying, fear, and mental anguish’, sources have leaked news that the latest inquiry, sorry consultation, into whether or not the U.K. should treat trans people with dignity, respect and care, could lead to a legal requirement for gendered toilets in public buildings.

In a continuation of an emerging toxic pattern which pits oppressed groups against each-other, this consultation rested on the assumption that ‘most women want’ gender (or sex) segregated toilets. There is little unbiased evidence, however, that this is the case. There is also a clear question here as to which women’s voices are being heard. Many women have experienced bullying and harassment in gendered toilets, including Eloise Stonborough, whose story you can read here. Like Eloise, my experiences of harassment and abuse in female toilets increased the more that I presented in an authentic way. By the time I began my transition, I had lost count of the amount of times that I had been attacked in – both verbally and physically – and forcibly removed from female toilets. Notably, these incidents often culminated in women finding a male security guard, and asking them to enter the ‘female’ toilets in order to physically remove me. Once, in a toilet with no locking stall doors, women encouraged said male security guard to enter the stall to remove me whilst I was peeing.

What’s my point? My point is that the politicised fearmongering of the anti-trans groups arguing for segregated toilets is not based on safety, it’s based on transphobia. Gendered, multi-stall toilets with flimsy half-height doors and oft-broken locks do not keep anyone safe. In fact, they endanger the lives of all people, including women, both trans and cis. They are particularly dangerous for young girls, the very people that the instigators of so-called toilet wars claim to protect.

If you would like to protect both the young people who are experiencing bullying in gendered school toilets at this very moment and the trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people who experience daily harassment and abuse, have a think about how you can make a difference. Does your workplace have safe toilets? If not, how can you influence change? Whilst the consultation on public toilets is now over, you can still make a difference. You can write to communities secretary Robert Jenrick, as well as your own MP, to make sure that your views are considered.

My personal opinion is that safe, private, single-stall non-gendered toilets for all is the best way forward. If that is a step too far for you, however, you could consider advocating for mandated non-gendered toilets as well as gendered toilets. It doesn’t need to be either/or. We don’t need to be divided. Let’s work together to create a better, safer world for all people.

Conversion ‘Prayer’

I have been struggling for some weeks to discern what I might helpfully write about so-called conversion therapy. Most trans people that I know have experienced attempts to persuade them that they are, in fact, cis, many of which are experienced as attempts at conversion. Many trans people have also experienced more formalised conversion therapy. I, personally, have experienced attempts at conversion through prayer. I believe that this was, and continues to be, a form of attempted conversion therapy. I also believe that it is just as damaging as conversion therapy in a more formal practice/setting.

I have often touched on this experience in my writing and speaking, but have avoided talking about it explicitly. Why? I simply cannot face any contact from the church concerned. I have removed any details that identify the church from this account, and hope that this will be respected. I do feel, however, that it is essential to write about this, given the important conversations that are ongoing in political, religious and public life regarding conversion therapy and prayer.

My experience, below, is contained in a coloured box, please feel free to skip this section if descriptions of attempted conversion and it’s effects are triggering.

When I was 15, I went on a three-week trip with my church youth group to a foreign country. When on that trip, I accidentally came out, through a casual comment. That night, a youth worker came into the room that I was sharing with another young person, knelt by my bed, put her hand on my head, and prayed for me. The prayer included a clear sense that I was incorrect about who I was, that I would be judged by God, and that God could change my heart so that I could avoid the consequences of that judgement. I was also told to avoid socialising with the other young people on the trip. For the rest of the trip, I was isolated, and was not cared for appropriately. Every morning and evening, during devotions, I was prayed for, which often included unwanted physical contact.

I became very ill during these three-weeks, experiencing extreme nausea and vomiting, being unable to keep down any food, breathing difficulties, and fatigue. My illness was treated by some as a fabricated inconvenience. Others correlated the illness with sin. Still others suggested it was part of a ‘healing’ process. When I finally arrived home, my parents rushed me to our G.P. who, seeing how unwell I was, was concerned that I had contracted a disease during my trip. Eventually, after a lot of tests and conversations, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety. I suffered with anxiety, breathing difficulties, nausea and vomiting, eating difficulties, and fainting episodes for several years following this experience. I still experience generalised anxiety, social anxiety, and fear of judgement.

I find it hard to comprehend how any person could read my account, and the accounts of other survivors of conversion therapy, and believe that faith groups should be permitted to continue these abusive practices. The effects of this abuse ripple through the LGBTQIA+ community in ways not unlike a pandemic, often isolating us from peers and communities, severely impacting our physical, social and mental health, and changing the way that we see the world forever. This needs to stop, urgently.

In her annual speech, the Queen asserted that, “Measures will be brought forward to […] ban conversion therapy”. This promise appears disingenuous, however, given the fact that, after three years of waiting, we will now be subjected to yet another public consultation which, it seems, will prioritise the views of ‘medical professionals, religious leaders, teachers and parents’.

A key discussion point has been prayer. I was finally persuaded to write this post by a Tweet this morning by campaigner Jayne Ozanne, who writes that

I couldn’t agree more with Jayne. Further, I’m not sure that ‘prayer’ that attempts to change another is prayer at all. Prayer is about listening to God, witnessing God’s image in creation and humanity, and expressing our innermost truths to the Source of all that is. Prayer to change someone else simply isn’t prayer. Let’s stop pretending that it is. #banconversiontherapy now. No ifs, no buts. This is not ok.

John Bell – in conversation

I felt incredibly grateful to be able to interview incredible social justice advocate, Church of Scotland minister, song-writer and fellow Iona Community member John Bell live last week, as part of my role as co-chair of the Open Table Network. As ever, John shared openly and authentically and gifted us many gritty, honest, inspiring and humbling stories to reflect on. One of my favourite moments was when, having been asked what inspired him to write, John laughed, paused, and then said, in a typically matter-of-fact manner, “It’s really kind of necessity. When you find an [identity or experience] that hasn’t been articulated, you have to”.

This resonated with me, as my own sense of calling is entangled with the realisation that few trans voices are being heard in the Church, and trans people are wanting for support and advocacy. Why am I out in my work? To echo John, it’s really kind of necessity. John also helpfully reminded us that, “New life grows from the ground up”. I strongly believe that the nurture – the light, water, and food – of voices like John’s enables those fresh shoots of new life to struggle up through stony ground. Have a listen to what else John had to say above, and consider how we might work together to “love the you you hide”.

Time for Truth

Transcript

Time and time again, anti-lgbtq+ groups and media outlets have told people that they are standing up for biblical truth. And yet, a striking omission from their articles is… Well… Truth! Truth is a Christian norm and yet…Personally, I have had lies spread about me on a number of occasions, as have many other LGBTQ+ Christians. But it’s some of the bigger, widespread, twisting of truth that’s really frustrating to me. 


It is repeatedly reported that LGBTQ+ advocates are fighting against Christians, when the advocates referred to are, in fact, Christians ourselves. It is frequently stated that said advocates target churches solely for speaking out against same sex marriage. We don’t. We ask people not to give resources to churches that support or offer so-called conversion therapy – which is abusive and condemned by every major psychiatric body. The claim is repeatedly made that we are against prayer, when most anti-conversion therapy advocates spend much of our time praying with people who have been hurt by this so-called therapy! We are for prayer, but also understand that there is a nuance and careful consideration is necessary where the lines between prayer and spiritual abuse blur.


The appeal to ‘free speech’ and ‘freedom of religion’ is often particularly problematic. No LGBTQ+ advocate is campaigning for an end to free speech. We want free speech. But free speech does not mean that there aren’t consequences to what you say. Nor does it include the freedom to abuse another human being. It never has. You are free to practice your own faith, and to speak about it. You are not free to do so without allowing others to respond, free to abuse people, or free to compel others to live according to your beliefs. The law is very clear about this. 


The common defense is ‘the biblical understanding’ but this is belied by the fact that there is not one, unified biblical understanding’ of LGBTQ+ identities. The idea that all Christians think the same thing, and interpret the Bible in the same way, or else ignore it, is yet another lie, and fuels negativity towards Christianity. If you truly want to defend or spread Christianity, tell the truth about its diversity and it’s values based on grace, truth and love. 

Dialogue relies on truth. So until the lies stop, it’s really hard to even consider dialogue, never mind unity. It is time to stop the lies. It is time to speak truth to power in love. God loves all people. That is the truth. Speak it. 

New Life

Transcript and Links

The church takes the cross seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards new life.


The church must take peoples’ suffering seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards hope.

The church must take dissonance seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards reconciliation.


Research released this week showed that 9/10 trans and non-binary folk who were subjected to so-called ‘conversion therapy’ experienced anxiety and depression and almost half attempted suicide. I am part of the 47%. After attempts at conversion prayer led by conservative Christian youth workers I experienced severe mental illness. This has to stop. This is not about the freedom to pray – it’s about psychological manipulation and spiritual abuse that is literally killing people.


How do we make sense of this in the midst of Easter?


This is not new life, this is the cross. This is not hope, this is suffering. This is not reconciliation, this is enforced dissonance.

New life is when trans and non-binary are supported in the ways that we ask to be by our families, friends and allies. Hope is when steps are taken towards making conversion therapy illegal. Reconciliation will only begin to be possible when people stop equating abusive practices with prayer. The dissonance trans and non-binary people experience will only be healed by enabling us to take steps to live authentically as the diverse people that we are in mind, body and spirit.

This Easter, bring hope to trans and non-binary people by taking steps to bring an end to conversion therapy today.

To find our how you can act now, visit www.banconversiontherapy.com.

For support and community visit Churspacious, Open Table, Two:23, or One Body One Faith.

Or, get in touch.