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As a transgender high school student, going to the bathroom is scary

A new law might require me to use bathrooms that correspond with my "biological sex." This is scary.

Thomas Lewis, a transgender South Dakota high school student. (Thomas Lewis)
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In a couple of days, the governor of South Dakota will make a decision about something essential to me: where I can go to the bathroom.

I am transgender. Although I was assigned female at birth, I realized around five years old that I was actually male. I came out last March at a local Youth Pride event in front of 300 people.

Now, at 18, I’m a senior at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls. When I told my school that I was transgender last year, they were pretty good to me. My teachers respected my male name and used the male pronoun to refer to me. The students at my school have been very welcoming. They have some questions; one asked, “How do you know you’re really male?” Another said, “Are you sure it’s not just a phase?” But I know these are coming from a good place — they want to understand me. In particular, I am very lucky to have a group of male friends who are incredibly kind.

Unfortunately, I am still fighting the school on one particular issue. The administration doesn’t have a written policy about bathroom and locker room use or other gender-specific activities such as team sports. My counselor has advised me not to use the men’s room. Because I’m male, the thought of using the girls’ bathroom makes me upset and uncomfortable, as if I’m doing something that just doesn’t feel right. As a result, I am forced to leave school at lunch to use the bathroom at home.

There are times when I’m not able to leave school; in those cases I have to hold it in all day. That makes it hard to focus in class, and it’s not healthy either. It makes me feel as if I’m not fully part of my school community.

And it’s not just my bladder at stake. South Dakota’s lawmakers just passed a bill that would prohibit me from using the boys’ restroom no matter what my school decides. The measure would ban transgender students from locker rooms, showers and bathrooms “unless they correspond with their biological sex.” People who support the bill are claiming that they are treating us fairly by giving us separate restrooms.

In reality, this law does just the opposite. It suggests that transgender people like me are unequal and must be separated from our friends and peers. It prohibits us from using the restroom that matches who we are. Every transgender child who starts school in my state will be subjected to unequal treatment and made to feel like an outcast. They may even be subjected to terrible things such as someone demanding documentation about their chromosomes or to see their genitals. A member of my legislature, Rep. Roger Hunt (R), actually brought this suggestion into a committee meeting on the bill.

It’s really scary.

I’m lucky that my mom accepts me for who I am. I have friends who are supportive and teachers who care. Not all transgender children are so lucky. A national survey found that 75 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. Studies have also shown that more than two-thirds of transgender Americans faced severe harassment in childhood, and 41 percent had attempted suicide, compared with only 1.6 percent in the general population.

A discriminatory bill will only make us feel more isolated and alone.  People claim that we are scary because we are different or our bodies are different. They tell us we are “twisted” and don’t know who we are, but I know who I am and am proud of it.

There is no real problem of transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender and people getting harassed. In fact, it’s actually trans people who are most likely to get harassed in the bathroom. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Transgender students like me are just looking for a chance to access the same things that everyone else does — an education, a job, a safe place to pee. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, please stand up for me and all of the people of South Dakota you represent. The country is watching and history will show that you did the right thing if you veto this bad bill.