DALLAS — At Danny Jones Junior High School, 12-year-old Roxy Castro is constantly calculating.
How much water has she had today?
Is she really that thirsty?
How much time until the bell rings to go home?
These kinds of questions will save her from the anxiety of a place she’s always trying to avoid: the bathroom.
Because Roxy is a transgender girl, her school does not allow her to use the regular girls’ bathroom. Instead, she has to use a separate bathroom on one side of the school. Now that she has entered junior high, her peers are starting to ask more questions about why she can’t use the girls’ bathroom like the rest of them. At times, her classes are far from the one she’s allowed to use, and it’s difficult to sprint back and forth without being late. If she doesn’t drink too much water, it’s a situation she has figured out how to circumvent.
Unfortunately, this is a specific kind of stress many transgender people know all too well. Last week the culture war over bathrooms played out in Houston. Voters in the fourth-largest U.S. metropolitan area rejected a city ordinance that would have protected against discrimination on the basis of 15 characteristics, including race, sex and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance coined it the “bathroom ordinance,” noting the law would protect the right of transgender people to use the facilities for their gender identity. It spurred an ugly campaign, full of celebrity opponents and TV ads portraying transgender people as predators, with results that many chalk up to a sad case of transphobia and fearmongering.
Being transgender in Texas is something Christof Putzel and I took a closer look at earlier this year. We got the chance to meet Roxy and a transgender boy named Evan Singleton. Both kids are going through a groundbreaking puberty-blocking regimen at a Dallas clinic.
As kids growing up with a supportive community, they are the lucky ones. On Nov. 2 the U.S. government reaffirmed the right for transgender students to use facilities of their gender identity, since students are protected under federal Title IX policy and under some state and local school district policies. But just a day after that decision, Houstonians decided these rights wouldn’t apply to adult transgender people in public facilities.
While children like Roxy and Evan are living in a new era of transgender rights, last week’s vote was another reminder of how far there still is to go. Roxy’s mother, Angie Castro, said they are in talks with Roxy’s school to apply Title IX to allow her to use the regular girls’ bathrooms. But Mela Singleton, Evan’s mother, said the bathroom issue at school was just the tip of the iceberg for them. As Evan gets older and things in public school get more complicated, they have decided to begin home schooling.
Singleton said the vote in Houston didn’t surprise her. “People are always afraid of things they don’t understand,” she said.
But for her, the challenge her son faces boils down to one thing. She said, “It’s public shaming. It’s watching your little boy forced to go into the girls’ room.”