The Bathroom Bills: Background information when reading This Is How It Always Is

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This Is How It Always Is

by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel X
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 23, 2018, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
The Bathroom Bills

Print Review

The joys and perils of raising a transgender child are beautifully brought to life in Laurie Frankel's This is How it Always Is. The question of where Poppy should go the bathroom when at school is a sensitive issue.

In the United States, since 2013, more than 24 state legislatures have proposed so-called "Bathroom Bills" with the express aim of restricting access to public bathrooms and locker rooms on the basis of the sex assigned to each individual at birth. As of January 2017 only one state, North Carolina, has passed such legislation into law. Public reaction was vocal and distaste for the new ruling brought about boycotts: the National Basketball Association and the NCAA moved sporting events out of the state. But despite considerable pressure, attempts to repeal the law failed in December 2016 and in the early weeks of January 2017 eight states (Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington) have already pre-filed or introduced similar bills.

Gender-neutral bathrooms Promoters of this kind of legislation cite the risks to women and particularly to children in the case of public school bathrooms, but support groups insist that transgender individuals merely wish to follow the normal behavior of the gender group with which they identify. Instead they argue that a bathroom bill is a back-door vehicle for wider discrimination and attacks on transgender acceptance in society. Federal and state legislators clashed over the bathroom issue in the summer of 2016 when a Texas judge blocked Obama administration guidelines that transgender students be allowed to use the school bathroom of the gender they identified as, regardless of their biology at birth.

At a time of major upheaval in government, the issue has become alarmingly political and in some cases legislation seeks to have influence on more than a choice of a male or female bathroom. "Bathroom bill" legislation tabled in Virginia includes a clause that would require school authorities to notify the parents of any individual request to be "recognized or treated as the opposite sex, to use a name or pronouns inconsistent with the child's sex, or to use a restroom or changing facility designated for the opposite sex."

In This is How it Always Is, Rosie and her transgender child, Poppy, travel to Thailand and find a very different cultural response to transgender people and the question of public restrooms. In Buddhist culture it is the soul that counts, not the body that carries it, and ladyboys are so common and accepted that Poppy finds a new kind of public bathroom with a sign that combines both the traditional male and female figures split down the middle and then joined together to make one unisex sign.

The concept of a gender neutral bathroom can also be found in the United States, in addition to places around the world. In California, in September 2016, a law was passed requiring businesses to place non-gender specific signs on any single-occupancy restrooms by March 1, 2017. Retail giant Target has also taken steps to accommodate the needs of its transgender customers announcing plans to install gender-neutral bathrooms in all its stores. Target has stood by this plan despite calls for a boycott on the company by conservative and Christian groups.

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This article was originally published in February 2017, and has been updated for the January 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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