When I first heard the story about Coy Mathis, the adorable first grade girl from Colorado who just wanted to use the girls’ restroom but has been barred from doing so because she is transgender, I was enraged on behalf of this child and her parents. My knee-jerk reaction was to condemn the Fountain-Fort Carson School District and fully support Coy and her parents in their plan to file a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
Then, I started to think about the realities of school bathrooms, the need to make the best decision for all of the students involved, the continued struggle for acceptance of gender variant children and adults… I tried to think fairly but logically about all of the angles, and I realized that this might just be a no-win situation for the school district.
According to the school, this is their explanation for asking that Coy use either the boys’ restroom, an available gender neutral restroom, or the private restroom in the nurse’s office.
The district “took into account not only Coy but other students in the building, their parents, and the future impact a boy with male genitals using a girls’ bathroom would have as Coy grew older,” attorney W. Kelly Dude said.
“However, I’m certain you can appreciate that as Coy grows older and his male genitals develop along with the rest of his body, at least some parents and students are likely to become uncomfortable with his continued use of the girls’ restroom.”
It should be noted that the proper way to say this would be “her continued use…” Coy identifies a female. She is considered a female on both her state-issued ID and her passport. She dresses as a female (for as much as clothing might define one’s gender). Though it’s possible that the lawyer simply misspoke, if the school is thinking of Coy as a boy, than they’re obviously going to run into problems.
Coy’s parents point out that forcing her to use separate bathroom facilities only sets their daughter up to be bullied or ostracized by her peers. ”Coy’s school has the opportunity to turn this around and teach Coy’s classmates a valuable lesson about friendship, respect and basic fairness,” one of the family’s lawyers said. Instead, the school decided in the middle of the year that Coy needed to stop using the girls’ restroom, demanding she change her habits after winter break.
I think about all of this and I feel very sorry for the young child caught in the middle of an adult legal battle. I do not believe that the school is right, or that they’ve handled the situation in the best manner.
At the same time, I’m not sure that the school will escape controversy, no matter what decision they make. In elementary school restrooms, yes, even in the girl ones, children have a tendency to get curious or simply clumsy. They barge in to unlocked stalls. They peak under the partitions. It is completely possible that another little girl would see Coy’s physical differences and ask some questions. At that point, parents could become involved. Personal ideologies get debated.
The entire issue does not seem like it would have an easy solution. I can understand the thinking behind, “Well maybe she can just use the gender neutral bathroom.” It might seem like the “least-amount-of-fuss” option. But, it still separates Coy out, making her “otherness” an issue for her peers to point out.
I wish there was a cure-all for Coy’s situation. More than anything, I wish that Coy’s gender identity didn’t have to be an issue for school administrators to discuss and debate. If our society was a little more accepting and thoughtful, this might not be a problem at all.
At the moment, I just don’t see how this story will have a happy ending for anyone involved, least of all for the adorable little girl who just wants to be like every other kid at her school.