Bill Konigsberg: On Showers, Bathrooms, and Shame

We asked Bill Konigsberg, winner of the 2016 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Young Adult Literature, to write about the Trump administration’s recent rescinding of protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

On Showers, Bathrooms, and Shame:
The Right’s Obsession with LGBTQ Erasure

I remember the argument so well.

It was 2002, and former football player Esera Tuaolo had just come out of the closet. I was still working as a sports writer at the time, and I was one of the very few openly gay men in sports.

Tuaolo was interviewed on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and the interviewer, Bernard Goldberg, brought up the same, tired argument I’d heard a zillion times.

The world isn’t ready for gays in sports, he claimed, because being a football player is not like being an accountant. Accountants don’t have to shower together.

I remember feeling like my head was going to explode.

What a reductive, specious argument!

As if elite athletes had trained their whole lives so that one day they could ogle men in the showers.

As if I, as a sports reporter often in pro locker rooms, was there simply to sneak a peek, rather than being the person in the room most uncomfortable and most wanting to prove that I belonged.

I write this in response to the recent, truly mean-spirited decision by the Trump Administration to rescind the protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

It feels like this is a corollary to what gay men and lesbians went through with the dreaded shower argument. But I recognize that, of course, there are differences. And one of the things that needs to be said is that as a cisgender person, I may not fully understand the differences. What I know, however, is that just as it was never about water fountains during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, this battle was never about locker rooms or bathrooms.

Just as the myth of gay men as predators in locker rooms was backwards, so is the myth of trans men and women as predators in bathrooms.

That’s why you don’t hear stories of gay men raping straight men in locker rooms across America.

That’s why you don’t hear stories of people being molested in bathrooms by trans folk, but there are seven stories of black trans women who have been murdered in the United States in the first two months of 2017.

The power dynamic has been turned on its head for the purpose of scaring people, and you’d better believe those doing the scaring know what they’re doing.

This is about shaming those who are different. This is about scaring people back into a closet and making trans people feel ashamed and inferior.

As always, this is about heterosexual supremacy. Which is what happens as soon as those with sexual orientations or genders that vary from the heterosexual norm clamor for equality.

The thing that is most galling about this mean-spirited ruling is that it is aimed at transgender erasure. A law that requires people to adhere to their birth gender is utterly incongruous with the facts. According to a Williams Institute study, there are more than 1.4 million people on the trans spectrum in the United States.

Once we accept that trans people exist, it becomes impossible to make a logical argument for this law. Should we have people who have physically transitioned use the bathroom of the opposite sex? That would be awkward for some, life-threatening for others. Should we differentiate between those who have physically transitioned and those who have socially transitioned, and those who are still in the process of doing so? That would be invasive and inappropriate.

The only thing that makes sense is to assume that when it comes to bathrooms, as in any other aspect of daily life, people know where they belong.

Not to get too biological, but bathrooms are places of comfort. Making such comfort stations uncomfortable for trans people is one goal of this legislation, pure and plain and simple.

But the main goal is more than discomfort; it is erasure. By making it impossible for trans people to exist in public, by making it so that basic biological needs cannot be met, this is about legislating trans people out of existence.

We won’t stand by silently and let this happen. We are all human. When we single out any group of people as less than, we all become less than human.

Here are some things you can do today:

  • ACLU - #ShowUp4TransYouth - sign the ACLU petition affirming your support for the rights of trans youth
  • Lambda Legal has serious of publications online: , Transgender Rights Toolkit, Publications: Transgender.
  • The incredible folks at Human Rights Campaign are tracking anti-LGBTQ legislation through-out the country. If your state is considering discriminatory legislation contact your congressman or senator!
  • HRC also has a resource guide for people with transgender family members.
  • GLSEN, “champions LGBTQ issues in K-12 education” has a policy toolkit for advocating for LGBTQ rights in state and federal legislatures.
  • Refugee Restrooms - A resource for safe restroom access for transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals.
  • Gender is Over! Wear your support

  • Gender Spectrum -
  • GLSEN -
  • Human Rights Campaign -
  • Lambda Legal -
  • National Center for Transgender Equality -
  • National LGBTQ Task Force -
  • The Sylvia Rivera Law Project -
  • Trans Life Line -
  • Trans Student Educational Resources -
  • Trans Women of Color Collective -
  • Transgender Law Center -
  • Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund -
  • The Trevor Project -

  • Bill Konigsberg is the author of several books for young adults, including the highly praised and award-winning Openly Straight. His fourth novel, Honestly Ben, has received three pre-publication starred reviews and will be released by Scholastic at the end of March. Before he switched to full-time novel writing, Bill was an award-winning journalist who wrote extensively about the world of sports. Bill lives in Chandler, Arizona with his partner. Visit him at and follow him on Twitter @billkonigsberg