To hear proponents of North Carolina's anti-LGTBQ "Bathroom Bill" tell it, transgender people who use restrooms that aren't the ones co-responding to the sex they were assigned at birth are criminal monsters. Canadian musician Rae Spoon is confronting that notion head on in their new monster-filled "I Hear Them Calling" video.
The video, which is a collaboration between filmmaker Chelsea McMullan and Spoon, features 23 LGBTQ and ally youth gathering together to build their monster costumes before taking to the restrooms of Toronto institution Buddies In Bad Times for a spirited dance party.
Samaritanmag spoke to Spoon about Dolly Parton, safe spaces in restrooms and the absurdity of criminalizing where a person goes to pee.
What happens in the "I Hear Them Calling" video?
The beginning of it is documentary style. We did a costume-making workshop with 23 LGBTQ youth participants in Toronto and the inspiration was working around the idea of transgender and gender variance folks being treated a bit like monsters, scary monsters. So we got them to make monster costumes. So we cut to that and there's a voice over from a newscast about the new laws being passed in North Carolina limiting the use of public washrooms to the sex you were assigned at birth. So it's kind of juxtaposing this self-driven expression of youth with really limited civil rights for trans folks in North Carolina. That's what's going on there. Then it cuts into a scene of us basically having a dance party in an all-genders, wheelchair-accessible toilet.
Did you have a favourite costume from the video?
I don't know. I really loved all the costumes. I was supposed to be wearing a costume and Chelsea fired me from making it because I was so bad at it. So I just wore a fur coat. I was jealous of all the costumes they made. I loved them all.
There's a sampled line in the video "If I have to pee I'm gonna pee." Is that Dolly Parton?
Yes, it is. That was an interview she did about those specific laws so we figured it's very contextual and she wouldn't mind if we used her vocal sample.
Have you gotten any feedback about including that Dolly line?
We didn't identify the voice. A lot people don't recognize her voice so it's sort of left open. The quote is so strong you don't need to know it's Dolly Parton to have it make sense. She's been very supportive of the LGBTQ community historically so it's not surprising she has a choice quote about the laws. She's really cool.
I'm going to play devil's advocate for a moment here: how do you respond to the argument that perverts are going to use gender neutral-ism and things like more accessible bathrooms to prowl around women?
Yeah, safety is always an issue. And what I would say to that is those people would to what they do whether there was a law or not. The law won't stop them. So I think the law's a bit superfluous for that sort of thing. And I think the problem is people misconstrue transgender women as perverts and they're not. It's just that there's such a big prejudice against them That's a very big trope, the Silence Of The Lambs stereotype, that someone who is a gender-born male assigned at birth is going to be predatory. But I think there's other issues, safety issues that can be addressed in every washroom. I just think that someone that's going to be assaulting someone has little regard for the law.
It seems absurd to me that people are criminalizing peeing.
The absurdity of it for me is that the only violence I've ever seen in washrooms is actually against transgender variance people. I know that people do get assaulted in washrooms, but I think you know the vast majority of violence is getting mall security called on you, getting hit with a purse, or feeling out of place in the men's washroom. I think that's the number one thing that trans folks in public have the hardest time.
It all seems like opposite day when it comes to this legislation. When you look at the overall victims of gender based violence it's going to be for trans folks in that way. I think it would make more sense to make more non-gender toilets even if people still need their binary toilets. They can have another one, all gender change rooms, access to basic health facilities, stuff like that. So it just seems absurd to me to further oppress transgender people by criminalizing their genders. That's the absurdity of it... take a vulnerable population and then oppress them further.
For you personally, which washrooms do you use?
I use any one. I kind of just go by whatever. I tend to use any one. I prefer all-gender restrooms if I have that choice. Or if there's a single stall, I prefer it. Depending on where I am and how I think I'm going to be read I just pick which feels safest. I've grown my hair out a bit so I'll often use the women's washroom because my hair's a little longer. I don't know... I mean, men with long hair using washrooms in some places can be dangerous, so I think I go on my own safety and comfort level and it's different in different places.
Have you had any unsafe or dangerous experiences using restrooms?
Yes, all the time. People do double-takes. They'll see me come in, they'll walk out, look at the sign and then walk back in, that's kind of uncomfortable. I've experienced a lot of violence in restrooms. I'm quite short and I'm very small so I think I've been read as not the most threatening in either washroom. I think male assigned, transgender women get a lot more attacks. I belong to a group that's a little bit more privileged. I was in Calgary recently and even though my hair's a little bit long-ish, down to my shoulder, I got handed the men's restroom key, so it's just a thing that I can't control. I don't think anyone can control how they're read with their gender. There's nothing you can do. I think it's more of all of us maybe learning to ask or wait for someone to tell us their gender, but I think that's a way off.
Watch Rae Spoon's "I Hear Them Calling" video
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