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open letter

On Being Afraid in the Bathroom

The impetus to write Symptoms of Being Human came in late 2013. I was in a car with some friends and acquaintances when the driver–let’s call her Jane–brought up a court case pending in my county. A transgender student was suing the school district for the right to use the restroom/locker room that corresponded to their gender identity rather than their birth-assigned gender.

I thought, “Oh boy! We’re about to have a great conversation about love and acceptance!”

Not so much.

After a short silence, Jane said, “isn’t that gross?”

I was struck dumb for a moment, but then my liberal righteous rage kicked in, and I started to argue. What could anyone possibly have to fear from sharing a locker room or bathroom with a transgender person? 

I still haven’t heard an adequate, reasonable, or compelling answer to this question. If you have one, I invite you to leave it in the comment section below. I want to understand where you’re coming from.

When the argument died, I hadn’t changed any minds. It hurt my heart to think I’d failed. I woke up the next morning thinking about that student, about what it must have been like to go to school the day after that newspaper story broke–to know that everyone knew. To bear the stares and whispers. So I began to write.

Three years later, North Carolina legislators have passed a law barring transgender people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates. I’m not sure how to respond. I feel unqualified to start a political/legal/social debate–but I am compelled. It feels almost condescending to bring up things like Brown v. Board of Education and Browder v. Gaylebut at the same time, it seems necessary. Institutional discrimination of those who are different–and whose difference harms no one–is unacceptable.

I’m proud to be among 269 children’s book authors and illustrators who have signed this open letter to readers in North Carolina. Please read it and share it–let’s support young people (and adults) struggling against discrimination and abuse.




inspiration, LGBTQIA, Personal, SOBH, symptoms

Jeff Garvin

Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN and THE LIGHTNESS OF HANDS. Cohost of THE HERO'S JOURNEY podcast. Rock musician, D&D geek, aspiring revolutionary.