By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN, 紐約時報 March 4, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - Political epiphanies can occur in unexpected places. For Riki Dennis, a 35-year-old humanities student who is transsexual, it was the women's room at a rest stop on Highway 101 north of Santa Barbara.

"The boyfriend hit me, even in mellow California," said Ms. Dennis, who was in the early stages of becoming female when she was assaulted by a stranger after using the women's room. "I said, 'Sir, I have no designs on your girlfriend.' I just want to use the bathroom."

Ms. Dennis, whose lowish voice is now the lone betrayal of her birth sex, is a foot soldier on a new political frontier: the campaign to establish gender-neutral bathrooms in public places. The idea is to make sure that transgender people (an umbrella term that can include transsexuals, cross-dressers and those with a fluid, androgynous identity who do not consider themselves completely male or female) can use bathrooms without fear of harassment.

Ms. Dennis is one of 250 or so members of People in Search of Safe Restrooms, a group founded here three years ago. It reflects a small but active movement, mostly on college campuses but also in a few cities, in which the bathroom, that prosaic fixture of past battles against racial segregation and for the rights of the disabled, has become an emotional and at times deeply personal symbol of a cultural and political divide.

In fact, bathrooms have become a cultural "fault line," said Mary Anne Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, where the Queer Action Campaign for Gender-Neutral Bathrooms recently got 10 single-use restrooms on campus designated gender neutral.

"Very few spaces in our society remain divided by sex," Professor Case said. "There's marriage and there's toilets, and very little else."

To young transgender people, especially college students, the issue has particular resonance.

"Students are looking hard at the right to express their gender, a painful rite of passage for every young adult," said Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a nonprofit group in Washington that fights discrimination and violence based on gender stereotypes. "These kids are demanding the right to be who they are and what they are 24/7. They're tired of being harassed or hassled when they simply need to use a public facility."

And so many students - including those at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., and the University of California, Santa Barbara - have lobbied successfully for gender-neutral bathrooms.

At the New College of California, a liberal arts college in the Mission District of San Francisco, men's and women's rooms have recently given way to "de-gendered" restrooms, devoid of urinals as well as of white stick figures with pants or a skirt. Signs on the doors proclaim the new restroom politics: "Lots of people don't fit neatly into our culture's rigid two-gender system."

At the City College of San Francisco, a community college with more than 100,000 students, about 10 percent to 12 percent of the students are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. After complaints of harassment by a transgender student, campus administrators recently transformed some men's bathrooms into gender-neutral ones.

Two new satellite campuses, to open in 2007, are being planned with men's, women's and gender-neutral bathrooms on every floor of the buildings. Major new construction on the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus is also going to include gender-neutral bathrooms.

One reason the issue has significance on these campuses is that in contrast to previous generations, in which many sought to transform their birth sex through hormones or surgery, today's young transgender people are content with a more fluid identity.

"I use the male bathroom, because I live my life as a male," said Rolan Gregg, a 29-year-old student at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco, who was born female and, though he is taking hormones, does not "pass yet," as he put it. "The problem with not passing is that my risk of violence is really high. So going to the bathroom becomes really scary."

Public restroom use is governed by a legal patchwork of city and town ordinances and state laws. San Francisco is one of five cities, including New York, with regulations protecting public restroom access based on "gender identity," which refers to a person's internal sense of gender rather than their birth sex.

But in other places, restroom access based on gender identity is "an evolving area of the law," said Chris Daley, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization.

Here in California, where the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaks derogatorily of "girlie men," the battle over public municipal bathrooms began in San Francisco in 2001, when the city's Human Rights Commission surveyed use of the city's bathrooms after complaints by transgender people and others about harassment in public and private bathrooms. As a result of the survey, the city passed guidelines recommending gender-neutral bathrooms be an option in public places.

"In San Francisco," said Marcus Arana, the a discrimination investigator for the commission, "the choice between being hassled or holding their water affects thousands of people."

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, advocates of gender-neutral bathrooms are beginning to make themselves heard. In January, they pressed the board of supervisors of Alameda County to adopt a resolution forbidding discrimination in public facilities, including restrooms, based on gender identity. Alameda County was the home of Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old transgender high school student who was murdered in 2002.

But at the meeting, opponents to the provision focused on potential side effects of the law.

"You can be sure that stalkers and peeping Toms will take full advantage of this change," said Catherine Norman, 54, a substitute teacher from Fremont. She added, "Bathrooms are about biology, not perceived gender."

Whenever he is in an airport, Shana Agid, a 30-year-old transgender art student, finds himself praying he can hold out until he gets on the airplane.

"Day after day, it gets a little old," he said of a ritual he confronts at least a half-dozen times a day. "It feels ridiculous to tell people as a grown person that you have trouble going to the bathroom."