Skirting the Issues: Gavin Grimm

Photo by karenroach/
Photo by karenroach/

Photo by karenroach/

At this year’s Grammy Awards, transgender icon Laverne Cox interrupted her music star introduction to highlight the case of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old Virginia high school student who’s become the poster child for transgender rights in the United States. Cox urged, “Everyone, please Google ‘Gavin Grimm.’ He’s going to the Supreme Court in March. ‘Hashtag stand with Gavin.’”

Not long after Cox’s plea, the Supreme Court changed its mind and sent Gavin’s case back down to the trial court judge who had originally ruled against Gavin. As I discuss below, I doubt this will make any difference for Gavin, who is set to graduate high school later this spring.

Still, sooner or later, the Supreme Court will weigh in on transgender people and their rights, particularly as it relates to public restroom and locker room usage. Given that less than half of all transgender people transition surgically (meaning that the majority of trans folks still have the plumbing they were born with), how the Supreme Court ultimately decides the issue will affect the lives of many humans.

The fact is that people who have no idea what it means to be transgender have all the decision-making power here. There are only two transgender judges in the country (yours truly once tried to be number three, but that’s another story for another day) and as a result, we trans people are at the mercy of humans who really don’t understand what it means to be “other.” Sometimes the ignorance is glaring.

For example, take the judge in Gavin’s case, the one who now has the case back in his lap. On the first go-around, the judge accepted the school district’s argument that gender is “immutable.” In doing so, the judge implicitly accepted the “creationist” approach to human etiology (which fits in nicely with the people who are raising huge amounts to fund bathroom bills across the country).

Another problem with the trial judge: he was very skeptical about the risk of a urinary tract infection from “holding” for too long. (Gavin testified that he experienced UTIs from not using the restroom because he considered it demeaning to use the alternative bathroom in the nurse’s office that school officials offered.) I’m not surprised that a male (with a much longer urinary tract) would have problems understanding that a biological female (who have much shorter urinary tracts) could develop infections from “not going.”

The trial judge also called gender dysphoria a “mental disorder” (psychologists considering the incongruity between brain and body a “condition” and not a “disorder”). This sure makes it sound like the judge believes trans people are just plain “crazy.”

Finally, the judge implicitly (if not outright) questioned what it meant to be transgender, saying that Gavin “wants” to be a boy. I’m sorry, but this isn’t about “wanting” to be anything; rather, it’s about being a human who is.

The trial judge was thought so biased that on appeal, Gavin’s ACLU attorneys asked that the case be assigned to a different judge. The appeals court denied that request and so now the case goes back to the judge with the aforementioned biases.

Before there was even a lawsuit, there was a public hearing in front of the Gloucester County School Board where more than 25 people spoke; most argued against Gavin’s restroom request. As reported by the Gloucester Daily Press, many of the comments concerned perceived safety issues: fears that Gavin might be hurt; that he might hurt others; and that allowing Gavin freedom in this instance would open the door to trans female teenagers using female restrooms and locker rooms where “things could happen.”

Gavin also spoke to the school board. In a short video of Gavin’s remarks (which you can view on YouTube), you see a stocky male teenager walk to a podium and put his hands in his pockets. In what turned out to be an eloquent impromptu speech, Gavin spoke of how no student ever complained about him using the high school’s male restrooms. Instead, the complainers were “adults making comments not knowing what they are talking about.” Gavin argued, “I did not ask to be this way; I didn’t choose to be transgender.” He analogized to a child having cancer, through no fault of their own, and how any parent would do whatever they could to protect that child. Being transgender is something that needs protecting as well, Gavin rationalized.

In closing, Gavin reminded the school board, “I’m just a human. I’m just a boy.”

Well said, Gavin. You compel respect as you teach us about grit and determination and what it means to stand up for one’s self.


Ellen (Ellie) Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change (2013). She speaks and trains on diversity and inclusion topics; visit where you can also sign up for her newsletter. She welcomes your comments at [email protected].

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