Keep SEPTA Out of My Pants
I ran across a flyer today for the Ninth Annual Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, which will take place at the Convention Center next month. It reminded me of Philly’s ongoing transgender discrimination problem: the gendered stickers on SEPTA transit passes. The issue has been in the news a bit lately, especially because of the recent drag protest outside City Hall by Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE), who allege that SEPTA’s pass policy is discriminatory. [SEPTA]
I’ve been wondering when this would happen. The issue has been on my radar screen for a couple of years, ever since it came up in conversation at a Mt. Airy coffeeshop. I was eavesdropping. A couple of kids on a date were getting worked up about it. One of the flirters, a dead ringer for Justin Bieber, was complaining about the experience of picking up a SEPTA transit pass. Usually, a SEPTA worker looks at you and slaps on a gender sticker. This young person — let’s call him Scooter — had a moment of trauma every month. Sometimes the SEPTA worker merely did a double-take and slapped on both M and F stickers. Other times, an argument ensued. It was never pleasant. (Though SEPTA being what it is, “pleasant” is unknown. “Painless” is as good as it gets.) Scooter’s date cooed in sympathy. She knew that transitioning was hard, she said, but she hadn’t thought about the myriad everyday nuisances like this. Neither had I, I thought.
Scooter’s experience is familiar to anyone whose appearance doesn’t fit conventional gender norms. Other transgender folks complain of SEPTA bus drivers who argue with them about whether they can use their bus passes. A simple bus ride can turn into a run-in with the gender police, or a referendum on what’s in one’s pants.
I remember having a strange reaction when I heard Scooter talk about his trans pass with the M and F stickers. I felt intensely jealous. It was the same jealousy I feel when I ride the regional rail to 30th Street Station in the morning, and the person sitting next to me flashes his monthly train pass and I dig for my wimpy Zone 2 ticket crumpled in my wallet. I want a train pass. Or, more to the point: I want my husband’s train pass. I only go downtown two or three days a week, so it doesn’t make sense to buy a monthly or a weekly pass. But my husband commutes more often, so he gets a monthly pass. Every time I approach one of the hostile women in the ticket booth at 30th Street, I curse the fact that my husband and I can’t share a train pass.
If I had both stickers on a train pass, I could travel downtown with it on the days my husband wasn’t using it — and buy single trip tickets for when we go together. I would be far more likely to take the train downtown for social events, rather than driving. If a few hundred other people like me did this (which they likely would), it would go a long way toward easing road congestion and reducing air pollution. Best of all, it might inspire some kind of goodwill or loyalty toward SEPTA — and this loyalty is used to great effect in other cities with superior public transportation systems. For example, in New York, carrying a Metrocard is practically a badge of honor. The Metrocard knows no gender.
I realized that my jealousy has a simple solution: SEPTA should eliminate the gender stickers on transit passes. It’s hardly a new idea. SEPTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee voted to eliminate the stickers almost a year ago. almost a year ago. Management declined. A new and different farecard system was in the works, they claimed; the new system would make the stickers irrelevant.
I’m 100 percent in agreement with the trans community on the sticker issue. Eliminating the gender stickers on SEPTA passes will ease traffic congestion in Philadelphia, will increase ridership on SEPTA, will save SEPTA money on staff and supplies, and will be a positive move for the environment. If SEPTA is facing a budgetary shortfall of $100 million, why not ditch the stickers? It’s simpler to cut them than it is to cut jobs or equipment costs. (Though perhaps we could do without some of the sinecure jobs like those $55,000/year salaried workers who will take your money but won’t make change.) The gendered stickers on transit passes are anti-environmental and discriminatory. As for where SEPTA can stick its stickers: I have a dark place in mind. One that’s not gender specific at all.
MEREDITH BROUSSARD is a Philadelphia journalist.