Meeting in the Ladies Room
Between North Carolina’s HB2, family members Facebooking their disdain for Target’s bathroom desegregation, and a stubborn bout of constipation, it’s been a tough few weeks for my excretory freedom. I had thought that prunes and flax seed would be the solution to the latter issue. But I’m starting to think it’s rampant transphobia that’s got me all stopped up.
I am a female-bodied, masculine-presenting, gender non-conforming (GNC) person. I was born a girl and spent my childhood branded as a tomboy. After several awkward years of “womanhood,” I came to understand that I don’t fit typical conceptions of a woman or a man. I am parts of both. I am neither one. Basically, I’m myself—and I don’t like my unique celestial essence to be reduced to simplistic, human constructions. So as you might imagine, the latest bathroom debates have got my boxers all in a bunch.
For the past decade of my life, the single most difficult thing I have dealt with when I leave my home is where to use the restroom. You heard that right: the most difficult thing. Of all of the micro and macro aggressions I face as a queer person of color, this one comes out on top. I worry constantly about how to not make myself sick because I can’t find a place to comfortably urinate. Frequently, the only options are two rooms labeled with words that shut me out.
That said, according to U.S. law and narrow-minded people, I am a woman. And, in the opinion of many a conservative-thinker, this means I am inherently in danger when I enter a women’s restroom. “Bad guys” are lurking, just waiting for a moment to attack women and girls as they use the facilities. And if we don’t crack down on “fake” women (that is, transwomen) using the same bathrooms, male predators will seize the opportunity to play nefarious Tootsie, sneak into women’s restrooms, and do the occupants harm. I should be very, very scared.
And I am. Because of the women there. Having at various times used both gendered restrooms, I hands down feel the most uncomfortable and unsafe when in the women’s. I have been stared at, yelled at, accused of peeing on the toilet seat, and plain blocked from entering women’s restrooms because, to the women there, I look like a “man.” I once left the stage after playing a badass set with my now-defunct all-women’s band and was immediately questioned about using the women’s bathroom at the venue by the very people who had just watched me perform. Maybe I got off easy. I still recall trans comedian Ian Harvie’s account of being groped by a woman suspicious of his right to use “the Ladies Room.”
As much as possible, I use the men’s restroom, where people keep their heads down, use the facilities as quickly as possible, and leave without pausing to wash their hands. It’s sad that the blatant ignorance I face in women’s restrooms feels more nerve racking for me than stepping into a space with men who outweigh and definitely out-strength me. A space in which I barely know the social codes of conduct and might get roughed up because I look the wrong way at someone. Somehow a room full of men all holding their junk in their hands allows me a moment of freedom from scrutiny or confrontation. (Note: This is not the case for every GNC person, nor do some folks wish to pass as genders they are not. I advocate for gender neutral restrooms as the ultimate solution to this whole mess.)
But here’s the thing: all the times I was harassed in the women’s room, I had a vagina. Legally, I have all the parts I supposedly need to step into that female space. Yet, somehow, I make many women uncomfortable by my presence. I make them grab their kids and look at me sideways. I make them stare in horror and disbelief as I casually chat with my sister or wife. I make them nervous for all of the reasons they supposedly worry about “men” being in a women’s bathroom. In short, I’m exactly what they are saying they want to prevent.
So, the conservative bathroom uproar mystifies me. Instead of addressing rape culture (or the latent misogyny of assuming women are too weak to fend for themselves), these people have decided that some of the most marginalized members of our society—people murdered in droves or taking their own lives in response to oppression and intimidation—are to blame. And in an attempt to “protect” women and girls, they actually invite into women’s bathrooms the very people they are trying to keep out: MEN. Muscled, pants-clad, possibly bearded transmen. Skinny-jeaned, hipster glasses-wearing genderqueers. And numerous other non-cisgender masculine-of-center folk. With the passing of legislation like HB2, the masculinity feared so much will be coming into women’s restrooms in droves.
The irony of this last point reveals that the justification of protecting the “fairer sex” is really just thinly veiled gender policing. Now that transfolk like Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and my artistic sheroes Lilly and Lana Wachowski are more present than ever in mainstream media, transphobes are in a panic that they may have actually encountered one in daily life and not known it. They could be anywhere! And while the supposed fear is men entering women’s bathrooms, transphobes are also harassing people who don’t “fit the bill” in men’s bathrooms. In all, this ignorant campaign is making it difficult for GNC people of all stripes to do what all humans must do multiple times a day.
Ultimately, it’s not rapists or pedophiles transphobes are worried about. It’s difference. It’s people that can’t be fit into a simple black-white system. People like me who are male, female, both, or neither—sometimes all at the same time. These conservatives fear people who force us to collectively see life as a little more complex than what we think it is. Folks that push us to evolve our thinking and stop reducing the infinite beauty of life to limited, human-made labels. The late great Prince said: “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand.” But it’s now 32 years later and I do want to be understood. Not for my sake, but for all of our sakes. Limiting anyone’s freedom is not a path toward making any of us safer, and is definitely not a path toward our collective liberation. //tr//