Every individual on the transgender spectrum is unique as is their personal journey, beliefs and experiences although I venture a guess that there is one issue we can all agree is a nuisance: Bathrooms.
If every business would just create gender neutral – single room/stall restrooms, this world would be a better place! Not just for trans-spectrum people but for cis-people too. Afterall, what person really enjoys going next to a bunch of random strangers??
The hang-up that probably took the longest time to sort out when I first started transitioning and coming out, was definitely the restroom situation! I didn’t feel comfortable in the women’s bathroom but I didn’t feel comfortable in the men’s restroom. Along with my physical transition, “restroom phases” changed too.
Early in transition, even though I had testosterone flowing through my veins, I still appeared female and stuck to the women’s restroom. It was all I had ever known- the etiquette, the habit, the familiarity, unspoken rules. Entertaining the thought of venturing into the men’s restroom, made me feel like an imposter.
Testosterone changed the shape of my face and I wore stereotypical “male” clothes. My voice started to change a little but nowhere near male range. I always used public restrooms when my girlfriend was there as a buffer and made sure that I spoke aloud so others could hear my high-pitched voice – to reassure them that I was in the “correct” restroom. Odd or confused looks became more common in the women’s restroom but at this point I had their benefit of the doubt on my side. Being in the women’s restroom did not feel right but it still felt significantly more comfortable than a place I had never set foot in.
At this point, I had actually been kicked out of women’s restrooms which unrelentingly shoved me into the “experiment stage”. Neither felt comfortable as I flip flopped between the men’s and women’s restrooms. Braving the men’s restroom was directly dependent on the comfort, location, and situation of the specific restroom: Did it appear crowded? Did I have a strong suspicion that I could get in and out quick enough for nobody to notice? How liberal and accepting was the establishment? What part of town was I in? What kind of vibe did I get from the people around me? My intuition was in hyper-drive.
First, I started by using men’s restrooms that were single room/stall: low risk.
Then I had a handful of “go-to” restrooms like Radio Coffee and Beer where I trusted that the risk of any confrontation was low. I avoided anywhere crowded like bars and clubs where I might actually have to wait in line. The dreaded line! Then the walk of shame to the stall after passing up open urinals.
Unless I wanted the cops called on me, the women’s restroom was off-limits! Eventually that day came, when I had no choice but to use the men’s restroom; there was no going back. Over time it just got easier and easier until fear turned into empowerment and normality.
Fight or Flight
Switching over to using the male restroom after 30-something years was the scariest venture – it was like sneaking into a foreign land that you know nothing about, unarmed, vulnerable, self-conscious and the potential threat of confrontation and the unknown could be paralyzing.
Would they be able to tell I was trans?
Would they suspect since I was sitting on the toilet to pee instead of using the urinal?
Does pee sound different depending on from which height it fell? Was the sound of my pee suspicious?
My heart raced and my eyes darted all around vigilantly, ready for fight or flight.
I endured an ongoing fear every time I would sit down to pee, that some guy’s head would pop up over the stall door, as I sat there peeing with the wrong equipment, and in an angry confrontation, question my existence and what I was doing – interrupt me, violate my privacy, and call out my gender in front of whoever else was in the restroom- essentially catching red handed, the imposter: me. I felt like I was breaking a law, ironically in a lawless land of gender confusion.
To this day, when I’m out and my bladder is bursting at the seams in an overflowing restroom or at a particularly rowdy, drunken bar where alcohol has blurred or even dissolved normal etiquette and good judgement and that old fear seeps back into my consciousness, I have a fleeting desire to revert back to the women’s restroom. Maybe I miss being around women who feel less intimidating.
The Truth About Guys Restrooms
Here is the thing about the men’s restroom: Unlike the women’s restroom, it is not a social event; guys are in and out. Don’t make eye contact, walk straight ahead, don’t start conversation unless you know someone really well, and under no circumstance do you acknowledge anyone else or concern yourself with what anyone else is doing.
What I have learned is, while I sit there drowning in my own insecurity and over-analyzing the sound of my pee falling into the toilet, no other guy is even remotely paying attention to me, the sound of my pee, or anything else!
Furthermore, some cis guys sit to pee so to this day, I remind myself that sitting to pee is normal, inconvenient at times, yes, but still normal and it makes me no less of a man!
Nonetheless, I stay vigilant in new places. I have run into places where the toilet had no door and even places where the toilet just sat, in all its glory, right next to a urinal with no wall. Why on earth would anybody build a stall with no door or a toilet with no stall? This is not pleasant for cis guys or trans guys! God forbid you have to use the toilet at these places because you will be on display for everyone to see!
Still, nobody really looks.
This society is in desperate need for gender-neutral restrooms! But until then, here are a few reminders:
I have every right to be in this restroom.
This is where I belong.
It is perfectly normal for me to be here.
Nobody is paying attention to me.
Everybody is wrapped up in their own heads and not concerned with me or what I’m doing.
Nobody is looking at me.
I can be aware but calm and peaceful at the same time.
This moment is temporary and it too, shall pass.
Sometimes I put things into perspective this way: Somewhere along the line people gave value to the differences between genitalia. Some random person then group of people decided to create a binary, define that binary, decide what value to give those definitions, then create restrooms that upheld all of the above. Most of our anxiety and insecurity stems from societal constructs that somewhere along the line, we unknowingly bought into. You can opt out of this.
Question everything. Question what makes you anxious. Question unwritten rules. Question the status quo. Question how things came to be the way they are. Once you start questioning everything and realize that everything is made-up, your anxieties will dissipate. Try it and let me know what you think!