6.22.2010

Hard Lesson #2: Public Bathrooms

Bathrooms. I wrote a little bit about being alone in a bathroom but there is also the problem and difficulty of NOT having the luxury of privacy in a public washroom. For me this issue goes way back and has always been the one place where my gender identity has faced a crisis. As long as I can remember my gender has been called into question by complete strangers.

Given the option, my first choice in a place to "go" is a single-celled gas station bathroom. There is no question of whether or not you belong. I don't have to worry about someone telling me I am in the wrong place, implying that I am somehow a pervert, suggesting that I am of below average intelligence or illiterate because I didn't see or wasn't able to read the sign on the door. At a gas station or other roadside turnout, there is usually a little family on the door that says "welcome! yes you can urinate here without fear of being made to feel like a freak" I love that little family. The childless couple separated by a line are my next favourite. God knows they don't care if I stand or sit or even wash my hands. They aren't judgmental like that.

Women can be really aggressive and quite rude when they think someone doesn't belong in their space. I have had thousands of sideways glances, women staring, hundreds of "excuse me you're in the wrong washroom", and quite a few women walk in take a look at me, walk out, check the sign on the door, and return to complete one of the above actions. I have had women ask me to leave, yell at me to get out, and once a woman even ran off to find a security guard to physically remove me from a public washroom. All of this happened BEFORE I decided to transition, when I still called myself she, identified as a lesbian, and had a girl's name. So what is it?

I don't think anyone should have the right to stake a claim on a public space. I am unclear why some people think it is their right to police the washroom, to say I do or do not belong there based solely upon their understanding of the world. I know how to read. I know where I need to be. All I want is a 3'X3' cubicle for three minutes to empty my bladder and carry on with my business. There is no reason for you to be afraid. I am here for the same reason as you and by the way, anyone over the age of six  knows which washroom they are supposed to be in. Ladies, if you accidentally walk into a washroom and see a urinal do you say oh what the hell, I'll just pee and get out of here who cares? NO! You think what is that smell? panic and rush your little heels outta there. If a guy accidentally walks into the wrong washroom, there are no urinals he thinks, that's weird, it smells so good in here, then he panics and gets the hell out of there before someone chases him out. Now if a woman needs to go really bad and the line is too long at the ladies' you have no problem usurping a stall in the men's room.  Men however, are not afforded the same courtesy.  Suddenly we are filthy perverts, peeping toms, or psychotic rapists. Seriously?

When I began using the men's room on a regular basis, I was so scared that I would get the shit kicked out of me.  I still have that fear once in a while in a big city or when the bathroom is particularly busy and I need a stall because I haven't yet mastered the STP device. Men don't care. They don't look at you sideways, in fact they rarely look at you at all. They get in get done what needs to be done and get out. There is no gossip, no primping, no crying, no teams of two or three. The bathroom is a room of requirement, a place to relieve yourself and get on with the rest of your day. The men's room isn't filled with relaxing music, isn't strawberry scented with potpourri and flowers next to the sink. Most of the time it isn't even that clean. And urinal cakes? They are aptly named because that is exactly what they smell like, only more concentrated like cat-man piss pucks. No wonder we don't linger.

So next time you are in a public washroom and you think it's your duty to check the sex of everyone that walks through the door, how about keeping quiet for a moment and open your mind. Trust that if you are in a washroom in a mall, the Bay, a school, a library, a concert, a sporting event, or any other public space, chances are whether you recognize them as your gender or not, they know which pot to piss in. Trust that the woman with the really short hair and masculine hands next to you at the sink knows where she is. Don't stare. Bite your tongue when the extremely tall woman with large muscles and a deep voice brushes past you to the nearest stall. That twelve year old with the longish hair wearing a shirt and tie does not need to be corrected. The public washroom is a place we already fear confrontation, degradation, humiliation. All we want to do is empty our bladders, have a safe place to sit in private for a few moments. We know where we belong so instead, please smile, hand us a paper towel and let us leave with our dignity.

1 comment:

Gabe said...

That may well be the best bathroom rant I have ever seen. You've done a real nice job with this blog.