Essay, Writing

I’m Afraid Of The Toilet Police

I’m really fucking tired of this toilet issue. I know that you are too. The difference is that I’ve been tired of it for twenty years. I’m really ready to move on. I will move on, just as soon as I can safely use a public toilet.

I posted last month about being violently attacked for using the women’s room. That was certainly traumatic, but it was also noticeable in its extremity. Most days are much more banal.

I want to talk about those regular days, the ones that seep into you, almost unnoticed, until they become your normal. Most of you probably don’t really notice how often you use a public toilet. When you do go to use one, you probably don’t hold your breath, hoping, hoping, hoping, that it’ll be a single. When you ask, where is the toilet, your feminine friends and lovers probably don’t immediately offer to accompany you, to protect you. You probably don’t anticipate the shame of going in after a female family member and being asked to leave. You probably can’t imagine that shame.

In the U.S., people, whether or not they realize it, look first at hair/face, and then at chest to determine gender. As some of you know, I used to have pretty large breasts. Until I was 21, when I had them removed, I could use public toilets freely, because people looked at my hair, then looked at my breasts, and then went about their business (on the downside, outside of the bathroom, my breasts were a target on a masculine-signifying body, marking me as doing gender wrong).

In many contexts, not having breasts made me safer. Most people of my race assumed I was male. I was no longer sexually harassed. I could walk freely, and without fear, in the dark. As long as I didn’t talk, in general, I was safe. But using a public toilet became much more difficult.

The physical attack is always in my mind as a possible consequence. Every time I went into a public toilet, and was confronted by someone who stared, then placed herself in front of me and said: “This is the women’s room,” I remembered that this might result in attack. Usually, of course, it didn’t. That’s how terrorism works. A couple of significantly violent events can be recalled through threat, until we’re afraid to go places, afraid to act normally, afraid to be ourselves.

What I want to convey is that many queer people are afraid of cishet people, and I think that many of you don’t realize that. You are not being beaten and killed by trans and gender-nonconforming people. We are being beaten, and we are being killed. You’re not doing it personally. But some of us have learned to be afraid of you. We have good reason.

I challenge you to pay attention to how often you use a public toilet. Imagine that each and every time, if it is not a single, you may be confronted, and challenged. You may be asked to leave. You may be physically attacked when you do leave, by people who are much, much larger than yourself. Think about how much more difficult it is to do simple things, like go shopping, or go to dinner, if you cannot use the toilet. Imagine trying to take a road-trip, particularly one that crosses through more conservative states.

Imagine knowing better than to use a locker room. I love to swim, but I can’t go into a women’s locker room anymore, and you almost always have to go through a locker room to get to a pool. I can only go with my mom. When I visit her, we go to the Y together. When someone confronts us, she beams her best, old lady, Catholic, church-lady beam at them, and says, really loudly, so that the whole locker room can hear, “This is my daughter.” She says it like she’s really proud. But she’s not. It’s always really humiliating for me, to have her witness that; to have her be a part of it. I just keep my eyes on the floor and get out to the pool as quickly as possible.

There may be predators in your public toilets. There are predators in them now. If I’m in a public toilet, and somebody tries to fuck with your kid, you have my word that I will stop them. I’d bet money that most of my trans friends would do that too. So when you worry about that predator in a skirt, coming into the public toilet to peep at you or your child, remember the trans woman in the next stall, who is going to kick his ass right out of there. I’m scared of you. I’m scared of your men. And I want her in the public toilet with me, in case you try to hurt me for using it.


NOTE: Refuge Restrooms is an online directory and app for finding safe public toilets. It relies on public contributions. If you have other resources for finding safe public toilets, please mention them in the comments, and I will add them here.

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