In 1997, when I was 21, I came out of a diner restroom, looking forward to my tator tots, and was physically attacked by a very large man who, as he put it, didn’t want a faggot in the bathroom with his girlfriend. He was huge. I remember that his shirt was plaid, and red. His hands were leathery. He reminded me of my dad (except that my dad would have killed him for touching me). I appreciated his honesty. He wasn’t afraid that I’d rape her; after all, I was a faggot. He just wasn’t going to allow any gender inappropriate behavior in her vicinity.
A 21, I’d already been asked to leave a lot of bathrooms, and taking a piss had been a source of anxiety for a couple of years, but that experience forever changed my relationship to relieving myself. It was one thing to be confronted, and to have to prove that I was a girl. But when women did it, it was hostile, not violent. I wasn’t willing to die for it. I had to learn to use the men’s bathroom.
Like many AFAB (assigned female at birth) people, I was taught that a women’s bathroom can become a rape zone, if a man breaches it. So the first time that I walked into a men’s bathroom to take a piss, I was pretty scared. It seemed like a rape zone that I was willingly entering. Who the fuck does that? I put on my best swagger (pretty damn good, I must say) and winged it.
I pack, and have for 16 years. I’ve tried every packer on the market that isn’t prohibitively expensive. I’m probably supposed to have some deep, dysphoric reason for it. It’s possible that I even have that reason, as I am dysphoric, or dysmorphic, or generally body-conflicted. But I’m not self-reflexive enough about my gender to have figured out my deep, politicized, reason for packing. I just feel better when I pack. I’m a cross-dresser and I like the bulge in my pants. I’m simple that way.
Before I went into the men’s room, I learned to pee standing up. I really thought that it mattered. You can hear the difference between a sitting piss and a standing piss. It just turns out that nobody actually cares.
When I finally braved it, it was the most relaxing public bathroom experience I’ve ever had.
Men, you have no idea. Women scrutinize every inch of one another in the the bathroom. When you walk in, they all stare at you. Women’s bathrooms are a social gauntlet.
Women, men’s bathrooms are like an empty women’s bathroom, except that there are people there. They won’t look at you (unless they’re kids). It’s all very goal-oriented. It’s all about you, just like a spa (I hear). You do the thing that you came there to do. You don’t stare. You don’t chat. You just take your piss.
Men don’t (overtly) scrutinize one another in the bathroom. I realized almost immediately that they can’t. I realized that if anyone ever questioned me about being in the men’s bathroom, my most effective defense would be: “Are you a faggot?! Why the fuck are you looking at me?!” I’ve never had to do that. I wish that I could say that I wouldn’t, but that would be a lie. I’m a survivor, and sometimes, that means that I’m willing to do some really fucked up things, to save my ass. Men’s fear of catching the gay makes men’s bathrooms much safer than women’s bathrooms, for people like me.
This brings me to the current bathroom legislation issues. I am really glad to see that all of us, who are gender non-normative, see this as our issue. We absolutely need that solidarity. But it’s also important to acknowledge that these laws are not equally intended, and they won’t be equally applied. Men don’t scrutinize one another in the bathroom, and nobody cares about protecting their easily violated little parts (I have always been mystified as to why we aren’t more protective of those squishy, vulnerable, little bits). Trans men (and others like myself), if we want, will still be able to use the men’s bathroom, because nobody will notice or care. This legislation is entirely about targeting trans women.
It’s not easy to be trans, in general, but trans women face both transphobia and misogyny (transmisogyny). Outcomes, on a variety of measures, are much bleaker for trans women than for trans men. Trans women (and especially trans women of color) are the victims of hate crimes more than any other group of people in the United States.
So all trans, gender fluid, genderqueer, and just gender non-normative people, yes, this is our issue. But let’s not pretend that it affects all of us equally. It is, firstly, an attack on trans women.
For those of you who don’t follow queer politics, the current escalation in anti-trans legislation is not coincidental. Mainstream gay/lesbian politics has overwhelmingly, in this century, focused on gay marriage. One of the limitations of that is that it prioritizes and normalizes certain gay relationships, the ones that look like mainstream heterosexual relationships. A number of scholars predicted that as soon as ‘normal’ gay relationships were institutionalized, ‘deviant’ queers would be more vulnerable.
The current anti-trans initiatives are the next step of a queer-hatred movement that lost a round with regard to gay marriage. Let’s hope that the marrying, mainstream gays step up to defend the rest of us. Want to be an ally? Join Paypal, Lionsgate Productions, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams, and Jimmy Buffet, and don’t spend a damned cent in states that don’t let trans folks use the bathroom.