Amongst other things, because the world is pretty scary as it is right now, if someone asks me what are the things I am most afraid of, I’d probably include spiders and public bathrooms in my list. Not necessarily together, although I must admit they would make a pretty freakish combination.
Public bathrooms scare me. There, I said it.
I’m not the first, nor the last trans or cis person to say that. I can only talk about my experiences though, so today you will get (another) transgender person’s views on why bathrooms are indeed scary for some people.
I grew up in a gendered society, as we all did. Blue for boys, pink for girls, although this was never the case for me — it was mostly yellow, and orange, and pretty much every other colour except these two. I knew, however, that when I wanted to use the bathroom, I’d search for the sign with the lady in the dress, regardless of the fact that I would never wear one voluntarily.
I never put much thought on it. I didn’t do it because it felt safe. I only did it because that’s what I’ve been used to do. As a kid, I was small, and cute, and I was wearing my hair in braids. No one gave me funny looks, no one questioned my place in the pee place.
As I grew older, and finally got rid of my long hair and my mom’s fashion choices, I started to get my first stares. I didn’t mind helping the occasional old lady at the grocery store who’d mindlessly call me “son”, and I didn’t correct anyone who’d call me “sir” by mistake. I took a secret pride every time I would pass as a boy, even to the old ladies. I didn’t know why yet, and it took me long to finally realize, but every time something like that happened, my smile widened, in a more genuine way than politeness. Sometimes, when other people were around, I pretended that it bothered me during the “chameleon” phase of my life. This wouldn’t stay for long though.
Recently, I started living as my true self in most of my life’s expressions. And, although when I was a younger boy I could pass without any real effort from my side, now it’s easier to get misgendered than to pass for some weird and unexplainable reason.
Which brings me back to why I’m scared of public bathrooms and I avoid them at all costs.
I live my life in a weird limbo, an in-between state between genders and appearances. I don’t do it on purpose, but I can’t help how I look. At least, before I go on HRT. Consequently, I get the stares. If I really have to go to the bathroom, I will always spend a couple of moments debating with myself about which figure guiding the door to the pee place I should follow. Sometimes I make the choice depending on where I hear noises from. If there’s people, you go to the other one, the rule of thumb says.
People stare. And I get it. It’s a defence mechanism, generally. Not really needed in bathrooms, when all people want to do is do their business and return to what they were doing (preferably after washing their hands), but generally, everyone stares a bit to understand what they are seeing in front of them. But when you’re already uncomfortable and unsure about if you are supposed to be somewhere, stares don’t help.
Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly where I would want to go. But I can’t stand to pee, and I also get periods, and I also need paper towels every time I use the bathroom. Things that are rarely a given in the dark and intimidating places bathrooms are.
And also I’m scared. I’m scared because I don’t know when it’s the next time I’ll hear someone ask their friend “what is he doing here?”, or when will be the next time I’ll notice someone looking at me like I’m prey, or when I’ll hear words like “faggot”, or “freak” again just because I went to pee.
I am not alone in being afraid of peeing away from home. An alarming 60% of the transgender population in the US avoided using public bathrooms in 2015 because they were worried about being confronted, harassed, or assaulted according to the U.S Transgender Survey. Avoiding the bathroom is not only unfair, it is also unhealthy, as it can lead to a list of adverse health effects like dehydration, kidney infections and urinary tract infections, too common for many trans folk.
I’m extremely thankful for gender neutral bathrooms, where, surprise-surprise, people smile at each other and hold the doors for people to pass, and people pee in peace (!) and no one bats an eye about what you are, because after all we’re all there for a freakin reason, and it’s a pretty simple reason really, everyone needs to fuckin use the bathroom.
And I get why gendered bathrooms might be a good idea in certain places, but it’s definitely not in others, and mostly it’s not. And generally, it’s not a massive inconvenience for cisgender people to use gender neutral bathrooms, but it is a massive inconvenience for transgender people to use gendered ones sometimes.
Gendered bathrooms are not essential, but kindness is.
If someone is using the bathroom you are in and you’re not sure if they are supposed to be there, well, they are. And they put a lot of thought for it as well. So let us do our business, as we will let you do yours, don’t stare and be nice.
After all, we all need to pee sometimes.