Yep. I'm using them full-time now. This picture of me is from July 2012, when I had to search high and low for gender-neutral bathroom because neither men's or women's rooms felt safe. Can we talk about why restaurants or other places have single-person bathrooms and still have to label them with a man shape or a lady in a skirt shape?
Back when I was a kid playing baseball with myself (true story), never once did I think I'd be doing this as an adult. And to be honest, I didn't think I'd ever have the courage to do it when I realized this past year that I would have to someday soon. It terrified the crap out of me. No pun intended.
How did I know it was time?
I knew it was time when I tried to use the ladies room a few times in a row a few months ago and everyone looked at me like I had 4 heads. It was really interesting to experience that, because I didn't think I looked all that different from months or a few years earlier, and people in my life were still using female pronouns (some still are). And I have been using ladies rooms for my whole life, and suddenly I'm being seen as an intruder? Weird! It's hard to know what I look like to a stranger. I still see the same person in the mirror, I don't think I look different at all. Just older and a little tired and pale because it's winter and I'm busy.
After years of walking in and out of restrooms with short hair and dressed in all-male clothing, now I was getting the signal that I looked like a guy and they were confused why I was in there. Ok. Good. That was my goal--to be gendered male. So now it was time to try heading into the men's room.
What was so scary? And what helped me overcome it?
Well, quite honestly, if I didn't pass for male and look like I belonged in there, I could get beaten up.It happens to people, every day. And take the reality that I can't use a urinal. I don't have that equipment and I haven't purchased the equipment that is available to pretend that I do have it. Yep, they make those. And yes, people use them. I just haven't gotten one, yet. Here's something currently on the market for women, http://www.go-girl.com/ in case you're ever caught in traffic or on a hike and need to pee. No more jealous envy of men standing up against trees while pee runs down during your squat! You can get this online or in some stores, actually.
Some trans*guys use them, too.
Back to the bathroom, and me.
If I don't use a urinal, it means using a stall. Guys use stalls for #2. Before I realized this (duh) I was afraid I'd be found out and roughed up or worse because my feet were pointing the wrong way under the stall door. Turns out, men don't give a shit what you're doing in a stall. I know because I asked my guy friends and they confirmed this. This and no talking. This is men's room etiquette, so I'm told. I won't say ALL men don't give a shit about who comes in the restroom because I do know people who have had some not so good experiences using men's bathrooms--and not just trans* men.
A few months ago, I consulted with my best friend about bathroom use and my fears. He's a bio guy (born biologically male) and he said, "funny. I have sort of a traumatic story about bathrooms, too." I listened and I realized, man, I am really focused on my own stuff way too much. Everyone is afraid. Everyone has stories. The more I put myself out there, sharing from love and honesty, the more people open up to me and tell me things I never would have known--or guessed--just by looking. It's a good lesson for me. When I'm scared and focused on my own experience, sometimes I forget that other people have fear, too. Not everyone shares their fears because who wants to look bad? I'll talk about this in another blog post.
I'll admit I have to employ a little strategy to my bathroom use, depending on where I am. And it can be a little nerve-wracking. The nerve-wracking tells me I'm on the edge of my growth, maturity and courage. I chose to come out as trans* and live my life authentically in a society that isn't warm, welcoming and accepting. Given that it's 2013 and people of all different identities everywhere are still struggling for equal rights, I have to take the challenges in stride. I wish things were different but I'm not alone. I have a support system. There are people working for change and we are making progress. In the meantime, I can be a victim about it or I can work with it. Or work to change it. Those are my options.
So, I try to use the bathroom when I think it will be less crowded, like at a musical event or movie. I go during the middle, not during a break or right before or after. If there are two bathrooms, I use the one that less people are likely to be using. I went to a REALLY long weekend event several weeks ago and simply gave myself permission to get up during the middle of the presentations to go whenever I needed to, which is pretty often because I drink a lot of water. Less people were in there so it was a good strategy. ;)
I also just mind my own business. Yes, I get a rush of adrenaline every time I go into a bathroom and hear someone else come in. But I remember that they have no idea what I'm doing in there. And they are probably thinking about the million other things they have going on in their lives. And not about me.
This took me a while to realize. And it took me using bathrooms and being completely terrified to get to this point. Sitting around wondering or complaining about it wasn't helping me. I've realized that my fear was greater than the actual thing. I also know some folks who don't pass as their chosen gender can experience some tough stuff when they try to use the bathroom. That was why I used the restroom that felt safest for me until I was being gendered male in public more. When strangers started calling me sir or dude in public, I figured it was time to try the bathroom thing.
And it's turned out to be ok. So far. When I go in, keep my head down, act like I belong in there, pee and get out of there, I don't have any issues. Like many things in my life, it is what I make of it.
If I have an experience that is different from this, I will write about it. And learn from it. And send blessings to people who are doing their best, and having scary experiences and sharing their stories so we can make progress.
In the meantime, here is one simple thing I'm doing. Maybe you can jump on board and do it, too:
when a public place has restrooms that just have the word RESTROOM printed on the door, I thank them. If they have gendered restrooms that could easily just say RESTROOM, I kindly suggest it.