Have you ever used a public restroom? If you haven’t, social distancing is probably really easy for you, or you have incredible bladder abilities. Unfortunately, I (usually) have to use public bathrooms all the time — on road trips, at work, at football stadiums, airports (back when we could be in public.) As a transgender man, I’ve gone through different phases where I looked more feminine and phases where i’ve looked less feminine. It has been quite the journey, and I’ve met many people along the way, most of them are horrible, but all interesting to reflect on. If you are gender non-conforming, you’ve probably encountered one or all of the following.
1.The confused double taker.
This woman walks in, sees you drying your hands — minding your business, keeping germs at bay like a decent citizen — and decides that she must have blacked out as she was reading the restroom signs. She backs away, checks the sign again, and then comes in, giving you side-eye the whole time. Luckily, since she is the type of person who believes she could be at fault for something. She will leave it at the side-eye.
2. The defender.
She’s already in the bathroom, probably NOT washing her hands, because these women actually do not care about public safety or germs (something I am perhaps more sensitive about at the time of writing than I would have been in my teens). You walk in, laser-focused on getting in and out of a stall so you do not have an encounter with this exact type of woman, and she blocks your path. This is the LADY’S ROOM, she says loud enough so that the plops from the stalls stop mid-drop. She says it like it is a sword and shield. You pipe up, scared, holding back anger or tears, depending on how many times you have gone through this today.
3. The overly-friendly ally.
I have a friend who has heard my woes throughout the years. Her response is, in my opinion, hysterical but not harmful. Whenever she sees someone more masculine-presenting in a bathroom, perhaps they are using chapstick, she aggressively smiles and goes out of her way to be friendly. She wants so badly for these people to feel welcome. I compare it to my experiences when walking with a girlfriend back in the day and someone would give a thumbs up. Weird, but harmless. Keep up the good work overly-friendly allies!
4. The (thank God) other butch lesbian!
She’s lean, she’s mean, she’s using the latrine. This woman IS wearing a leather vest, IS smoking a cigarette, and IS not taking bullshit from #1 or #2 while doing #1 or #2. She looks at you, does “the nod,” dries her hands on her jeans, and laughs to herself as the defender steps out of her way. You have hope that one day the toilet monsters won’t have any effect on you.
5. The child.
There is a toddler in the bathroom, using the stall walls as a jungle gym, the sink as a kiddie pool, and the towel dispenser as a towel dispenser of MISCHIEF. They see you, they process, and they get back to the business of making everyone else hope their head doesn’t pop under the stall. If they are loudmouthed they might say, “Are you a boy or a girl?” and you might respond “yes,” and they will not care at all. Kids are so funny.
6. The stench.
So you’re a year on testosterone and things are bleak. You have acne, your binder hurts, your hips are wide, and your voice still cracks. But you are out living your life because you are literally the bravest person on earth and you have to pee. Perhaps you are using an STP device for the first time, perhaps you are not too confident with this device, perhaps you know for a fact you pee yourself 4 times a day (I need to practice!), so you stick to single-stall situations. The most common single-stall situation in public is (drum roll) a porta-potty. Honestly, I have big respect for them; they’ve given me privacy in my most desperate days. I advocate for way more porta-potties in the world.
7. Any Man.
If your situation is like mine, you may end up here in the men’s room (where I’m writing this article. Just kidding, I am social distancing in a basement). A little trick I used for the first few months was singing “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars in my head every time I walked in. (It helped, don’t ask.) I was over vigilant with the rules I had looked up on Reddit. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t look at anyone’s penis. Don’t talk. And while I was in the stall, I always compared my pee noises to everyone else’s pee noise. But here’s the secret, I’ve figured out every type of man in men’s rooms: The guy who does not care what you are doing. The profile is complete. He is looking down, avoiding eye contact, not looking at anyone’s penis, and not listening to your pee sounds. He is playing candy crush and HOPEFULLY washing his hands when he is done.
**disclaimer** While I have never had a negative experience in a public men’s room, there are always dangers of being trans in public and I understand my white and passing privilege.
My personal story culminates with me passing as male for the most part, which is what I want. However, that’s not the case for everyone. Never make assumptions about someone in a public bathroom or elsewhere. And always wash your hands.
If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual violence and are in need of support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).