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Bathroom bullshit redux

Bathroom bullshit redux

I was called entitled, insensitive, transsexual (as an insult)
A couple of months ago  I wrote a column here called “Dear Lady in the Women’s Washroom” (Xtra #472, Sept 22). I wrote it shortly after returning from a visit to Granville Island with my sweetheart, where I had just endured yet another gender-panic-related “bathroom incident.”

This particular time, a woman had screeched at the top of her lungs when I had entered the “ladies” washroom, glared at me as I bolted for a stall, and then spoke loudly and derisively about me to her friend while I was peeing. I came straight home and belted out a column.

That column got a lot of comments online, and a fair bit of private email as well. I was called entitled, insensitive, transsexual (and yes, I think they meant this as an insult, believe it or not) and basically told me that my right to pee unmolested was less important than other women’s right to feel safe in a public washroom.

One person wrote to tell me, “Why not start a campaign or lobby or what have you — yes, you and all other trans men and trans women — get together and make it so that there is a washroom for those of you who have to ‘think’ harder than us straights as to what washroom to use. That way, you can pee or change your overloaded tampon in peace.”

I was also told, and I quote, “A man in the ladies room is a threat to my well being and I will not surrender my right to protect myself in order to avoid giving you an uneasy moment or hurt feelings,” and, “I will not sacrifice my own safety to yours.” I even received one email that contained a barely veiled threat of physical violence: a woman from somewhere in Texas told me that I “better not ever find myself in the same women’s washroom with her” as she “could not be held responsible” for what she might do to me, given her history with abusive men.

There were other, positive stories too, and I want to share some of them here as well. I also got messages from all over the world from folks thanking me, sharing their own stories of bathroom struggles, and telling me that they had printed up the column, laminated it and taped it up in bathrooms all over their college or university campuses.

I got a letter from a very sweet libra-rian in small-town Nova Scotia, the mother of a young trans man, who had printed up my column and marched it in to her supervisor. It was the final straw that convinced him to remove the gendered signs from the library’s two single-stall locking washrooms and make them both gender-neutral facilities. I did a reading there in person, just last week, and saw the evidence of this with my own two grateful eyes.

Last month I was at a university in Oregon for a show. A young kid slumped into the chair right behind me, just before my gig was about to start. I thought this kid was a young boy, lithe and handsome, about 14 years old, maybe. Then the kid started talking to me, blurting out almost in one long breath that she was 17 years old, turning 18 in just a week, but that she wouldn’t have made it far enough to see her 18th  birthday if someone hadn’t given her a copy of my story, "A Butch Roadmap." She told me it was the first time in her entire life it had dawned on her that she could actually be proud of who she was.

She told me that her single mom had sent her to live with her grandparents when she was about nine, because the new stepdad wasn’t into being a parent, and that her grandparents were rabid Catholics who had freaked when she came out of the closet, and when she cut off all of her hair and started presenting as more male or butch, they had kicked her out of their house altogether. She told me that she was couch-surfing and trying to finish her last year of high school but that the mean girls at her school had started a petition to keep her out of the girls’ washroom, and some of the boys had told her they were going to kick her ass if she even thought about using the boys’ bathroom.

Whew. Then the host got up to introduce me. She thanked the sponsors and then informed the room that for the duration of my show this evening, all of the public washrooms on the entire first floor had been designated as gender-neutral, and that if there were people who required gender-specific facilities, they were located on the second, third and fourth floors, and that if anyone found this inconvenient, then perhaps they could take a minute to reflect on this and consider how it might feel to have to go out of one’s way to find a suitable bathroom.

I felt the kid behind me relax her shoulders and let out a long, drawn breath of pent-up air.

So. I am writing this column because I am tired. I am tired of being told that this kid doesn’t matter, that my eight-year-old tomboy friend who dropped out of science camp because of bathroom trouble and bullying doesn’t matter, and that I don’t matter.

I am sick of hearing that my safety is not as important as other women’s. I resent the implication that butches and trans women and men are never survivors of male violence themselves, and thus do not also need a safe place to pee, and the suggestion that we should somehow be segregated in our own bathrooms so we don’t bother the rest of you normal people, is simply fucked beyond belief.

I also want to state again, for what seems like the one millionth time, that single-stall, lockable, gender-neutral washrooms would solve all of our problems. I refuse to be divided and conquered on this issue. I will not allow myself to be placed in opposing corners of the ring when it comes to all of our safety. I call bullshit.

Comments

Oh I See...
From your article you wrote on March 10 2011: "If you are at all uncomfortable with sexual advances by men, I would suggest you stick with the “Ladies’” room, regardless of how much of an actual lady you might be." What is it you do not understand again? Why this Woman doesn't want to share a bathroom with men? Bullshit? Hysterical?
Oh I see...
So why didn't YOU go into the MENS? Oh right because of safety concerns.... I see. But you can't understand the Woman's safety concerns...I see it all so clearly now.
Puzzled
I want to ask a general question: How could anyone be afraid of the other people in the bathroom with you, unless they specifically act in a threatening manner? I have been sexually assaulted on the train; that doesn't make me afraid of the other people on the train. I've been sexually assaulted & physically abused by people I was in a relationship with; that doesn't make me afraid to date other people in the future. So to say that a man or masculine-looking person sitting in the stall next to you is somehow threatening to you... well, that is just about the most absurd thing I have ever heard. Have you heard the phrase "Nature's calling"? Nature. Meaning it is something we all do, & it is natural. Who cares what the genitalia or self-identification of the people in there with you happens to be? I simply don't understand that sort of thinking. Get the heck over yourselves.
It's a massive cultural problem.
It's because our entire culture sees men (or anything they perceive to be male) as deranged sexual perverts. They're not comfortable with men being in women's washrooms; they're not comfortable with men being in a women's store; they're not comfortable with men being around children. Many, many women are raised to believe than any and all men are evil and will take the first opportunity to rape or assault them. A masculine figure invading in any woman's 'safe' space is immediately considered an attack. I know around here a woman using a man's washroom is generally fine... (On my urging, my girlfriend in high school often used the men's room because there was no line up. Walk in, go in a stall, do your business, wash your hands, leave. Don't stop and try and chat - that's not how a men's room works.) Not one person ever made any sort of deal out of it. If I (a male) had walked into the women's room...
outsiders perspective
I am a gay somewhat ''straight-acting'' man. I have to say that as awesome as they are to talk about, I think root of this problem goes beyond trans, butch/femme, hetronormative issues. It seems to me that the major problems are to do with women's reactions in the bathroom. This might come off as sexist but if women (yes women, this is a woman's issue) dropped the hysterics and theatrics such as screaming, or crying or bitching or yelling or slapping that accompany their reactions to various body types in ''their'' washrooms then this would not be an issue. Everyone would be able to piss and shit in peace. And as a side note with regard to ''feeling safe'' presumably from big evil dangerous men, could someone please explain how a sign on a bathroom door repels rapists and criminals from entering? I don't see how it would.
Some things.
We can't wish immediate change for equality and such, there's always an arm of people who are less accepting. Not having my ID in my proper gender has sort of excluded me from bathrooms, but i suppose i'll have my share of troubles. It would be awfully nice if we think ahead for next generation and teach kids acceptance..
About time
It's about time that we change our bathrooms. Everyday I walk into the women's bathroom at my University and have to almost sneak in behind everyone so that they don't have too much of a problem. I could go to the a different building across the walk way but hell why should I. Every quarter we are given a survey to voice improvements as the "gay/lesbian" population in our school and I always say a gender neutral restroom is needed, guess they figure it isn't really "gay/lesbian" necessary. Hell even if I wasn't genderqueer I would love a private bathroom. Wouldn't we all!
Thanks Ivan!!!
I have had experiences like Ivan's and am so thankful for this article! Right on. It inspires me to take action to advocate for more gender-neutral restrooms at the college where I work. I agree with Ivan that everyone has the right to a convenient, stress-free place to pee, and that it is indeed mean, discriminatory "bullshit" for women to scream or make rude comments to butch women (or transpeople). I quote commenter Romham: "This is about respecting that no, neither you nor anyone else actually know who is who in those washrooms (i.e. the comment "I also know when a dude is a dude in a woman's washroom." -- no, you don't); and the ongoing assumption that you or anyone else does and has a right to lash out violently for it, is something i call complete and utter bullshit on." Yes!!
Thank you Ivan
For continuing on (with your writing, with calling bullshit, with using the women's restroom every damn time you have to pee) even though tired. There is no easy answer, no quick fix. My hope is based in part on a phrase I heard years ago: Each one teach one. No, it's not my job to educate the world about gender variance. Not even my job every time I have to use the restroom. But sometimes, if I can respond in a way that is in some small way educational to those who may otherwise object to my presence (in a washroom, or in general); if we all sometimes do some educating, maybe change will come. Such is my hope. And I will remain a champion of strong, courageous women like Ivan.
This discussion goes beyond the washroom...
http://www.queerty.com/tn-couldnt-decide-whether-andrea-jones-is-male-or-female-so-they-arrested-her-20111116/ Bigotry, hatred and violence is something many people deal with on a daily basis. Trying to do the simplest things. Using a washroom, using a change room, shopping for clothing, holding a loved ones hand, joining a sports team or club, getting a driver's licence, going to the doctor, filling out a form, etc. etc. etc. Think of how many times in a single day gender is an issue or a question. It is far more often than a washroom visit. The queer person in the women's washroom isn't the problem. Everyone else is. Next thing you know we will have a nice spot at the back of a bus, a table at the back of the restaurant and separate drinking fountains for the LGBTQ among us. But that would NEVER happen would it??? Not in a civilized society! It isn't all about the "big" issues. It isn't all about the right to marry. It is also about the small details of everyday life. And before anyone comments that I must have some agenda or some pent up anger that I need to get over because of how I am treated, let me save you the trouble. I am a straight, married, mother of two. I have no agenda and I don't need to deal with this hatred on a daily basis. I am however an ally to those who do. And to those people I say... I welcome you into the washroom with the girl on the door if that is where you choose to be. I would say that I don't care which washroom you use, but that would be a lie. **I really, really do care.**

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