I had to pee.
For me, the bathroom question is one of honest assessment. “Is it unsafe in this situation, as a passing MtT, to use the men’s restroom?” This is the question I ask myself on those occasions I need to excrete waste products from my body while in a public setting, and was the question I asked myself, earlier today. Yes, it was safe.
The setting was a grocery store I worked at for over four years. Most of the people who work there are known to me, and today I enjoyed the opportunity to drink coffee and catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen in months, except in passing. Suffice to say, after a couple hours of dialogue and more than a few cups of coffee I had to pee. I really had to pee.
Coming from a childhood situation that gave my sister PTSD and probably had some similar effects on myself, I have spent the majority of my life assessing my environment for potential dangers. I knew that there was no danger in this situation. So, I steeled myself for using the men’s restroom. Now, this establishment sees a good amount of traffic, so it was highly probable there would be other men in the bathroom, other men who would be more than a little surprised at the sight of seeing a woman (wait, that’s a man, why are they dressed like a…OH, OH, I GET IT) waiting patiently to use the one stall the tiny restroom boasts. However, this is the type of place where fairly liberal-minded people shop, so the thought of violence was the furthest thing from my mind. The only reason to not use the men’s restroom in this situation was the unwanted attention, the announcement of being trans. And if I wasn’t someone influenced by radfem politics, there would be the additional issue of validation to deal with.
I balked at the idea, and wondered if I would be able to get away with using the single restroom in the back room meant only for employees. Maybe they would make an exception for me? My old manager – a dear, dear friend of mine – was present and I lobbed my request at her.
“Oh, honey, you know you can’t go in the back since you don’t work here anymore.”
She told me to use the women’s bathroom. I told her I was going to use the men’s. She became immediately anxious and visibly upset.
“No, you don’t need to demean yourself like that! I will walk in there with you if you want!” At this point I was feeling an odd mix of emotions. Perhaps it was partially the higher dosage of estradiol I had just started on. Her crestfallen face, her aura of grandmotherly worry, her horror at seeing me demean myself…and I really had to pee.
I used the women’s restroom, knowing myself to be an outsider, albeit an invisible one. It was what I wanted to do anyway – and really, I just used her anxiety as an excuse, as a means to justify conceding my infantile and malformed attempt at radical ethics in favor of enjoying an uneventful micturation.
Concessions aside, the experience made visible something that I had not been exposed to previously, at least not in such a blatant manner. She didn’t want me to demean myself. This is important, and requires a deeper examination. What was demeaning about me using the men’s restroom? Certainly, it would attract attention. Certainly, some of that attention would be curious, some would be confused, and some would be judgmental. Interpretations of my presence would differ in extraordinary ways depending on whether someone ended up clocking me or not. The sheer fact of entering a men’s restroom would increase the chance of being clocked by a huge degree. Is that what is demeaning – being identified as trans? Is that what she meant? Maybe, but I’m not convinced that’s the answer.
To demean oneself implies that there is some party or individual that one is demeaning themselves towards – that the individual is bowing down, figuratively or literally, in homage of the greater power of some authority. But who is this authority? At this particular store, one of the employees is also a MtT – it has been made clear that I am welcome, nay, encouraged to use the women’s restroom, that the company’s policy on such things is all-inclusive, liberal, etc. It is certainly within their rights as a corporation to have whatever policy they want concerning their restrooms. By using the women’s restroom I was actually giving in to the contextual norms. So who, precisely, am I demeaning myself for? Society in general?
This would adequately reflect the liberal perspective my friend holds on such matters – in addition, the MtT employee works alongside her and has conveyed a little of some distinctly post-modern views on transgenderism (as a side note, this individual avoids me like the plague – perhaps transactivists really can smell gender-criticals?). I suspect what my friend meant was giving in to the notion that I am not a woman, despite me describing to her my politics and how the idea that one can simply identify as a woman is damaging to women’s liberation. In truth, I don’t think my friend really knew what she meant. I think she was trying to convey an emotion. She loves me, truly she does. We have been through a lot together: she has witnessed my multiple transformations over the years, seen me fall into and crawl out of the depths of depression and helped me through long months of living on the edge of suicide. I have listened to her stories of betrayal and suffering from her past, stories that close members of her family are unaware of – yeah, we have some history.
So, when she feels a desire to see me happy, to see me fit in, and then witnesses me engaging in what appears to be masochistic behavior in the service of alien politics, her emotional landscape becomes one of anxiety and fear. Understandable. She just wants me to use the restroom I feel comfortable using. But, I don’t feel comfortable using either restroom. And really, I don’t think it’s all about my ‘comfort.’
What about the comfort of those who don’t want an unexpected penis in the women’s restroom? Do they not have the right to demand a penis-free restroom in a society that not only privileges penis-holders but also teaches us a sense of entitlement because of this fact? A sense of entitlement that results in my class of people being responsible for 99% of rapes and 90% of murders? Just based on those statistics, this seems reasonable.
But this entire post is really about my friend, and the powerful emotion she felt in response to me using the men’s bathroom. I suspect that her emotion is not altogether different from the emotions felt by many other liberal-minded folks who feel an intense need to fight for us trans people – to see us fit in and be happy. To be safe. To not demean ourselves. Fitting in. That’s really it, isn’t it? I demean myself, not by being trans necessarily, but by not fitting in. By choosing not to fit in. Visually, I ‘match’ the women’s restroom.
Don’t stand out. You don’t want to demean yourself.
My body freaks me out, transition is serving its purpose, and I am finally, for the first time in maybe 15 years, able to think clearly about myself; able to critically analyze myself and the trauma I experienced growing up and the damage I’ve done to myself over the years through ritualistic, masochistic escapism. It is ironic that transition itself could be perceived as a ritualistic form of masochistic escapism. But I won’t go into that right now.
One of the many reasons I disagree with the idea of children transitioning is that in many cases, it is done with the motivation of fitting in. My transition has nothing to do with fitting in. I’ve tried to fit in my whole life. Transition is about rediscovering the creative potential, the confident voice, the sense of Self that I sacrificed repeatedly through the years in the interest of fitting in and doing what I was supposed to.
Now I am, apparently, demeaning myself by choosing not to fit in. In the interest of normalcy, in the interest of preserving the integrity of society and fitting in, I must not demean myself by using the men’s restroom. I can be my own special little snowflake. But just…don’t be that kind of different: Fit in.