Sir, you're in the wrong bathroom

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This happens to me almost every time I use a public restroom. Women stare at me, look at me with disgust, or urge me to leave. My presence is a public restroom is offensive. And, because men have done such a great job of instilling a sense of fear in women in vulnerable positions, this gender confusion evolves into a legitimate anxiety that I’m going to harm them.

So, I explain to them that I am a woman, which helps, but is still uncomfortable. I try to avoid using the restroom alone for this reason. I will drag my mother, sister, girlfriend, or any willing female into the bathroom with me, even if they haven’t consumed anything for hours. It says, “Hey, look! There is an obvious woman who entered with me. Therefore, I’m definitely a woman! How about those monthly cycles, huh?”

This past Christmas, I went on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. The most frustrating incident I can recall was when I went searching for my mother in the gym. It was set up so that you’d have to go through the men's/women's locker rooms to get to it.

“Sir, you’re in the wrong bathroom!” a twenty-something woman shouted at me. I responded with, “I’m a woman!” and kept walking. I had a purpose. I was there to find my mother, who ended up not being there. That moment resonated with me in a way that similar moments had not before. This woman was pissed; I had disturbed her sense of comfort, on vacation, just be being myself.

It’s frustrating to be androgynous and deal with this, but it’s never proven to be dangerous for me. After all, I am still cis-gendered, and have obviously feminine features. Transgender individuals have it significantly harder when using public restrooms. Depending on where they are in their transitions, they could potentially be putting themselves in harm's way.

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If the proposed “bathroom bill” in Arizona passes, it has grave potential to put transgender individuals in not only a compromising position, but in a legally complicated and potentially violent situation. In its original draft, it would have required for any individual whose gender is called into question to present their birth certificate to use a public restroom. After much justified protest by the general public, the bill was amended to leave the enforcement of gender verification up to business owners.

My FTM transgender friend, whom I’ll refer to as “Henry,” said, “It’s just invasive… even if you’re not transgender, think about someone coming up to you and asking you to prove your gender.” I asked him about his public restroom habits, whether he uses the female or male restrooms, and he said he tries to avoid them altogether. “I’ve used the men’s bathroom maybe twice. When I use the women’s restroom, they just stare at me, like they’re trying to figure me out.”

Being transgender alone, in the privacy of one's own home, is hard enough. To publicly draw attention to and threaten legal force over their transition does nothing to make it any easier. While I can’t personally attest to any of these challenges, I am quite close with Henry, who tells me about them whenever we get together. He thinks that this bill is not only counterproductive, but dangerous for both FTM and MTF transgender individuals. “Most of us don’t want people to know that we’re trans, we want to be seen as people. When you call attention to it, it makes it really dangerous for us.”

Catherine White Holman and Joshua Mira Goldberg paint an unsettling, but very real picture of what this present danger actually is in their manual, Social and Medical Advocacy with Transgender People and Loved Ones: Recommendations for BC Clinicians.

One American study of transgender adults found that approximately 50% of respondents were survivors of violence or abuse,(28) and another found that 25% of transgender respondents had experienced hate-motivated physical/sexual assault or attempted assault. 29 In a recent survey of transgender people and loved ones in BC (n=179), 26% reported needing anti-violence services at some point in their life. In examining reports of hate crimes against transgender people, researchers found that 98% of all “transgender” violence was perpetrated specifically against people in the male to-female spectrum; (30) of the 38 murders of transgender people reported internationally in 2003, 70% were women of colour. (31)

It may be annoying, but it isn’t dangerous for a cis, seemingly-white, androgynous lesbian to enter the ladies room. At least not here in sunny Tampa. Most women will look at me, with all of my delicate, feminine features and wonder if I'm just a misguided 15-year-old Italian boy.

When Henry and I sat down to discuss this issue, we marveled at the stupidity of it. We shared a laugh and said, “There’s no way anyone is still this ignorant.” Our confidence in our fellow man was betrayed last night when this bill passed an Arizona House panel. I’m hurt for Henry, and for every transgender individual who feels belittled by this bill. I can’t even imagine what kind of trouble is looming for anyone who doesn't fulfill the Suzy-Homemaker-Gender-binary in Arizona. I don’t even want to consider the danger that these transgender individuals are now facing.

While this development is disheartening, degrading and downright crossing the line, I fear that this is not the end. With progress pending as the Supreme Court gives gays and lesbians their day in court, I fear that conservatives will go after the next plausible group of people: the transgender community.

I’m prepared to stand behind my transgender brothers and sisters just as much as the straight allies have stood behind me and the rest of the gay community. I remind Henry frequently how loved he is, and I hope that he never forgets it. I hope that he never lets these discouraging power moves make him feel badly about who he is, because he is an incredible person. I urge every single person who has stood behind the LGBs to keep their spines straight and never cower from defending the Ts.

This is about more than a bathroom break, this is a call to arms, and I don’t mean to sound too gay, but we need to be using them to embrace each other. We have to educate ourselves and others as much as we can stand, and then some more. We have to be there for each other, now more than ever. We’re living through history right now. It’s sickening; it’s inspiring; it’s an uphill struggle and it’s ours.

If you feel ill-informed (or know of someone who is) and would like to learn more, here’s a resource that you can consult to enlighten yourself. This is just one of many resources available to help educate the general public.

Become an ally. It can be a simple as not making it your business when someone's trying to do theirs the next time you're in the bathroom.

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Life is full of important questions: Why am I here? Is global warming real? Are you a girl or a boy?

For the record, I’ve only been asked this question by a handful of bold and curious individuals.

Usually, the question presents itself in other ways. Like, most recently, when I used the ladies room and a gaggle of little girls loudly commented on how there was a boy in the bathroom. There’s a fine line here.

These girls hadn’t been exposed to women who look like I do, and it’s never my ambition to scare small children. In the case of this most recent incident, I explained to the girls that I was also a "girl" and that girls can dress and wear their hair the same that I do.

I immediately left for two reasons: one, I was uncomfortable and, two, I didn’t want my presence to make the girls uncomfortable. My girlfriend stayed and finished her business and was able to hear their nanny explaining to them that they behaved in appropriately.

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