Believe it or not, I am a guy who likes to leave my house from time to time. Occasionally I'll be out, you know, people-watching in the local park, shopping downtown, or cruising around and making frequent stops at the tiny indie cafe in my gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, inhaling pints of coffee on the hour. Sometimes I'll even drink water. Eventually the time comes when my bladder has successfully been filled and I'll have to, you know, empty it. I'll find the nearest public restroom and use it. As long as there's a stall with a door, of course.
As a "transitioned" transsexual man, it's easy for me. Again, as long as there is a stall involved. I can't stress that enough. This man needs a stall. Because he sits to pee. Because he still has a vagina.
A few weeks ago I received a message in my inbox from a concerned parent of a newly recognized transgender child. In the email was information on a petition he started to allow his trans child use of a safe bathroom at school. His kid, an elementary school student in coastal Georgia, had recently expressed that he didn't identify with the gender he was assigned at birth (female) and now wished to attend school and live life in every capacity as a boy. The parents spoke with the school about the details around what it means to have a trans child in their school system and the things that this would affect -- bathroom usage, gym class changing areas, correct pronoun use. The school was supportive and OK with everything until the child actually wanted to use the restroom. He was only allowed to use the girls room, therefore going against the main point that was understood and agreed upon before school was back in session. The parents came to the school to speak with the principal, and it spiraled out of control, resulting in the principal threatening to call CPS.
This story has gotten a lot of press -- negative, positive and the usual judgmental, hiding-behind-an-avatar, online-comment flame-wars. Not because of the child per se, but because both parents... wait for it... are female-to-male (FTM) trans people. People are assuming that the parents are forcing their child to be trans, or that their home life is making it an almost too safe space for this child to feel that he was "born in the wrong body." Because he is growing up around two parents who are queer, male-identified trans people, is this affecting his own feelings of gender and the way he wants to live his grade-school life and beyond?
I wish I could tell this kid it gets better.
This family's story triggered a lot of feelings with regard to my own bathroom challenges. Before I transitioned in my 20s and still to this day, public restrooms remain a small terror for me. It's a small terror I'm able to mask with the outward appearance of a calm and collected man simply going to use the restroom. Pre-transition, when I would walk into the women's restroom, ladies would look at me terrified, tell me I was in the wrong bathroom, or scream "Get out! This isn't the men's room!" I was a male-appearing kid and never thought I was doing anything wrong until I realized I actually was doing something wrong. My sheer existence in that specific public space was making the masses uncomfortable, and for years I felt like I was walking on eggshells when I was just trying to live my life. Or pee.
Now, as an adult, using public men's rooms has gone from a newfound glory to an inspiration for feelings of constant paranoia. It doesn't matter where I am -- it could be at the SoHo Bloomingdale's bathroom or at a truck stop in middle America -- there is still that sense of dread. I'm comfortable with the "plumbing" I was born with and don't want to change it, and I choose to not use a "stand-to-pee" contraption, but the flip side to that is I can't use a urinal and have to use a stall. Many times there is just one lone stall and the door has been ripped off, or it's out of order. Sometimes I have to visit three fast-food places just to find a bathroom with a working stall. Even then, when I'm halfway there, comfortable in the stall and ready to let the urine fly, I am convinced that the sound of the stream hitting the toilet bowl water sounds drastically different from the sound of pee exiting a penis and hitting the toilet water, and that the bathroom police await my exit so that they can tell me I'm in the wrong place and to tell me that they know my body is different from theirs, that they know my past and what's in my pants. And that it actually matters.
The story about the trans kid in the small Georgia town is not for me to judge. From a young age I felt that my gender didn't match the one I was assigned at birth, and if I had had resources like the Internet, the language to tell adults how I felt inside, or any sort of trans person to look up to when I was an elementary school student, my social transition would have started decades before it actually did. Having two trans parents could be a gift for this child. He could grow up never having to experience urine anxiety in his adult years. He could grow up with the ability to pee in peace.
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