Maybe this is one of those things that we are not supposed to talk about. Of course, most of the things we need to talk about are perceived as things we are not supposed to talk about. A lot of talk happens around transgender people in bathrooms. It might be time for some transgender talk about cisgender people in bathrooms. (cisgender = not transgender)
Speaking as someone who has used the men’s room as well as the ladies’ room, I can tell you that there are a lot of things never spoken in the words used to relegate transgender people to a restroom identified by their birth certificate; words that are focused on people’s fears.
Speaking as a transgender educator, I can tell you that this is one of the most common topics during the question and answer sessions of my educational presentations. I treasure these questions. When people are genuine about wanting to have a better understanding, conversations that might otherwise be impossible, become possible.
Speaking again as someone who has visited both the male and female spaces, I can tell you that things are quite different in women’s space. For starters, women wash their hands.
Now I admit freely that I have not conducted any scientific studies about the propensity for one gender or another to wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and that my conclusions are based solely on my own personal experiences. But I will also say that I have never been chided in the women’s bathroom for wanting to wash my hands.
When I was living as a boy, and I took the time to wash my hands after going to the bathroom, the boys would sometimes chastise me. Come on, they would say, only girls wash their hands. A silent subtle smile must have crossed by face each time that happened, as I would think to myself, if you only knew.
And women talk to each other in the restroom.
Beautiful weather today, she said. My heart stopped in mid-beat. I had no idea how to respond to this woman in the next stall who was trying to start a conversation with me. It would be the first of many conversations I would have with women in public restrooms, sometimes in mid-pee.
This is a different place indeed, I thought, as I managed a short, Yes. Yes it is. In all my (very limited) learning about how to navigate the world as a transgender woman, there was no information about the dynamics that fill women’s spaces - and how that differs from men’s spaces - when we go - where we go.
When I first started living authentically, and I was still perceived as male, I took the advice my parents gave when I was a child and we were getting ready to go on a car trip - Did you pee? We are not stopping every fifteen minutes for one of you (my four siblings and me). You better pee before we get in the car!
I tried to stay clear of any public restroom. It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with using women’s spaces. I just didn’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable by using the women’s restroom. Considering that I was presenting as a woman, using the men’s room would have been far more than uncomfortable; it would have been very dangerous. I always made sure to pee before I got in the car.
Today, it is different for me. I go in the women’s room. I seldom get a second glance. Women sometimes talk to me and I don’t give it a second thought.
In men’s room and in women’s rooms, people just go in there to use the bathroom. Sometimes women talk to each other. And when they are done, women wash their hands.