Sometimes when I go out to restaurants and bars that are not completely populated by other gay folks, I scare people in the bathroom. This Saturday night, I was out with three friends and I had to use the restroom. When I walked in, there was a person in the other stall, and no one waiting. I entered the available stall and while I was using it, three or four women walked in–talking to each other. My heart stopped– just for a second. This hadn’t happened in awhile.
First, I was wearing a tie. Ties detract from every feminine aspect of my body– my chest, the width of my hips, the softness of my face/features– it seems like straight women see the tie first and the person wearing it second– so when i came out of the stall, two of them gasped before realizing I was female.
This is one of the prices I pay for my gender presentation in spaces where there is no single-user restroom available. I know many many people who experience this kind of pressure and fear and frustration every time they need to use a public restroom. Generally I can speak and immediately assuage the discomfort of the other women in the bathroom– my voice isn’t very high, but it’s certainly not the voice of a man (and less masculine now that I quit smoking).
Should I speak to assuage their discomfort? Does my right to pee in public supercede their right to feel safe in the restroom? No, it doesn’t. But it doesn’t supercede my right to feel safe in the restroom either. Someone told me to dress more femininely when I go to straight places. Well, that defeats the purpose of spending 32 years becoming the person I am. I don’t have and don’t want separate outfits to wear when I go to straight places (which are most places–even most places that I go).
Recently, my department at work was moved down two floors. We are mostly still sitting near the same people we have always sat near. I have never experienced any kind of gender or sexuality discrimination at work– I am very very lucky, I know, but my workplace is committed to being a great place to work. The move has resulted in us sharing a restroom with a whole new department of people we don’t know, and I told “wrong bathroom” at work the other day by someone I don’t know. I replied politely, “I don’t think so” and when i turned to face the person, I could see her surprise that she was wrong. I guess I’ll use the unisex a little more often until people who don’t know me are accustomed to seeing me at the copier or in the halls….which honestly is fine by me because I prefer using the unisex, but don’t want to occupy it in the even that a person with a disability is in need of the facilities.
It’s funny– I do identify as butch, but I don’t think I look like a man [nor do I want to look like a man]. I have the round body of a fat woman, but my chest is smallish [thanks, 1996 reduction!] just because I’m wearing men’s clothes doesn’t mean I’m in the wrong bathroom.
This has been happening to me for years. It happens more when I am thinner, and it happens more depending on my hairstyle. It happens more in the winter than in the summer. It happens more in bars than professional settings. It happens more in Cincinnati than Minneapolis. It happens more and more.