Toilet Trouble

In which I overshare about how fucking stressful it is being trans and needing to pee.

brussels-1818803_640

Before I realised I was transgender, I already knew about the whole transgender toilet issue (or bathroom issue for Americans). I was aware of it in a theoretical way, and was full of righteous anger about the discriminatory bathroom laws in some US states. I remember thinking about how hard it must be to have to deal with that, especially early in transition — or for people who identify and/or present in a non binary way.

I wasn’t wrong.

And even if you live in a country without prohibitive laws on which toilet you use, it’s still pretty bloody stressful.

wc-1774747_640

I’ve now reached the stage where it’s an issue for me on a personal level. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pub in Fowey (a small town in Cornwall) and went to the women’s toilets as normal. It was empty when I went in, but when I came out of the cubicle there were three young women chatting. As I emerged, they all went silent and stared at me. Then one of them said “Oh!” in a tone that made me feel like shit on her shoe. It’s hard to be sure what prompted that reaction, because I didn’t stick around to ask why. But given that people are starting to call me ‘sir’ occasionally, I’m 99% sure that it was because she initially read me as male.

That was the first time I’ve been made to feel unwelcome or discriminated against in a female space. But it’s understandable now people are starting to read me as male. The last thing I want to do is make women feel unsafe or threatened. So as a result of that, I’ve started to try and use male toilets at least some of the time — because I no longer feel comfortable using the women’s.

But I don’t feel remotely comfortable in the men’s either. I’m still in an awkward non-binary limbo as far as my presentation goes. I’m occasionally read as male at first glance, but usually read as female when I have any significant interaction with people because of my voice (which hasn’t changed much yet). Because of this, using the men’s toilets is a huge source of anxiety. I know it’s highly unlikely I’ll be challenged, because I don’t look too out of place, and most men don’t notice or care who is in the toilet with them (unlike women). But the worry is that if I was challenged, then I’d have to justify my presence there and my voice would give me away as something other than a cisgender man. That’s tied into uncomfortable feelings of shame for me, feelings about not being ‘male enough,’ and about not belonging in that place.

toilet-1542514_640

There is also a deep fear for my safety. When you’ve been socialised as female you are taught from an early age to be wary of male strangers, and to avoid all-male spaces. Sorry to all the cisgender men I know and love. I know it’s #notallmen, but those are the messages most people raised as female internalise. Because of this I still feel unsafe walking alone in the dark, and I still find it hard to get in a taxi with a male driver, or to be alone in a train carriage with another man. So going against that ingrained instinct and walking into a public male toilet — not knowing who else might be in there — is utterly terrifying to me.

Yesterday I travelled to London and spent the day there. I used it as an opportunity to experiment a little with which toilets I used. I felt okay using the men’s at Bristol Parkway station. It was early, and quiet… but not too quiet. I couldn’t face the bustle of busy toilets at Paddington (either the male or female ones) so I used the loo on the train instead. I ‘manned up’ and used the men’s in a restaurant at lunchtime — and nearly had a panic attack in the process because there were two other guys in there at the time — but I did it, and managed to avoid all eye-contact or the need to speak. Yay me.

On the journey home (via Salisbury because of train cancellations) I didn’t feel safe using the men’s at the station, because there were groups of rowdy, drunk blokes around. So I used the women’s, and put up with feeling out of place and having some of the women looking at me oddly. I also felt weirdly humiliated by the experience of having to use the women’s, as if I was misgendering/outing myself by doing it. That familiar feeling of shame again. (I hate shame. I think it’s my least favourite emotion, and I should probably write a whole blog post about how shame is inextricably linked with being transgender for me).

So, this is my life now. Whenever I’m out in public and need a wee I have to think about these things. Where can I go? Will there be cubicles in the men’s? Will I feel safe? Will I make women feel unsafe?

It sucks. And this is why we need more gender neutral toilets.

So, if you’re ever in a public toilet and notice someone who is gender ambiguous, or who you think might be in the wrong bathroom. Don’t stare, don’t challenge them, just let them get on and do what they need to do.

don-t-panic-trans-people-just-need-to-pee

Chances are, they’re in exactly the right place and they just need to pee too.

Advertisements

Visibility and Authenticity

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

transgender-flags

Being forty-five years old, married with two kids, and living in a small community, I never had the choice of flying under the radar if I was going to come out and transition. This was one of the fears that held me back. Because being visible isn’t always easy.

Many transgender people would put themselves in physical danger by disclosing their status, and plenty of others just want to live their lives and not have everyone know their history. The choice to not disclose is a valid one and nobody should ever feel pressure to be ‘out’ if they don’t want to be.

However, given that I have no option but to be open about my transition and ‘female history,’ I decided to try writing about my experiences in the hope that it might be useful to others.

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about sharing something so personal. Historically I’ve never liked writing about myself (preferring to tell the stories of fictional characters rather than my own) because I was always incredibly anxious about how other people perceived me. In retrospect, I think a lot of my social anxiety was based on me not having a strong sense of self. I didn’t know who I was, and I defined myself through other people – so their good opinion really mattered to me. Since coming out and living authentically, I feel more confident about who I am, and therefore I’m less desperate for other people’s approval.

If I can help just one trans or gender questioning person on their path, or help a cisgender person be a better ally to other trans people in their life, then pouring a bit of my soul out onto a page is worth it.

And since today is a day for spreading the word here are some useful links:

Transgender FAQ: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

Tips for allies: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

And a shout out for non-binary people:
http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/myths-non-binary-people/

Peace out ❤

 

Are You Sure? On Fear and Doubt.

When I first came out and told people I wanted to transition I got a lot of people asking the question. “Are you sure?”

My only answer to that at the time was to say that yes, because by then I was very sure about the fact that I’m transgender – but it was hard to be sure whether social and physical transition was the right path or not. Eventually, I got to a point where I felt like moving forward was my only choice, and so far, it’s felt right every step of the way despite the challenges. But the fact that it feels right doesn’t totally eliminate those doubts and fears.

questions-1922477_1280

This inner conflict tends to generate questions like:

Am I doing the right thing?

Is transition really going to get me to a better place?

What if I regret it?

As a trans person, it often feels like there isn’t much room to express those fears (other than to a therapist). When we come out we usually have to do a lot of justifying ourselves, and proving our “transness” to family and friends in order to gain and keep their support. Similarly, in order to access medical treatment (in the UK) we have to convince professionals that we qualify for a diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ and that transition is something we need.

Once we’ve accessed that support and treatment, it sometimes feels as if everyone expects us to be 100 per cent positive about every aspect of the journey. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad to have started hormone therapy. I don’t regret it, it feels right and I’m excited about the way it’s changing me. But I still occasionally wake up in the morning feeling slightly panicky and thinking: “Oh fuck, this is actually happening.”

Similarly, I’m excited at the prospect of having chest reconstruction surgery this summer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally have doubts about it. But everyone has doubts about major decisions in their lives: changing jobs, moving house, relocating, getting married, ending a relationship…. Hell, people have doubts about whether getting a new haircut is a good decision. So I think it would be pretty weird if I wasn’t experiencing slightly ambivalent feelings about having part of my body removed under general anaesthetic (even when it’s bits I don’t want).

Having occasional doubts and fears doesn’t mean I’m making a mistake. Change is never easy. Yet it’s hard to speak those doubts and fears out loud, because I worry that admitting them somehow invalidates me, and will make people think that maybe I’m not trans at all – and then I risk losing their support. So this is a hard thing to be open about.

 

Sometimes I’m not okay

Today is one of those days.

lonely-1822414_640

“But I’m too scared to let it show
I’m too scared in case you don’t know
It’s just a passing phase…”*

I’m generally a pretty positive person who tries to see the good in a situation. Glass half full, silver linings, always look on the bright side of life etc. And some days I’m doing all right, even with everything that’s happening at the moment. But other days it all gets a bit much.

I’m not very good at talking about the really bad, horrible feelings. The sort of feelings that keep you awake at night with a sick churning sense of dread in your gut.

At the moment, I have a lot of those feelings floating around.

It feels easier to ignore them, to try and pretend they don’t exist. Don’t voice them. Don’t give them a name. If you say it out loud then it makes it real. But the problem is, Voldemort is still real whether people use his name or not. And those feelings are there no matter how much I might try and pretend that they aren’t. When I ignore them, they just keep building up inside until I can’t contain them anymore, and that’s not healthy.

city-1487891_640

Fear
Grief
Anxiety
Isolation
Guilt
Anger
Hopelessness
Dysphoria
Bitterness
Shame

Those are the main ingredients of the toxic combination of shite floating around in my head a lot of the time. It’s not an easy thing to admit, but I’m tired of putting a brave face on and pretending that I’m okay when actually, sometimes, I’m not.

I can get through the bad days because I know they will pass, and there will be better days between the bad days, and hopefully in time there will be less of the bad days—or so I’m told by trans people who are further along the road of transition than I am. See? Glass half full, silver linings, always look on the bright side of life….

But today, I’m not okay, and that’s okay.

*Lyrics from How Are You Today by Seize the Day – click on the link, you can play it and it’s beautiful.