In which I overshare about how fucking stressful it is being trans and needing to pee.
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.
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.
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.
Chances are, they’re in exactly the right place and they just need to pee too.