“There’s hardly anybody here,” my wife told me, which was a lie. There were people everywhere, eyes peeled, ready to clock me (expose my former gender) at the first hint of suspicion.
“And besides,” she continued, “you’re a woman…and you look like a woman!”
She was right. I am a woman. My doctor says so. And I’m fortunate to have at least some degree of “passing privilege,” meaning that people rarely ever suspect or question my womanhood. I pass, usually. I am larger than your average woman, 5’ 10”, 220 lbs., but my appearance, behavior and features are such that people generally assume I’m a big girl – which is exactly what I am, despite what some may choose to believe. I’m only occasionally misgendered by strangers, and typically only over the telephone. Still, there was always a small part of me that feared people might see me as a man in a dress or some sort of freak, which makes it a little scary to use public restrooms.
It was a cool, cloudy spring morning at the rest area that sits near the summit of the Coastal Range between Portland and Seaside, where we’d stopped to pee. Rain was drizzling periodically, lightly…just enough to moisten the dirt and glisten the grass. This rest area is nicer and prettier than most public parks. Everything was deep green, and blooming with that wonderful, fresh mountain aroma, so sweet it awakens the senses. It puts even the finest air-fresheners to shame. If only one could bottle some up and take it home.
Although the fresh air is bound to the mountains, visitors can still take home a bottle of natural, mountain splendor. Water springs so fresh from these mountains, there are marked roadside fountains nearby where drivers can stop and collect all the high-end, bottle-quality water their hearts might desire. And they do. It’s not uncommon to see lines of people along the road, empty bottles in-hand, waiting to get theirs. There’s no faucet to turn off. It just flows continually from a 1 ½ or 2-inch pipe onto the gravel – a non-stop pee-stream of the most delicious, ice-cold spring water you can imagine. It’s sort of a tradition to stop and enjoy some, especially on those hot summer days when everyone’s driving to the coast to cool off.
"I was never so scared in my life over something so trivial..."
I had to pee, no doubt about it. Like most trans women, I suspect, I’d become accustomed to holding it. There’d been so much recent debate and hubbub over transgender people and public restrooms that, even in Oregon where my rights are protected by law, using public facilities, just the thought of it, became terrifying. My heart was racing.
It was early into my transition and I had been “presenting” full-time, by which I mean dressing and appearing to the world only as a woman, for a few months. I’d been out and about many times before as a woman, grocery shopping and doing other errands in and around town, but this one significant milestone still remained unreached. Before presenting full-time, I used to take my breast forms off, leave them in the car, and use men’s rooms when in public. It was weird and disgusting and seems absolutely incomprehensible to me now, but it was safe. At least it felt safe.
But I was much too feminine by this time. Removing the breast forms alone wouldn’t have been nearly enough. I was wearing a dress, blue and gray striped, knee-length, with gray leggings. My bra size was 42D. My hair was long. I was fully made-up; with foundation, eye shadows, liner and mascara, blush, lip color, the works. I was carrying a purse and no-doubt walking with a little swivel in my hips. Had I gone into a men’s restroom looking like that, not that I ever would, believe me, I might’ve been subjected to who-knows-what in terms of ridicule and harassment, even violence. Why the hell would I ever do that?
I was never so scared in my life over something so trivial. I knew the day would come, when I would have to face my fears and do the one thing that I’d somehow managed to put off until then. I was always so careful, restricting my fluid intake and such, so that I wouldn’t find myself in a position where I can’t hold it until I get home or someplace safe. But this time we were too far from home, and I can’t hold it all day, so…
So I sucked it up, secured my purse strap, took a deep breath and followed my wife into the ladies room to pee.
This was it. Do or die. The brisk mountain air, in all its glory, did nothing to cool the flush of nervous heat that overtook me. It’s hard to describe how I felt at that moment, or really compare it to anything. I was afraid, but also excited in a way. I was about to take what I felt was one of the biggest steps in my becoming a woman and gaining that sense of self-confidence and personal validation. But I was doing so during a time when the sociopolitical climate was not exactly warm and sunny towards women like me. I was scared, and had I been alone, I might have chickened-out, gone back to the car, and found a place along the highway to squat in the bushes. But since my wife, my best friend and greatest supporter, was there with me, I managed to hang onto my courage and press onward.
My initial thought was to appear normal above all, as though I was doing something I’d done hundreds of times before. Confusion and uncertainty will arouse suspicion every time, I told myself, so presenting the confidence of normality, though far from easy, was paramount in getting through this.
I entered the ladies room, taking in my surroundings as quickly and discreetly as possible so as to avoid any awkward gawking. I was overcome with a bizarre sense of wonderment, as though I was entering some magical realm for the first time – a sort of restroom Narnia. It was strange not seeing urinals. The floor was dry, clean and free of trash. That nostril-wrestling stench of urine, sweat and un-flushed commodes, the norm in men’s restrooms, was noticeably absent. I briefly wondered if they even used the toilets in there. A nice, middle-aged lady said “hi” and gave me a gracious smile as she exited. I suppose it was as close to Narnia in my mind as a room full of toilets can possibly get.
I found an empty stall and quickly locked the door behind me. Safety! I took a deep breath and my nerves calmed almost immediately. It looked very much like a men’s room toilet stall – except it was so clean. I couldn’t believe it. There were no ugly words, propositions or phone numbers scribbled on the partition walls. The toilet was flushed and the seat was spotless – no knife graffiti, footprints, cigarette burns, cum cakes, piss puddles or shit smears at all. The floor beneath and around the toilet was dry and swept, not sticky and gross. It was like nobody had used it since it was last cleaned. There was a small box-like apparatus with a hinged lid affixed to the partition wall below the toilet paper. I wondered what it was, so I lifted the lid and peeked in, and then quietly giggled at my momentary lack of insight. I won’t be putting anything in there anytime soon, I mused to myself.
The State of Oregon protects my legal right to use public restrooms consistent with my gender identity, but that didn’t curb my initial anxiety…not one bit. It’s not as though there are potty police on patrol – and if there were, they most assuredly wouldn’t be there to protect me. Who protects women like me from predators, hate crimes, violence, etc.? I know that my personal safety, the part of this whole debate that goes completely unnoticed amidst all the misinformation and hateful rhetoric, is of little or no concern to those who think I should be using men’s facilities. “No Men in Women’s Restrooms!” they bellow with ignorant conviction. The debate is obviously not about who uses which restrooms, but rather who we as a society are willing to acknowledge and accept as women, and who we are not.
"...using the ladies room is...safer and consistent with my clearly feminine appearance and demeanor."
As I was going, my fears and anxieties diminished right along with my shrinking bladder. I was silent, listening closely as everyone went about their business. I heard nothing unusual. No hushed whispers or sudden silence. No one seemed agitated or frightened. Nobody shouted “Tranny! Run for your lives!” I realized then that using the ladies room is fundamentally no different than using a men’s room. It’s just cleaner, less-smelly, safer and consistent with my clearly feminine appearance and demeanor.
I finished my business, and then walked over to the sinks to wash my hands, check my hair and makeup, etc. The nerves kicked in again for a moment, but quickly faded as other women saw me and had no reaction to me. Had someone, anyone, given me a look of suspicion, I would have left immediately, unwashed hands and all, but nobody did. One woman brought her two small children in, a girl and a boy, just as my mom did with me when I was little. My being there presented no threat or discomfort to her or her children whatsoever. There was nothing in anyone’s words, expression or behavior that would indicate any level of awkwardness or unease with me using their restroom.
My ladies room fears and anxieties, as it turned out, were unwarranted. The same can hardly be said for all transgender women, though, especially those living in parts of the world where people are less-accepting. Typical biologically-male features, such as broad shoulders, voice timbre, facial/body hair, Adam’s Apples, etc., can be very challenging to conceal, and our society’s obsession with gender tradition and stereotype adherence makes it difficult for so many trans ladies to appear feminine enough not to arouse suspicion, and therefore very frightening to use a ladies restroom. Until we can learn to broaden our collective perspective on gender, transgender women will remain in this awkward void where many of us are too masculine to use ladies facilities and too feminine to use men’s.
Perhaps one day peeing in a public restroom safely and peacefully will become a universal human right, and not one reserved only for those who pass.
The widespread lies and fear-mongering on this issue are mostly politically-motivated, a wedge issue, manufactured and perpetuated by conservative politicians to compel their unenlightened constituents into voting against their own best interests by fueling and fanning the flames of their conservative fears. Fear is a very powerful motivator indeed. Fear for our own personal safety, and that of our loved ones, is more than enough for most of us to ignore logic, facts and reason in the blind pursuit of preserving that sense of security. What’s the point, after all, in seeking economic prosperity, health care, education reform, foreign relations, immigration reform, or any of it, if these predatory “men in dresses” are attacking our women and children in the ladies room? Worst of all, rather than researching the ridiculous claims for themselves, they believe the lies and vote for the liars – no questions asked. If they could only see what fools they’re being played for…
My male chromosomes and lack of vagina posed absolutely no threat to anyone’s privacy or safety in the ladies room that day, nor has it any day since. First-time anxieties aside, I felt safe and comfortable and I’m certain my presence in no way ruined the experience for those I encountered. It’s weird to be proud of something so basic and fundamentally, universally human, but I walked out of my first ladies room visit with my head held high, beaming with the pride and confidence of having reached another major milestone in my transition from male to female.
A few miles down the road, we stopped at one of those roadside spring taps. Sun breaks started giving an extra sheen to everything in sight, and the sweet air seemed even sweeter. The crystal-clear mountain water never tasted so good, and now that I felt confident and comfortable enough to use the appropriate restroom, I had my fill…and then some.