When I graduated from college back in May, I had a sinus infection and a pretty bad one at that. Because my parents are incredibly loving people, they were willing to drive me all the way home from Massachusetts from Ohio as they had done every year, now without me in the driving rotation. That's about a 12 to 14 hour drive. Downing fluids until I could get home to my doctor, it was an incredibly long day of driving. The true eternities were the much needed pit-stops, of which there were about six.
I understand that a lot of people dislike public restrooms. Maybe it's sanitation reasons, maybe it's a shy bladder problem. For me, it's the fear of assault, outing, and the ridicule of my identity. Possibly rape as well. Y'know, the threats of basic life.
Each time, I would follow my father into the men's room, my pace matching his, my eyes on the floor, never looking to the urinals on the right. He would take a stall on the left after I did, making sure I didn't have to stand and wait. We would each do our business, wash our hands, and leave. Outside, we might wait a moment for my mother or find her already waiting for us, her anxious eyes always on me. Despite my years of experience as a martial arts instructor, she remains incredibly concerned for my personal safety. To be fair, I am too. It took a good five or ten minutes to for me to calm down each time, and I can only hope for her sake that I didn't let it show. Fortunately, exhausted from the congestion that had prevented me from breathing properly all week, I had rather the impassive face at the time.
When we finally returned to Massachusetts, it was with less happiness and more relief that I greeted my home. Not my home state, my actual home. Despite Massachusetts's liberal leanings and the passing of the Transgender Rights Bill to come in July, there was and remains a very distinct lack of public accommodations.
Opposition against making it legal for transgender individuals to use the restroom typically revolves around trans women, not trans men. This opposition is based on one of the two following lines of thought:
1. Trans women are men in disguise.
2. Men will disguise themselves as trans women to infiltrate women's restrooms.
To which I reply:
1. This is both false and offensive.
2. Denying a group a basic right because someone entirely unrelated may try to impersonate a member of that group is nonsensical in the extreme.
I realize that if you've read this far, I'm probably preaching to the choir, if not to a fellow preacher. However, one thing I've noticed here is that many of people who touch on transgender issues are relatives, friends or loves of a transgender individual, all people who support us through the indignities of daily life. It is nothing short of stupendous to see that support, but it is one thing to observe a person being denied safe or legal access to a public restroom and another thing entire to observe the effect it has on your own body.
Personal anecdote time:
In my junior year of college, I was finally educated properly about gender identity. As far as revelatory moments go, that one should have had parting clouds and shining beams of light, maybe some birds taking flight or Grandmother Willow telling me to listen to my heart. As I was studying abroad in England at the time, I had to settle for just the clouds. I was absolutely terrified, of course, because that is a lot of cis privilege to walk away from. Then I got a haircut and saw myself in the mirror for the first time in my entire life. I was nearly 21. This was the only change I made to my appearance. I came home, came out to my parents, and began the process of explaining what it was going to mean to have a transgender son.
Come fall, I returned to my college in Ohio and began the process of social transition. Again: the only physical change had been a haircut. I'd been wearing baggy t-shirts and men's jeans or shorts for years. Then came Parent's Weekend and the last time I used the female restroom at my college. Despite knowing myself to be a man, I continued to use the restroom of my assigned-at-birth gender because my college had no transgender policy. A parent entered the restroom and saw me at the sink. She hurriedly apologized and left. She checked the door, read the capitalized "WOMEN" and reentered to walk very quickly to a stall without looking at me.
I had just frightened a woman because I'd needed to use the bathroom while studying in the library. From that point on, I would gather up all of my belongings and exit the library to move to another, smaller building with a unisex bathroom when I needed to use the bathroom. As this was obviously a hassle, I began to take control of the situation in the only way I could: I reduced my fluid intake and rearranged my schedule. I identified the buildings on campus where there were unisex bathrooms. I quickly learned that if I mistimed a trip and the cleaning staff had closed a unisex stall, I would have to hold it for several more hours.
Mostly, I became incredibly dehydrated. Having your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth is normal, right? Headaches were common, as was seeing blinding colors when standing up. Sometimes, I would stand up, take a step, and immediately need to sit down before I fell. There's being dizzy, and then there's feeling like gravity is abruptly pulling you to the side. Needless to say, this scared my friends a lot.
When I brought the matter to the college administration, it took a week and emailing four separate people to receive a concrete response. I had to have an in-person meeting, because apparently it was impossible to say "Yes, you can use the men's room if that would make you more comfortable" via email. On the positive side, I did successfully obtain the right to empty my bladder: I just had to ask for permission. Y'know, just like any other grown man.
Coming home for Thanksgiving break was a bit different. My parents took my sister and me to the Boston Museum of Science, because geek parents are awesome like that. The problem with a family trip into Boston, however, is that anyone who is out of their home from morning until late at night is going to need to use a toilet at some point. Wearing jeans and a flannel shirt and desperately hoping to pass as a butch woman, I used the bathroom at the museum. I had yet to legally change my name, so I knew that if I encountered problems and had to present my driver's license to the security staff, I would be better off in the women's room. I would like to state for the record that I did not want to go in there. It was large and crowded with mothers, teens and even a boy who must have been at least eight. Silence followed me in, but it did not follow me out.
"What was it?"
"I think that was a guy."
"I don't know."
"Shh, there it is!"
That was the last time I ever used the women's restroom, and I was glad to leave. My father coached me on men's room protocol in about two sentences, and I've encountered no problems. I've forgotten what it feels like to be properly hydrated or feel safe in a public restroom, but my presence is accepted without a second glance. No one in the men's room is looking at anyone else anyway.
To sum up the point: I cannot use the bathroom of my assigned-at-birth gender without causing a disturbance. I cannot do this without being viewed as a threat or a pervert. I cannot do this without being treated as an object of mockery. I can't imagine how difficult it is for non-binary trans people or other trans people who are consistently misgendered. I'm actually one of the incredibly lucky ones. Yes, it's legally expected that I don't have bodily functions, but I'm still one of the lucky ones. How's that for a definition of luck?
Refusing trans people the right to use the correct bathroom is not going keep men out of the women's restroom. It's only going to force us to stay.