Why Public Restrooms Suck (To Me)
I know that I am not the only transgender person who experiences struggles with public restrooms; after all, the notorious bathroom bills that emerge in various states across the country are quite effective at doing their job, which is to invoke fear in transgender people. Also, on my transgender forums, a common question asked is when to change restrooms. These posts often generate some good tips on when to change over to the other facility; however, they are also spaces for people to share their bathroom horror stories. Three years into medically transitioning, I haven’t gotten over my bathroom anxieties.
I used the women’s room for the first six months after starting hormones. I had read about people who used the restrooms that aligned with their gender identity even without hormones, but I hesitated. Nevertheless, each time I used the women’s facility, I felt out-of-place and like I was betraying who I really am. Thus, in March 2019, I ventured into my first men’s room.
Prior to transitioning, I had always heard men joke about the ways that women went to restrooms in groups and often chatted whereas the unspoken rule is that men don’t talk in restrooms. Reading through my support group forums on Facebook, people corroborated the same, emphasizing that everyone is just peeing, and no one cares. I mentally recited to myself that I will just keep my head down, do my business, and leave.
My first day, I pulled into a small gas station to use the restroom. It was a tiny restroom with only one urinal and one stall. As I opened the door, a man at the urinal turned and hollered, “Good morning!”
The last thing I wanted to do was speak since my voice hadn’t changed much, and I feared it would expose me. Hence, I just nodded and walked directly into the stall. Afterwards, I scolded my husband for feeding me the lie that men don’t talk in restrooms.
“They don’t,” he insisted. “That guy was weird.”
A few weeks later, I was in one of my graduate classes, and I needed to use the restroom. Fortunately, I was the only male in the classroom; thus, I figured it would be a great opportunity to get accustomed to using the male facilities since I would be alone. When I was washing my hands, a male instructor entered the restroom and flinched. I had already developed the habit of keeping my head down, so while I noticed him, I refused to look at him.
“Are you in the right place?” He questioned me.
“Yes,” I replied, still no eye contact.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
While his questioning horrified me, he proceeded to go to the urinal. Getting questioned in the restroom increased my anxiety. If this instructor did it, then would others? I also felt disappointed that an instructor would question me since I felt that academic spaces are safer. This event did not help with my anxieties.
What is it about bathrooms for me? Foremost, they are already awkward. They are filled with strangers taking care of very private business. They can smell, and sometimes they are dirty. For the most part, I can handle those issues. The aspect that I fear the most is the enclosed space. Restrooms only have one exit door, increasing the risk that one can get trapped if the exit is blocked. Additionally, restrooms are often in the back of stores where employees may not hear anything going on in them. They seem easy places for people to harm another person and then make an easy escape before anyone tries to stop them. My fear concerns someone confronting me, threatening me, or inflicting violence on me, and then not being able to escape.
I am a transgender person who presents as masculine, uses male and they pronouns, and has had breast removal. I have not had bottom surgery, nor am I certain at this time that I plan to pursue it. I knew from the time I came out as transgender that bottom surgery was not a priority at this time. My dysphoria centered mostly on my visible breasts and curvy figure. However, I also knew that I may struggle with some self-image issues from being a man with a vagina. This aspect of who I am significantly contributes to my restroom anxieties because I feel extremely vulnerable about it sometimes, not because of my feelings about it but because of the way others may react to it.
What if someone sees me through that annoyingly large crack in the stall doors?
What if someone hears me peeing and notices that it sounds different because I am sitting?
These are the thoughts that torment me when I use public restrooms often causing me to hold my pee and only release a slight trickle at a time to stay more discrete. Then there is the fear concerning if the one or two stalls in the men’s room will be unoccupied, leaving me awkwardly lingering around the room, staring at the wall to avoid any eye contact as I wait for a free stall.
I made note of all the restrooms with single use rooms on many of my traveling routes to ease this anxiety; however, not all restrooms are single use and sometimes I am unfamiliar with the route. Sometimes I choose to just hold it, if possible, to avoid the situation.
Then there is work. I still work at the job I had prior to transitioning, so most people knew me in my feminine form. Coming out has been mostly positive at work; however, some coworkers informed me about unpopular opinions regarding my transition from some peers. I avoid these coworkers just as a precaution, but I fear using the same restroom with them. They avoid me mostly, but if I am in the restroom, I worry that I will make them uncomfortable, and thus, it may lead to a confrontation.
Consequently, I avoid all restrooms at work that are not single use. I have avoided using the restroom with coworkers even during staff retreats in which I purposely get into my car and drive to a gas station rather than use the hotel’s facilities. I tried to convince myself to just use the hotel’s restroom. I considered using it during non-break times to avoid more people. In the end, I didn’t make myself do it. Sometimes I wish that I could respond braver in these situations.
I have thought some about packers to make this process easier, but I am unfamiliar with them and do not know how to wash them after using the restroom. Some people advised that I could wash them in the sink, but I am assuming only for single use restrooms, which are already feel safer to me. I am considering purchasing one if I travel abroad again because I worry even more about public restrooms in other countries. Nevertheless, I don’t want my restroom issues stopping me from traveling; it has added more anxiety in my life than I could have imagined prior transitioning. I refuse to let it stop me from living my life, though.
I don’t have a solution to my bathroom anxiety. Despite my fears, I use public restrooms. However, it hasn’t gotten easier. I am more used to it, but it isn’t easier. There’s always that fear of getting outed, confronted, and possibly verbally, physically, or even sexually assaulted depending on the place. I acknowledge that these fears may be excessive in a way; nonetheless, they may not be. I feel that feeling unsafe is a real problem for the queer community. Hence, I’m scared. I try to balance those legitimate fears with practicality. I don’t want to stop living my life because of these fears, especially because some anti-trans people want us to hide. I am going to keep my head up and walk into these restrooms. I hope in the future that we can have more gender-neutral options or more single uses to create a safer environment for all people, cisgender and transgender.