Public Bathrooms and Having No Gender

bathroom confusion

I haven’t really written about public bathroom dilemmas before but I know a lot of folks have so I’m feeling a little like this is a worn out subject but, for me, it’s a new saga in my on-going transformation.  So I’m going to take a swing at this thing and open up that old can of worms once again.  In a nutshell, I’m in a quandary about which restroom to use these days.  It’s been going on for a while now but seems to be getting tougher as I start appearing more male to more people.  I’ve started being read as male more and more lately out in public by strangers.  At first this kind of freaked me out.  Why, I’m not sure.  Isn’t that the point of taking T and changing my name and wanting chest surgery?  Yes, I think so, for me it is anyway.  What I realized was that it wasn’t that being seen as male upset me as much as I worried that it would happen when I was out with people who didn’t know I was trans or weren’t aware of my transition.  I worried that it would happen with Candace around and it would upset her.  But the other side effect of being seen as male is what bathroom do I use if I’ve been male ID’ed at a restaurant or gas station?  You know, the places where we mostly use public restrooms?  If a waiter called me sir and I didn’t correct them (because would I really be correcting them by saying, no it’s ma’am? Not really.) and then they saw me go into the ladies room would that cause an incident that I would rather avoid?  This created a dilemma for me.  It’s kind of interesting though that when I’m out with Candace for dinner we tend to be pegged as two women but when I go out by myself I get pegged as a guy.  Or, if I’m out with another male we get pegged as two dudes.  This tells me that I’m in that place where I can be seen either way depending on the situation and maybe what I’m wearing a little bit.  I don’t really know what the deciding factor is exactly for the stranger to decide what gender they see.  My attitude right now is to let them see what they see and not correct it unless I have to for some reason.  So far that hasn’t come up.

Over Christmas we did a lot of driving.  I’m guessing that we spent about 20-24 hours in the car going between various relative’s houses to visit for a couple of days at each one.  That’s a lot of public bathroom stops.  And we traveled with our dog so we had to go into the bathroom individually while the other one walked the dog to give her a little exercise.  I feel pretty comfortable most of the time going into the women’s room with Candace.  She’s my security blanket in there.  But without her with me, every time I went into the women’s room I felt very insecure and unsure.  I basically tried to get in and out of there as quickly as possible and without interacting with anyone.  I only encountered one family restroom at a rest stop and I made use of it.  We went to a mall with Candace’s mom and aunt on our trip and they all wanted to go to the restroom.  Once we discovered that they were single toilets I used the men’s room to hasten things along.  It was no big deal and no one made a thing of it.  On our trip, with the exception of one older woman who came in as I was leaving and quickly came to a screeching halt as she saw me but said nothing I didn’t have any issues in the women’s rooms.  I just nodded at her and told her to come on in.  I made sure to carry my ID in with me in case there was a problem.  Thankfully there wasn’t a need.

My new therapist seemed shocked when I told her I still use the women’s room.  Her response, in turn, shocked me and made me wonder if it might be time to be brave and use the men’s rooms.  She told me that she sees me as male and can’t imagine that I was ever a girl and that’s kind of cool but it’s also negating the fact that I was.  I guess there’s no way to make some of us happy huh?  I want to say I didn’t take offense to her comment but I did a little bit.  I assured her that I was once a girl and not an unattractive one at that.  Maybe I need to figure out why this is important to me.

Right now I really feel gender-less.  I’m no longer female and I don’t feel male.  I don’t like it.  I have deep respect for people who are comfortable being gender neutral or agender or butch or whatever label you use for yourself.  For me it is more uncomfortable than being seen as female all the time.  I honestly don’t know how those folks deal with the constant confusion from the outside world.  I tip my hat to my gender neutral friends.  I guess if I truly saw my self as agender or neutral I would learn to deal with it some way.

A friend shared an interesting video of Ian Harvie talking about how he ID’s and that kind of opened my eyes a bit to other options.  He sees words like female and male to be science terms and not having anything to do with his gender.  So he has never changed his driver’s license or birth certificate to reflect his manly outward appearance.  He still identifies as a dyke.  But he’s also a trans man and to the outside world he’s just “man”.  It’s an interesting position to take and I felt a lot better hearing how men’s bathrooms still make him really nervous.  In general, hearing him talk about not really feeling male and all that made me feel better.  It’s a fun video so I encourage you to check it out.

Where does this leave me?  I’m not sure.  I still cling to using the women’s room vs the men’s room.  I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable but I also have the right to feel comfortable.  The men’s room scares me at this point.  I would use it if push came to shove and I will certainly use it when I feel the time has come to make the switch, but honestly, I’m dreading it.  I’m worried there won’t be stalls or they won’t have doors or they will be occupied and I’ll have to wait and not know how to do that appropriately.  It seems there are more rules in the men’s room than there are in the women’s and I don’t know the rules.  What if I break a rule and some dude freaks out?  I just want to pee, really.  I’m not interested in anything else.  I hear that guys don’t pay any attention to you in there.  I sure hope that’s true.

I guess the bottom line is I’ll know when it’s time to switch restrooms.  Right now I still feel I have a right to use the Women’s Room but those days are numbered.  Maybe after I have chest surgery I will switch and maybe that’s part of why I am dragging my feet about having surgery.  I don’t love my boobs but they are probably my last visual cue of being female that I own at this point and I’m reluctant to let them go.  That’s a topic for another post.  Now, all this talk about bathrooms reminds me that after two cups of coffee I really need to pee.

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17 thoughts on “Public Bathrooms and Having No Gender

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable switching to the men’s room until i could use the urinal. The stalls are too few and waiting in line staring at your feet just seems to go on forever. But yes it is true – guys in general do not pay attention to others in the bathroom. Once i realized that I felt a bit better.

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    • I can’t seem to get the stand to pee thing down for some reason. It’s probably a combination of how I’m built and not being able to relax enough. I need to try some different devices out and see if any of them work for me. Do you know of a resources for men’s room etiquette?

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  2. You go in, do your business, wash your hands, and get out. Guys don’t talk or socialize in there like women do. How many times have I been thrown out, when I was female-identified, simply because I “looked” male! Didn’t matter that my ID identified as one (I was born “female”); as far as these older were concerned, their “safety” was more important than my need to use the bathroom.

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  3. First, until you change your ID you are entitled (legally) to keep using the women’s room – and there may be circumstances under which you want to even as you become increasingly seen as male.
    Second, you need to desensitize yourself to going into men’s rooms and probably the best way to do that is to start by going into ones that you know are clean and will have stalls that close. Movie theaters and shopping malls/upscale chain restaurants might be an easy place to start.
    I’ve used men’s rooms in foreign countries (Mexico, Guatemala, and India and there were always stalls that closed) and oddly I felt most comfortable/safe when there was an attendant who collected a nominal fee and a lot of people using them.

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    • That’s a great suggestion Jamie, to go into some safe men’s rooms to help ease my concerns. I suffer from a wicked imagination and anticipatory anxiety before doing new things. I know it will not be nearly as scary as I imagine it being.

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  4. Okay, so when Kris began transitioning, he had a sort of murky area where he was floating back and forth between men’s and women’s rooms. It depended on circumstance and how he felt at that time. He appeared to get over his nervousness using the men’s rooms rather quickly. After speaking to my other sons, husband and male friends, we quickly found out that yes, men are not social in bathroom, they don’t care and they aren’t paying attention to you unless you are acting really strange. Obviously, none of that applies in the ladies room. I think that once you get used to being in there, this will all be behind you, but as you said, you are in a sort of middle place, which makes it tricky.

    One funny thing that happened was when Kris was first using the men’s room, we were at a concert. We went our separate ways to our respective bathrooms. When I was washing my hands, Kris walked in and I was so shocked I was like “Oh hi!?!?” Kris said, “Yeah, the stalls were full in the men’s room and I really need to go.” Based on his appearance he could be either guy or girl so it really didn’t matter but I did tell him that those days would soon be gone.

    The stall thing is a major issue for Kris (and most transmen, I suspect). You are not alone with that one.

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    • Thank you for sharing Kris’s experiences with me. It is helpful to hear real life stories like this. It reminds me that it really is a transition, not just of our bodies but of so many little things we all take for granted. Nothing is more basic than needing to go pee.

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  5. It’s really interesting to read FTM experiences concerning public toilets. I was one of those ‘men’ who felt really awkward about lining up for a communal pee, and would shut myself in a cubicle if I possibly could. This was a shyness I’d had since childhood. So acquiring the freedom to use female facilities was a huge relief, and I immediately embraced the chance to chat and refresh my appearance as if I had done it all my life. For, of course, female toilets were to me a welcoming place of refuge, as they are for all women. I instantly felt relaxed and very comfortable in them. So different from the drab conditions and challenging atmosphere commonly found in men’s loos.

    If you know and trust an ordinary male friend, you could quiz him on the finer points of what to do. But basically be quick, don’t talk, don’t look at anyone, just appear to be cool and self-assured. If you do have to hang around, stand well away from the urinals and washbasins, and make a big deal of checking the screen of your mobile phone as if it were the ruling passion in your life. Look bored, annoyed and even impatient. On no account give any impression that you may be gay – that’s sad but vital, unless of course you are actually in a gay establishment.

    Lucy

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  6. Immersion therapy:
    Take a long road trip.
    Stop for coffee as frequently as possible.
    Use only men’s rooms.
    Return home completely acclimatized to men’s rest rooms.

    I am sure that I am oversimplifying. Rest rooms suck, and there are no easy answers. There are many places where, if you are seen as at all feminine, the ladies room is safer. But, I have rarely encountered aggression in the ladies room as well.
    The more that I reflect on it, the more I think that the men’s room is the safest place overall, because men interact so little within. Like, no eye contact, nobody looks at each other, nobody hardly talks. There is not much opportunity for anyone to peg you as being “other.”
    My strategy is hold it till you pop.

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    • Good advice. That would surely cure me of my concerns. I think it will only take going into one or two to get over the nerves. I experience anxiety about going into women’s rooms now too but it’s different. I’m not good at holding it til I pop unfortunately. I’m hoping that you and others are right that guys just won’t pay any attention to me unless I’m being weird in some way, which I have no intention of being lol.

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  7. I had to laugh when you said, “if push came to shove”, cuz there’s quite a bit of that goin’ on in the men’s room before the zipper goes back up. In fact, I was laughing so hard that I had to run to the ladies room before I wet mysef. 🙂

    Being a transgender woman, I would be totally scared if I should have to use the men’s room. I would be taking a chance of being beat up, but I don’t think that you should have that worry at all. Some men will react to anything that threatens their masculinity, which explains somewhat why they don’t pay much attention to anybody else while standing at the urinal (Don’t ask; don’t tell/ Don’t stare; don’t care). Why they may feel that THEIR masculinity is being threatened by a transgender woman in their midst is probably because they think it’s a sexual thing.

    I say to go ahead and use the men’s room, following the advice above, Well, you might skip the hand-washing if you’re trying to be perceived as a guy 😉

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    • Well, we both gave each other a chuckle. I enjoyed the visual of all the pushing and shoving going on in there haha. Anyway, I’m still not quite to the point of using the men’s room yet but I’ll know when I’m ready. At least, now I’m not scared to go in there. It’s more of a dread thing than fear now. I assure you that I care more about clean hands than passing as male.

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