Why using the bathroom is such a big fucking deal for a trans person

I’m still getting misgendered a lot. I didn’t expect surgery to be a panacea, of course, but it’s a little discouraging that for whatever reason, I’m still being pegged as female. It might be my voice, but I think I at least present androgynous otherwise. Maybe it’s that people default to female when they see someone whose gender isn’t clear, I don’t know. Intellectual brain wants to know.

The misgendering is part of the reason why using the bathroom is a trial. If people see you walk into a bathroom, you gender yourself. People will react to you based on what bathroom they saw you in because the bathroom had labeled you. On the other side, if you don’t match the gender people think you are, using the bathroom according to your identified gender can be dangerous. Yes, like physically dangerous. The threat, or at least possibility, of violence makes turning a very normal, regular thing into a cause for stress and concern every time there’s no gender neutral bathroom nearby.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, most people won’t pay attention.” Maybe, but all it takes to make a bathroom life hell is one person to harass or assault you. It’s less about the (prospective) reality and more about how someone shouldn’t be afraid to use the fucking bathroom. And as long as transphobia exists, that fear will exist. For a trans person or gender non-conforming person, no space that is so strictly gendered will ever feel safe. I can’t overstate this.

It’s not just feeling safe, either. It’s feeling comfortable. Using a bathroom, at least in the West, comes with it an expectation of privacy, and that privacy is ingrained in us from the time we’re very young. If I feel comfortable and private anywhere, it ought to be when I’m pissing. But when I walk into a crowded women’s bathroom and I know that means they’re labeling me female, or when I walk into the men’s bathroom and I hope desperately they don’t look too closely at me, I am sure not comfortable.

Others have written extensively about how governments have policed who uses which bathroom, the kerfuffle conservatives make over trans people using the bathroom, and the social perceptions around trans people and bathrooms. I could write a treatise on how gendered bathrooms are fucked up in the first place for many reasons and how they help construct a false sanctity of gender roles and gender separation.

Radical feminists, even those who don’t think of themselves as trans-exclusionary, sometimes say that allowing “men” (trans women) into women’s bathrooms would make women feel unsafe because “women get sexually assaulted in bathrooms.” Someone actually said this to my face once. There are a thousand different ways this is intensely fucked up. But you know, I get that fear, because those of us who were socialized as women were taught to fear men, consciously or unconsciously, and we were especially taught to fear violation by men. If I’m being completely honest, it’s part of the reason the idea of using the men’s bathroom scares the shit out of me. It’s really, really hard to shed that ingrained anxiety about a) crossing constructed gender lines and b) entering a space that is filled with the people you were taught to fear.

If you’re a cis man, imagine entering a bathroom filled with lions. More likely than not, the lions won’t give a shit that you’re there as long as you have a mane, as long as they don’t look too closely. The lion social contract to ignore questionable events in a private space might prevent them from saying anything anyway. But they’re still goddamn lions. You were brought up thinking of lions as being ready and willing to do you harm. If given half the chance, they’ll eat the face right off your head. You could make the “not all lions” argument, and you could argue that once you put on a mane and start getting big and hairy, nobody will know you weren’t born a lion. But that doesn’t remove the ingrained fear that something large with pointy teeth could hurt you. It’s not an exact analogy, but it’s close.

I hate that Western societies have constructed gendered spaces that are then sanctified, thereby putting those of us who blur or cross gender lines in danger for violating that sanctity. I hate that walking into one door or the other when I need to pee determines how strangers will label me. I hate that being socialized as female means being afraid of people who were socialized as male. I hate that I have to think this hard about using the fucking bathroom.

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2 thoughts on “Why using the bathroom is such a big fucking deal for a trans person

  1. I actually need a further explanation (don’t get me wrong, I’m fully supporting LGBT community, as I’m part of ot personally) but after reading your post, it doesn’t seem to be clear to me. Basically you’ve said that women are taught that men (as lions) can do them a harm, so you used to be a woman kinda physically, and you were taught to be scared right? But you’ve always felt a man, so you’ve always felt you’re a lion, so how it does work now? or is it like you’re not considered as a woman anymore, but also do not really fit a men tribe, so you’re kinda lost between’em?

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    • For me, it’s mostly the latter. I haven’t always felt I’m a man–the realization that I’m trans is relatively recent. I didn’t think I was female, but didn’t really identify fully as male, either. The relative powerlessness of being a woman hangs with me, and that’s what I’m having trouble with. I STILL don’t feel like I’m a man in the way Western society defines one. So yeah, I’m lost between the two without knowing where on the gender spectrum I fall.

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