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A Trans Guy on Adjusting to Men's Bathroom Culture

SORTED JACKSON BIRD

The process of coming out — the years-long internal battles with yourself, the practical preparations regarding safety, the pre-conversation jitters — gets a lot of attention in the LGBTQ+ world, and rightly so. But we don’t talk as much about what happens after. When the tears have dried and the closet door is solidly propped open, what comes next?

Of course, just like coming out, that time period immediately after and the challenges or joys it may bring is different for everyone, but just like we have so many coming out stories to help bolster each other up I think maybe it’s time to start a tradition of post-coming out stories. Especially for trans people, there can be a lot of logistics and new experiences to navigate while still feeling the aftershocks of coming out. The more accounts from other people we have to look to and learn from, the more prepared we’ll be to tackle that fraught interval head-on. So here’s a peek at one aspect of my post-coming out story, as excerpted from my debut memoir Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place.     

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Coming out was such an all-consuming, stressful experience that anytime someone tells me they’re in the process of coming out as transgender, I start getting contact hives. I remember the constant racing of my heart, and I think how much I never, ever want to go back to those days.    

While I was in the midst of it, I kept my eye on an ambiguous time several months in the future when I imagined things would be back to normal, or at least a new normal. I couldn’t wait until the idea of me being a guy was no longer a spectacle to people in my life. I couldn’t wait until testosterone had done its job enough that I was being read as male by most people I encountered. I couldn’t wait for all the eyes to stop being on me.                 

One thing I was trying very hard to avoid was going to the restroom at the same time as my cis guy friends. I had assumed this wouldn’t be an issue because guys don’t go to the restroom together like women do, right? Wrong!

I avoided it as much as I could, especially around guys who had known me before coming out, because it felt strange to be in this space with them that I hadn’t previously been allowed into. I was scared that if I did anything to break etiquette in there, like talking too much while we washed our hands, they would no longer see me as a guy. Plus, I wasn’t wild about having to walk into a stall while they headed to the urinals and knowing they were probably thinking about what I lacked in that department.      

There are tools that enable transmasculine people to pee standing up prior to having lower surgery, some of which are realistic enough for undetected use at public urinals. I’ve tried a few with varying success. They come in handy for camping, and one time when a fellow trans guy and I were drunkenly hanging out on the steps of some Wall Street building after last call, I used one to pee on a statue. But Occu-pee Wall Street aside, I generally prefer not to have to carry equipment on me all day.

So it’s stall life for me, which can really stink sometimes. I mean, literally. The vast majority of cisgender men only ever use the stall to take a dump. I spend so much of my time outside occupied restroom stalls that I’ve considered penning an essay series entitled, “Waiting for the Cis Men to Stop Pooping: The Life and Times of a Trans Man.”

Besides the wait times and my nerves about using the Wiz Palace alongside my friends, there is also the issue of safety. I’m well aware that my use of the stall and risk of not being read as male puts me in danger of getting harassed by a fellow restroom-goer, or even reported by one to nearby authorities.

So many US states keep yo-yo-ing on whether transgender people are allowed to use the restroom that matches their gender that I literally have to google my pee rights anytime I travel to another state or simply have a layover.

Of course, the reality is that I, a white generally straight cis-passing guy, am at very low risk of being harassed by someone in the men’s room. For transgender people that aren’t consistently read as the gender of the restroom they’re entering, it’s much riskier — especially for trans women and nonbinary people. Most of the laws, after all, claim a transphobic “save our wives and children from predatory ‘men in dresses’” argument. This is messed up for so many reasons. First, it perpetuates the myth that trans women are just cross-dressing men and not the real women that they are, and further, that they dress as women with the sole purpose of tricking cisgender people so they can assault them. It’s absolute crap.

Even if some people want to claim that they’re not worried about actual trans people, they’re just worried about someone taking advantage of being able to pretend to be trans in order to assault someone in the restroom . . . since when would a law stop someone who’s already intent on breaking it? We shouldn’t have to remove protections from an already marginalized class based on the hypothetical idea that someone outside of that class might abuse the system.

The whole “save our wives and children” line of defense also usually fails to recognize that transgender men exist too. The same law that’s trying to keep trans women out of women’s rooms is forcing trans men, some of whom are burly dudes with impressive beards, into women’s rooms.

Shockingly, for a law based in ignorance and hate, it’s filled with more holes than a fine Swiss cheese. As many protestors of color have sagely pointed out, “It wasn’t about the water fountains then and it’s not about the bathrooms now.”

The fact remains that trans people experience far higher incidences of harassment and assault than the general population. It’s also worth noting that no states with protections on the books for trans people have reported seeing an increase in sexual assaults in bathrooms. There are, however, a number of US congressmen who have been arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms, so maybe we should be focusing on them instead?

But as it stands now, when you aren’t read as one of the binary bathroom genders, every time nature calls in public you have to make a choice of which option feels safer on that day: getting yelled at or getting beat up.

I remember this feeling earlier on in my transition. Before I started testosterone, I was rarely read as male, so I continued using the women’s restroom even after I had come out to some people as a man. However, after several instances in a row of women entering the restroom while I was washing my hands, stepping back out to check the sign, and then reentering furtively, narrowing their eyes at me, I decided it was time to switch to the men’s room. I was petrified of being found out and beat up in there, but I’d rather face my own fears than make other people uncomfortable. and it turned out to be fine. Men don’t look at one another in the restroom, and if one does, you can glare at him as if to ask why the heck is he looking at you. I generally try to avoid playing into homophobic toxic masculinity, but I’ll do it to stay safe in such a tense, vulnerable space.

Excerpted from Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird. Courtesy of Tiller Press.

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