A couple of months ago I wrote a column here called “Dear Lady in the Women’s Washroom” (Xtra #472, Sept 22). I wrote it shortly after returning from a visit to Granville Island with my sweetheart, where I had just endured yet another gender-panic-related “bathroom incident.”
This particular time, a woman had screeched at the top of her lungs when I had entered the “ladies” washroom, glared at me as I bolted for a stall, and then spoke loudly and derisively about me to her friend while I was peeing. I came straight home and belted out a column.
That column got a lot of comments online, and a fair bit of private email as well. I was called entitled, insensitive, transsexual (and yes, I think they meant this as an insult, believe it or not) and basically told me that my right to pee unmolested was less important than other women’s right to feel safe in a public washroom.
One person wrote to tell me, “Why not start a campaign or lobby or what have you — yes, you and all other trans men and trans women — get together and make it so that there is a washroom for those of you who have to ‘think’ harder than us straights as to what washroom to use. That way, you can pee or change your overloaded tampon in peace.”
I was also told, and I quote, “A man in the ladies room is a threat to my well being and I will not surrender my right to protect myself in order to avoid giving you an uneasy moment or hurt feelings,” and, “I will not sacrifice my own safety to yours.” I even received one email that contained a barely veiled threat of physical violence: a woman from somewhere in Texas told me that I “better not ever find myself in the same women’s washroom with her” as she “could not be held responsible” for what she might do to me, given her history with abusive men.
There were other, positive stories too, and I want to share some of them here as well. I also got messages from all over the world from folks thanking me, sharing their own stories of bathroom struggles, and telling me that they had printed up the column, laminated it and taped it up in bathrooms all over their college or university campuses.
I got a letter from a very sweet libra-rian in small-town Nova Scotia, the mother of a young trans man, who had printed up my column and marched it in to her supervisor. It was the final straw that convinced him to remove the gendered signs from the library’s two single-stall locking washrooms and make them both gender-neutral facilities. I did a reading there in person, just last week, and saw the evidence of this with my own two grateful eyes.
Last month I was at a university in Oregon for a show. A young kid slumped into the chair right behind me, just before my gig was about to start. I thought this kid was a young boy, lithe and handsome, about 14 years old, maybe. Then the kid started talking to me, blurting out almost in one long breath that she was 17 years old, turning 18 in just a week, but that she wouldn’t have made it far enough to see her 18th birthday if someone hadn’t given her a copy of my story, “A Butch Roadmap.” She told me it was the first time in her entire life it had dawned on her that she could actually be proud of who she was.
She told me that her single mom had sent her to live with her grandparents when she was about nine, because the new stepdad wasn’t into being a parent, and that her grandparents were rabid Catholics who had freaked when she came out of the closet, and when she cut off all of her hair and started presenting as more male or butch, they had kicked her out of their house altogether. She told me that she was couch-surfing and trying to finish her last year of high school but that the mean girls at her school had started a petition to keep her out of the girls’ washroom, and some of the boys had told her they were going to kick her ass if she even thought about using the boys’ bathroom.
Whew. Then the host got up to introduce me. She thanked the sponsors and then informed the room that for the duration of my show this evening, all of the public washrooms on the entire first floor had been designated as gender-neutral, and that if there were people who required gender-specific facilities, they were located on the second, third and fourth floors, and that if anyone found this inconvenient, then perhaps they could take a minute to reflect on this and consider how it might feel to have to go out of one’s way to find a suitable bathroom.
I felt the kid behind me relax her shoulders and let out a long, drawn breath of pent-up air.
So. I am writing this column because I am tired. I am tired of being told that this kid doesn’t matter, that my eight-year-old tomboy friend who dropped out of science camp because of bathroom trouble and bullying doesn’t matter, and that I don’t matter.
I am sick of hearing that my safety is not as important as other women’s. I resent the implication that butches and trans women and men are never survivors of male violence themselves, and thus do not also need a safe place to pee, and the suggestion that we should somehow be segregated in our own bathrooms so we don’t bother the rest of you normal people, is simply fucked beyond belief.
I also want to state again, for what seems like the one millionth time, that single-stall, lockable, gender-neutral washrooms would solve all of our problems. I refuse to be divided and conquered on this issue. I will not allow myself to be placed in opposing corners of the ring when it comes to all of our safety. I call bullshit.