I swear I thought I heard them say I would be staying in a hotel.
There are certain places that strike a familiar chord of ice blue fear in even the bravest gender variant heart. Mention the words swimming pool change room, theatre bathroom after the feature movie just got out, or doctor’s office to a big old butch, or a boy who likes dresses, or anyone who is anywhere in the process of transitioning, and they will all shudder, remembering the time when the all too often happened to them.
University dormitories are on the top of my list of unfriendly places to find myself in but somehow I did last summer in Saskatchewan.
Looking back, it was the perfect storm of gender binary blindness, accidental oversight and lack of follow-up on my part that resulted in me being lodged in the male wing of U of S housing for three days and nights, so really, I have no one to blame but everybody.
The kind-hearted but mostly straight organizers of the storytelling conference would never think to consider how uncomfortable it might be for someone who looks like me to undress and shower in the girl’s bathroom, or how unsafe it would be to try my luck in the boy’s showers. Things like this don’t even cross the minds of most people, unless someone has taken the time to educate them, which I hadn’t done.
The person responsible for booking the rooms at the university couldn’t possibly have foreseen that the individual with the apparently male name of Ivan Coyote might not possess all of the accoutrements required to walk around naked in the men’s shower facilities.
I didn’t think to write ahead and sort all of this out before I got there, because I thought I was staying in a hotel.
The fact that the rest of the men’s wing of the dormitory they put me in was full of six foot something, well-muscled basketball players only added to my conundrum.
The knowledge that most of my friends, certainly all my gay male ones, and the straight ladies I know, not to mention all those dykes into fag porn, would think they had died and went to jerk off heaven if they found themselves lodged in a ’70s-style men’s dorm full of tall, six-packed, nearly hairless young men clad mostly in tiny white towels somehow didn’t make me feel any better.
I myself would have found the whole situation fairly boner inducing, if only I didn’t need to piss, shower, and brush my teeth so badly, if only I were witnessing it from the safe side of a flat screen TV in the privacy of my own home. If only large groups of even larger teenage male athletes were a little less prone to group think, and gay bashing.
I put up with the loud voices and wrestling in the hallway right outside the door of my room until about one o’clock in the morning that first night, which translated into 3 am eastern time, where I had just flown in from.
Finally I swung my door open and barked that I had to work the next day and would they mind keeping it down.
There were about five or six of them in the hallway, and they all fell silent, seemingly shocked to find someone amongst them who wasn’t six foot six inches tall, someone who was not wearing just a white towel, and who apparently required sleep.
When I closed the door, I heard one of them mutter: “Whatever, faggot.”
Charmed, I crawled back into my single bed, pulled a pillow over my head, and slept.
It very well might have been a coincidence that the next morning I awoke to find a paper towel full of human shit placed directly in front of the door of my dorm room. This certainly wasn’t the only trash these shining examples of sportsmanship and goodwill had left in the hallway.
It might not have been meant for me, but nevertheless, I decided to quit ducking into the men’s room, even to pee in a stall. Most people who don’t fit into a gender box have finely tuned trouble sensors, and mine were flashing code red.
The third day I couldn’t stand it any longer, I had to shower.
I packed up my towel and toiletries and marched myself over to the women’s wing of the dorms. I had purposely waited until the morning rush was over, and the room was blissfully empty.
I showered and dressed, and then, deciding to live dangerously, I brushed my teeth at one of the little sinks.
Four girls entered the change room, the first stopped in her tracks, dropped her knapsack, and screeched, causing the three girls behind her to follow suit.
And that is when I lost it.
You see, the thing is, when a drag queen swings a loaded purse at some wisecracking schmuck at a bus stop, or a transperson tears someone a new one on an online forum, it is rarely just the incident at hand that they are reacting to. It is the other 900 little ordeals that they have weathered in the previous months and swallowed silently that have backed up in their throats until they couldn’t breath anymore that caused the eventual blowout.
I screamed at the girls didn’t anyone ever think what it would be like to be me? What it would feel like to be screamed at like a four-headed monster for daring to brush my teeth in a public washroom? What it felt like to have no place that belonged to me, when it came to something as fundamentally human as having to take a shit?
To be the only one not able to do what all of us have to?
Did the girls apologize? No.
Did I feel better? Not really.
Will they think twice the next time they see someone who looks like me in a women’s washroom? Probably not.
I should have handled it better. But at least I got to wash my hair.