Dear cis women who are uncomfortable with trans women in bathrooms,
Hi, it’s us. Trans women who use bathrooms.1
We know that you’re not comfortable sharing a bathroom with us, even though all the nakedness happens behind a stall door.
And this might surprise you, but… yeah. We sympathize. We get it. There’s possibly a penis in the room, and that’s just wrong! Good God, the baggage! If you have to think about that, you’re probably going to end up picturing it (it’s like trying not to picture a pink elephant), and then you’ve got images on the view screen of your mind which you didn’t want when you’re alone in a room with your butt bared over cold water – men, deep voices, (danger), men taking up space, assuming your attention is theirs by right, (rape risk), men laughing at fart jokes and arguing about which woman was “the dog” in that national beauty pageant, (embarrassment — they’ll hear us peeing and all that), men smiling comfortably as they throw out a pickup line or a comment on our body, (where are the exits…), even the men we love in our lives just not getting it (don’t be silly, Joe’s a good guy…), and if we have the special privilege of inclusion in that large fraction of women who have been sexually assaulted,2 we may have the images, sounds, smells, whole-body revolted shudders from that whole massacre of our sense of self and safety.
We get it. There’s that penis in the room, and the whole entourage that can come along with those goddamn things.
We get it. Because when we go to the bathroom, there’s a penis in the room, too. Every time.
It’s right there in the stall with us.
And if we want to be hygienic, and quiet, we have to handle it. We have to aim it, and wipe the tip dry, and then strap it down tight so that when we step out, there’s no sign of it.3
So. We have some common ground.
We also have some differences. Here’s one: For you, when we walk out of the bathroom, so does the penis. All those unwanted, socialized, traumatized associations… they walk away, too — or at the very least, they step away and keep a greater distance.
For us, there is no distance. Not when we walk out of the bathroom, not ever. (Except through dissociation, for those of us who do that.)
There it is. Not just along for the ride. Attached. As always.
Now, certainly, as I use present tense, above, I’m referring only to trans women who still have penises — those of us who can’t get the money together, those of us who are contraindicated for surgery because of a heart condition, those of us who are trying desperately to hold together the marriage and wife and family and children we would die for but found that we can’t live as a man for, because we we tried and we aren’t good enough, strong enough, tough enough to man up and make it work — and whose wife has told us that genital surgery is a deal-breaker. 4
But even for those of us who no longer have penises — we used to. And those fucking things were right there in the room. Right there in the bed. Palpable when we were aroused.
And those of us who still have them, believe me, we’d love to fix that, and if we can, we’re working toward fixing that.5 Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work overtime. Some of us work five part-time jobs. Some of us sell our bodies because no one will hire us for anything but that.
Most of us, even the ones working overtime, burn with contained rage when our co-workers talk about how their health plan covered their appendectomy, or their ingrown nail. Most of us who even have health plans find that they specifically exclude all healthcare related to anything transsexual, including gender confirmation surgery.6
But of course we still have human bodies, and we still have physical health needs. Those of us with enough money and privilege still need to use locker rooms sometimes. In a locker room, the last thing we want you or anyone else to see, the last thing we want to see, is our penis. We will avoid locker rooms, when we can. When we can’t, we will change bottoms in the toilet stall. We will wear baggy shorts into the sauna along with a sports bra and a towel over our shoulders to make it all seem like routine, ordinary body modesty, instead of hypervigilant, terrified self-policing. We will sit out camel pose in yoga class, or avoid yoga class entirely, because the last thing we want anyone to see is something which hints at what’s there.7
That communal shower in the locker room? The one they tell you to rinse off in before you use the sauna or the hot tub or the dipping pool? Nope, not going in there.8
So, yeah. There’s a lot not to like about this situation. Enclosed space. Penis. We probably like it a whole lot less than you do. We’re just a whole lot more resigned to it. Habituated to it. Kinda like Stockholm syndrome, except for the part where we grow to love our hostage-taker.
You know what we’re not used to, at least at first? You’ve got a leg up on us, on this one. We’re not used to thinking about getting assaulted in bathrooms. We’re used to going into bathrooms, doing what one does,9 washing our hands,10 and walking out. Problem solved! On to the next problem.
…not so fast. Now we have to worry about getting assaulted in bathrooms by lurking rapists (because that is a thing most women worry about at least some of the time) AND we have to worry that a Concerned Citizen, man or woman, will call the authorities and accuse us of a sex crime, or simply decide that the time is right to stomp us into a mud hole.
Like you, we actually can walk away from that fear, for a little while … but not for long. We have feces and urine inside our bodies sometimes, just like you. And just like you, because we are decent, clean people we want to dispose of that feces and urine in such a way that no one else has to see it, smell it, or feel it. And when we have to hold it for a long time, it gets painful, and awkward, and sometimes (more often if we’re post-genital-reconstruction) we get UTIs. Just like you.
So we’d like to go to the bathroom, just like you. Ideally, we’d like to do it alone, but if we must have company, in that vulnerable moment, sitting over cold water with our pants down or skirt up, holding our clothes so that they don’t touch the floor (because, gah, ew)… we would like that experience to be gentle and brief, rather than nasty, brutish, and possibly followed by a stint in the hospital or the morgue.
Just like you.
Note: If you are a man who is concerned about your women having to share facilities with us — and you do appear to be numerous, or vocal — this post is not addressed to you. Go find some other place to clutch your pearls.
Caveat: Some small portion of this was hyperbole. The basic thesis, not so much.
Caveat 2: Not all trans women feel this way. Many do.11 We’re not a hive mind. We are vast. We contain multitudes.
- So, trans women. [↩]
- hello, sister [↩]
- And it’s not like that’s a comfortable process — damn but that thing has a lot of nerve endings, and more of them than you might suppose detect pain. [↩]
- For the sake of this discussion I am leaving aside those women who do not feel this revulsion toward our penises. We women of that sort exist, but we are a minority, and that complexity is beyond the scope of any possible short discussion. [↩]
- Except for that small fraction who aren’t; see above about complex discussions. [↩]
- Don’t call it a “sex change operation.” Just don’t. [↩]
- This is for those of us with the income and other privileges to be able to do yoga, of course… [↩]
- Once, before I transitioned publicly but after I developed breasts, I had to use such a communal shower in the MEN’S locker room. Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded and no one knew me, so no one talked to me, and one of the showers was situated such that I could face the corner and keep my elbows in tight, pretending that I needed to massage my neck. This sort of careful, planned negotiation of spaces became routine for me. [↩]
- Which, since I’m writing explicitly here, I mean to refer specifically and only to excretion and the necessary manipulations directly related to it. [↩]
- One hopes. [↩]
- I may or may not be one of them, because I’m not inclined to discuss the conformation and surgical history of my genitals with every random member of the public who may read this. [↩]