Being born and raised in a small town in southern Virginia, I really should have seen it coming; I should have known better.
How dare I dress in an oversized men’s flannel shirt and a pair of skinny jeans. How dare cut my hair short or dare I step out of the gender norms? Most importantly, how dare I, a genderqueer teen, break gender norms and step into the women’s bathroom?
I live in a place where gender-neutral bathrooms don’t really exist. Every now and then I get lucky and find a family bathroom, which I quickly duck into. On the off chance that someone is using it, I stand far enough away that they can’t see me waiting, but close enough to get in before anyone else does.
But more often than not, I don’t have the option of a family bathroom forcing me to do the unthinkable: go to the restroom of my assigned sex.
The moment I begin to walk towards that female sign, my heart begins to beat so loud that I feel as if everyone around me can hear it. I wonder how many looks I will get this time, who will be “brave enough” to question my gender as I am confronted once again by the sex I was born into and now cannot escape, no matter how hard I try. Because while I have come to terms with my body and respect it for what it is, I never know what will happen when I step into a public bathroom.
On Tuesday (Nov.3), voters in Houston, Texas, voted to repeal the city’s so-called “bathroom bill,” a civil rights measure “aimed to extend civil rights protections in housing, employment and public facilities (in all senses of the term) to all Houstonians, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, marital or military status, as well as sexuality and gender identity,” according to The Washington Post.
Never mind that Proposition 1, Houston’s Human Rights Ordinance, was actually designed to protect all different kinds of people from all different kinds of discrimination. Opponents (successfully) made the debate about people like me—why we are scary, why can’t be trusted, why we shouldn’t be allowed to use the bathroom of our accurate gender.
Are Houstonians simply ignorant? Are they actually as bigoted as their voting record would suggest? Maybe they just don’t totally understand the extent of the problem. Ok, citizens of Houston, let me tell you a little story.
While shopping the other day, I was forced to use the women’s bathroom. Almost immediately, the harassment began. Mind you, I was the one being harassed, not—as some especially transphobic Americans would have you believe—the other way around.
“You are in the wrong bathroom, mister,” a woman told me. “Get out of here before I drag you out of here.” She continued with talk of men trying to see a woman’s private parts. Over and over again I told her that I wasn’t trying to see anything and that I just wanted to pee. But she wouldn’t let up.
But I still had to pee. Bad. “I’m not a male, I have a vagina!” The words came out of my mouth before I had a chance to stop them. While I am used to these types of interruptions, when you have to pee so bad that it hurts, you do crazy things.
Even then the hate rained down. “You disgusting tranny,” she said. “You just want to see people’s privates. I bet you aren’t really a girl. You probably just say that in that fake girls voice so people will let you creep.”
Part of me was screaming. This is my personal hell, and I was stuck. With a crazy lady blocking my way, I no longer possessed the will power to fight back. Standing in front of this woman, looking her dead in the eyes, I did the only thing I thought might possible make it stop: I dropped my pants and showed her that I did indeed possess the parts that were required in order to be in that restroom.
To date I have been kicked out of seven restrooms by people who feel that my need to pee is less important than their need to be transphobic. The number of disgusted looks I get? I’ve given up counting, as much because I am too busy looking down to count as because of their frequency.
What kind of person kicks a teen out of a bathroom because they don’t fit the stereotypical (read: heterosexual) definition of what a “girl” is supposed to look like? What kind of city votes down a law designed to protect its citizens from discrimination because they think it will actually protect pedophiles?
This, ladies, gentlemen, and non-binaries, has been my everyday life for years. Welcome to my world.