Culture Gender Identity Sexuality

the bathroom

"Will she have thought it necessary to report this to someone at the front desk, which was within sight of the restroom door?"

by lora burge

I had a weird experience a couple months ago. With the election results now in, I've been rethinking it. It happened in the bathroom. Don't worry. No explicit details--I promise.

I had been out and about doing errands in the city as I recall. I decided to stop at the gym on my way home. It took longer to drive home than I realized and by the time I arrived at the gym I really needed to go to the bathroom. I go to a small neighborhood YMCA - it's not the fanciest gym but it's not the worst. I like that a variety of people, including myself, go there for different reasons. After checking in, I duck into the nearest women's restroom, which is not the larger locker room in a different part of the building because frankly, I need to use the restroom ASAP.

As I get through the door and turn the corner to the stalls, I'm walking behind another woman. It seems she is also going to enter another stall. For some reason, she looks over her shoulder at me, gets a puzzled look, and says, "Oh my. Is this the right restroom? Did I go into the men's?" Whatever she saw when she looked at me told her that I look like a man and that one of us was in the incorrect restroom.

I ducked into the first stall because, again, urgent. And she walked out of the restroom not to return. I would describe her as someone's grandma. She was smaller than me in stature and also in more casual clothes.

I did my thing and went to the sink. For a brief second, I thought: 'Where did she go?' Will she have thought it necessary to report this to someone at the front desk, which was within sight of the restroom door? Will she (or perhaps someone else) be outside the bathroom to confront me when I leave? In full disclosure, I was wearing casual shorts, my gym shoes, and a jacket zipped up. I do fairly often get "sir" from the cashier at the store or baristas at my coffee shop stops.
I don't know why she felt the need to announce her doubts about me and then walk back out. Did I really 'look' like a man to her? What does that even mean?

This was not that long after nationwide headlines and press as states, corporations, school districts, and other organizations had to take sides on who is welcome in which restroom and particularly where people who identify as trans are welcome (or not) to relieve themselves. A lot of fear was stirred up around having someone who didn't look 'straight,' or 'normal,' or 'as expected' using a toilet in the stall next door. It is only one of many issues this year that I think was hashed out in the political and public arena where fears and emotions were manipulated more than practical considerations were taken seriously.

"fears and emotions are manipulated more than practical considerations are taken seriously"

Women need to use the restroom. Men need to use the restroom. Straight people need to use the restroom. Gay and lesbian folks need to use the restroom. Bisexual, queer, and poly people need to use the restroom. Trans men and women also use the restroom. Turns out--in really basic ways--we all have basic needs. And most people I've ever encountered in the restroom really are just there to do their thing and get out. The only time in my thirty-plus years of living that I've walked in on non-bathroom extracurricular activities happening in the bathroom was on two very straight pre-teens. So in a world where it seems Trump will be even more present in the public and political spheres preying on the fears of people and stirring up hate, will this become a more common occurrence? Will I have to defend which bathroom I choose?

Sometimes in my work as a chaplain, I marvel that we are so determined to fit people into a literal set of boxes: age, gender, religion, job, race, insurance, citizenship and so on. Anyone who can't be coded into these boxes somehow doesn't make sense as a human being and those must be less than. n a society driven by knowing, competition, and profits, the system is set up for and by an ideal type. Anyone else who can't be described by the preferred set of boxes is pushed aside and marginalized.

I realize that my example concern is simple: the bathroom.

But I fear.

I fear for friends who though perhaps coming to this country decades ago in different times, are already considering what will happen if xenophobic threats are legislated into policy. I'm horrified that there are threats of having Muslims register. And what about my friends who come from a variety of communities and continents around the globe? Just for being people of color they are witnessing more hate crimes and hate speech because the president-elect has seemingly legitimated such acts.

"I will not buy into the fear-mongering. I will not buy into the marginalization and "othering" of those the system deems as less-than"

So, whoever you are: you are a beautiful, wonderful, unique, and glorious being. No matter the ways that others and power systems try to limit, and hold you down, you are magnificent. It's high time to be moving past the demographic boxes. Whether you pray like me or in a different tradition, let's pray together. Whether you eat the same things or bring different foods, let's sit at a table together. And whoever you are, I have no concerns about using a bathroom stall next to you.

I will not buy into the fear-mongering. I will not buy into the marginalization and "othering" of those the system deems as less-than. I will honor, respect, and celebrate all parts of you. I will work harder to see that others learn to do the same. This will be part of my act of defiance. And, for the record, you are welcome to pee next to me.

lora burge
is a writer and poet
from the Pacific Northwest

Photos by Christopher Flowers, Noah Dobin-Bernstein and Michal Jarmoluk

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