on gender and bathrooms
Few people realize to what extent trans people are filled with doubt. We have to project such an aura of certainty in order to be taken seriously in our transitions that the everyday doubts are often buried away. Yet you can be assured they are there.
For me, I didn't belong in the prescribed groups for so long that I just took being an outsider for granted. So here I am, making new strides in a new group, but still filled with the same doubt. Upon reflection, such a perspective seems obvious, perhaps even banal. To be trans is, by definition, to be transgressive of societal expectations. Of course you'll have trouble fitting in!
For me, the place where that doubt manifested was in going to the public bathrooms. Before I came out to everyone, I had already started to present more feminine. I continued to go to the men's restroom though, as that's the one that I had been going to. Plus, it was hard to judge at what point people thought I was a man or woman. After a few months, my own self-perception became unreliable, fluidly transforming people's faces between genders.
When I went to the court to confirm my name change, I still had short hair but wore somewhat feminine clothes. I remember asking for directions to the bathroom to a man and he asked "men's or women's?" I hesitated. Eventually, I gave up and said "men's". So it came that on the day I got official documentation of being Lili, I still went to the men's bathroom. A victory with qualifiers.
A month or so later, I had put on a bit of makeup and experimented with even more feminine outfits. At a men's restroom in a restaurant, a man looked at me with deep discomfort and kept saying "this is the men's room, this is the men's room". In that moment, I felt incredibly validated. I was seen as a woman! After the euphoria faded though, my doubts surfaced. What if the situation had been reversed, so that a woman called me out from the women's restroom? As I was still new and fragile in my femininity, it would hurt too deeply to be called out this way.
So I was left with a conundrum. I've gotten to a point in my presentation where I make men uncomfortable if I go to the men's room. However, I'm too chicken to be rebuffed by women from the women's room. What to do?
For a bit, I avoided gendered bathrooms as much as possible. I went to gender neutral ones where I could. If really needed, I would end up going to the women's bathroom, but it would be a highly controlled venture. I would only go if I presented fem enough and at the same time would avoid interacting with people in the bathroom as much as possible. It's not too bad, as I could remain in the stall until people were gone. If I did see someone, I would avoid speaking (lest my voice give me away) and avoid eye contact and try to leave quickly, with my heart racing even faster than my feet.
This situation continued for months. When I came out at work, it become more complicated. Now I really did not want to go men's bathrooms anymore, as I was done pretending. As I started to make peace going to the women's bathroom (and still with some trepidation) out and about, the work ones terrified me. What would I do if I see someone I know? What if they see me come in but somehow haven't internalized that I'm a woman? I don't want to make them uncomfortable! So I would go on to the gender neutral bathrooms or go to women's on a different floor. Even then, I would try to go in and out as fast as possible and avoid eye contact with people there.
Over the course of a few months, I gradually came to a series of conclusions.
At first, I started passing more and more often (with my main indicator being how often people address me as "ma'am" at the grocery store), so I felt more confident in not being "spotted".
As I reflected though, I realized that being "spotted" in truth is irrelevant. I became more and more confident of my identity independent of my presentation. I'm still a woman even if I might look masculine on a given day. What's there to spot? I'm a woman.
As I continued going to the bathroom, the concept of the gender binary itself started to disintegrate for me. Where does an androgynous-presenting person go to the bathroom? Why do we only have rooms for two genders? Why do we even split the rooms at all? In private, we have no compulsion to separate our toilets by gender. Having now gone to both men and women's bathrooms in the same place, it's obvious to me how they're really just two similar rooms with different signs in front.
So now, I mainly don't think about whether I belong in the bathroom based on looks or identity, but rather that bathrooms impose a reductive view of gender from the onset and whether someone "belongs" in a bathroom is meaningless. There's no way to nicely divide the world into two genders and it just leaves room for toxic gender standards to be enforced.