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Bathroom Trauma

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Bathrooms make me nervous. I think it began with my childhood habit of running into the first bathroom I saw and ending up in the wrong one. Then there’s society’s seemingly unanimous decision that public restrooms are just dirty. I often leave public bathrooms feeling the need to shower, which really sucks considering I live in a dorm where I shower in a public restroom. Then there are the people in the bathroom.

There’s three types of people in public restrooms: those who won’t stop talking to me, those who silently stare, and my favorite, the quiet person who pretends there isn’t another being within a mile. That’s who I am in the bathroom, and I often consider this courtesy my good deed of the day.

I think my ultimate problem in going to public bathrooms, though, is the fear of being outed. As a trans guy, it took me a long time, even after I started to pass, to be able to walk into the men’s restroom confidently. I still have trouble, even though I’m pretty sure it would look more odd for me to go into the women’s at this point in my transition. If I’m being honest, I avoid public restrooms at all costs these days, considering the transgender fear-mongering that the Trump Administration encourages. If that’s how I feel while attending a liberal college in New York City, I can only imagine the fear children in more conservative areas must feel.

I’m petrified that one day I will walk in and the other men in the restroom will somehow just know that I’m different, and yell at me for being in the ‘wrong’ restroom. On especially bad dysphoria days, I find myself holding my breath until I’m assured no one else is in the bathroom with me, only realizing I’ve done so when I finally breathe again. I’m most aware of this at Pratt when I get long, hard stares from the other men in the restroom. I know they’re trying to figure out what I am, and my fight or flight responses begs for me to run out of the bathroom.

Even people who are supportive or do their best to understand have a hard time understanding, which makes it hard to know what to do even in a supportive community. Early in my transition, I’d go back and forth, constantly unsure of where I should go. I would try to gauge what the people around me perceived me as, and go to the restroom that matched that gender.

I was trying to avoid conflict at all costs, no matter how uncomfortable I was. Being uncomfortable would be better than being killed or assaulted like so many other trans people. Every time I’m nervous about going into a bathroom, the horror stories play through my head: the five year old sexually assaulted in Georgia, the violent assault of the woman in Paris, the paid beating of a transgender woman in Dallas, and the growing statistic of murdered transgender people nationwide.

Now that I’m beginning to consistently pass, I wonder what would happen if a law was actually passed saying I have to go into the bathroom that matches my sex assigned at birth. I mean, I will certainly be uncomfortable going into the women’s bathroom, but won’t the women there be even more uncomfortable? I don’t think those on the far right of the political spectrum have ever really thought about what would happen if they got what they wanted: transgender individuals going into the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth. Imagine walking into the ladies room to see some trans Channing Tatum look alike: it’d be a little jolting, to say the least.

Maybe we should just agree that public restrooms suck, and make us all uncomfortable. Maybe if we used my rule of pretending no one else is with us while in the bathroom, we could coexist, and stop worrying so much about what the person next to us has in their pants.

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Photo by Aliza Pelto


written by
Oliver Ray
May 16, 2019