She was in full young professional drag. A skirt suit and pumps. A look of panic flashed across her face. She started to turn around to walk out of the bathroom, and then turned around and gave me a long hard look. She didn’t say anything. She walked past me, entered a stall and closed the door.
Because I was already inside the women’s restroom, she assumed she had made the mistake. When she realized that she was in the right place, she gave me the contempt stare.
I washed my hands and took a good look at myself in the mirror. I tried to see what she saw. Short hair, rimless glasses. A pink Oxford button down shirt open at the neck (with a binder underneath), black jeans. A black belt with an oval pewter buckle, black leather chukkas. If I were a guy, I’d look like I paid attention to what I was wearing. All I saw was a middle-aged butch.
I don’t know what she expected, but our office does not have a dress code. My version of business casual is very casual, and masculine.
I do not wear anything to signify that I am female. There were none of the expected clues, the three or four things that make the difference between being read as male or as female (hair style, accessories, demeanor). She felt entitled to look me over. She expected me to apologize; I didn’t. It was her problem.
I was caught off-guard because that is my “safe” bathroom at work. It is the one closest to my cubicle. All the women who work on the floor know me. I’ve never had a problem in there before. This woman was an outsider. I belonged there.
When I’m out with Donna I use her as my cover. I get on line right behind her. I still get stared at, but being with a woman gives me credibility. I’ve never been challenged when I’m with Donna.
I have a handful of safe bathrooms that I use when I am alone. I try not to use unfamiliar ones when I am out. I look for branches of Starbuck’s and my gym (New York Sports Club) because they have single stall (gender neutral) restrooms in most locations. It is insanely difficult to find a bathroom in New York even if you are gender normative, and when you do, there is usually (for women) a line. Lines give me the heebie-jeebies.
I’ve had my share of ugly incidents. The worst was in the Houston airport, when a woman screamed so loud that security came running in and asked me for ID.
When I’ve been told “This is the Ladies Room” I’ve replied gently, to put the challenger at ease. I’ve reigned in my sarcasm and my anger. This last incident changed how I feel. I want to turn it around. I want to ask “Why did you say that?” or tell them “I belong here.”
Although I continue to look for gender neutral bathrooms, I think it is the wrong tactic. I don’t believe in separate but equal. I don’t want to wander around looking for the trans* equivalent of the Colored bathroom. I don’t want to avoid the cisgendered one because I might make one of “them” uncomfortable.
What has to happen for that young professional to accept that I belong in “her” restroom? For her to believe that there is nothing wrong with a genderqueer, butch, or transgender woman using a woman’s bathroom?
I’m tired of carving out safe spaces. I’m tired of being stared at or commented upon. I’m over worrying whether my presence makes strangers uncomfortable. It is time for them to get over it too.