The game plan for my vacation in New Mexico was to go gender free as much as possible; to only use women’s facilities when absolutely necessary. I did nothing to soften or tone down my gender expression. I dressed comfortably and to please myself. I tried to carry myself as if I belonged everywhere I went. No shame. No apologies.
This plan worked better than any other plan I’ve followed. I found the family/accessible restrooms in the airports. I swam in the hotel pool in my trunks and rash guard. I also wore them in the two hot springs we visited. I had a serious massage at a spa where there was no mention by me, or the masseuse, of my top surgery/scars.
The only place that was a problem was the changing room in the spa. We stayed at the Ojo Caliente MIneral Springs Resort & Spa. We booked a room in the 1916 “historic” hotel wing. So historic, that guests must shower in the spa locker rooms before and after “taking the waters”. There was no shower in the room, or even down the hall. It is rustic, and less expensive than the newer rooms. A little like travelling on a budget in Europe.
The spa’s policy is that you can hang out all day on both the day of your arrival and the day of your departure (swim in the big pool, soak in the hot spring pools, and use the spa facilities). Two days of spa use for one night’s stay. We arrived before check-in time, and were given towels, bathrobes, and keys to our lockers. We took our swim suits and our flip-flops, and headed for the women’s changing/shower rooms. I wanted to swim and soak before my massage.
I got a few double-takes going in, but it was too crowded for a man to have genuinely made a mistake by entering. No one paid any attention to my trunks and rash guard. Leaving the locker room I surprised a woman who was entering, but she double-checked the door sign, caught herself, and smiled awkwardly.
Coming back in from the massage, wearing only flip-flops and a robe, I got the hard stare. I am familiar with this stare. This is the stare that says “I know that you are not really a man, but you are not really a woman either. I know that you are queer, I don’t like sharing my locker room with you, and I wish I could make you go away.” Maybe I read too much into it.
When I enter a women’s restroom I feel like I am crashing someone else’s private club or sorority. I don’t understand the rituals, don’t know the secret passwords, and don’t follow the unwritten dress code. My presence interrupts conversations. I am socially excluded, but I have no place else to go. I’m so used to it that I forget how stressful it is, even when no one says anything.
In hindsight, I could have splurged for a more expensive room with a shower, I could have only used the pools after check-in (or stayed two nights), and I could have avoided the locker room altogether. It didn’t bother Donna at all. She was oblivious.
The last day of our vacation we went to Jemez Springs. We stayed in a motel with a standard bathroom across the road from the Giggling Springs Spa. The owner of the spa was friendly, the changing rooms were all-gender palapas (see photo), and the shower was outdoors. The hot spring pools were small; but set in a lovely garden. I soaked in the steamy mineral water and I relaxed. No big deal.
Notes: I’ll get another chance to try this out in August when we go back to Gloucester, MA for a week at the beach.
I haven’t gotten into the arguments about HB2 (North Carolina bathroom bill) and how they affect me because there are too many other good articles out there. I particularly like Katha Pollitt’s piece in The Nation on violence against women, and this piece from the Advocate on Liberty Counsel (the legal team behind the anti-trans legislation and Kim Davis).