This story may sound familiar to you: The dreaded urge to pee hits. You excuse yourself from the table in a crowded restaurant so you can spend the next several minutes watching the bathrooms to see who is going in and coming out, while thinking “man do I have to pee!” and “have I been called ‘ma’am’ more times than ‘sir’ today?” Maybe you’ve been correctly gendered all day and, not feeling like being the target of snarky remarks from women, you aim for the men’s room after deciding it’s most likely empty. You boldly push through the door and see a guy washing his hands, so you scurry into the stall to do your business, again, wondering if your stream sounds manly enough. You will the guy to leave so you can hurriedly wash your hands and make a hasty exit before anyone else sees you. Meanwhile, your friends think you’ve either fallen in or are regretting your adventurous meal choice last night. It’s a nightmare, right?
Living your life outside the gender binary can be both empowering and a curse. Being able to express your gender in the manner that you see fit is liberating. But when other people don’t interpret your gender in the way that you want, it can cause pain, anxiety and even danger. As a trans person who is either entering a transition period to adopt a more masculine appearance, or a trans man who may not fit the typical masculine stereotypes at any stage, navigating public bathrooms may be a source of constant anxiety. I’ve gathered some pro-tips below to help get you through the daily restroom hustle and on with your life, until the glorious day when no one cares anymore where anyone does their business.
- Do Your Research. Before going out, research businesses near you that support transgender rights, like Target, Starbucks, Ikea and CVS. Many of these establishments have created “family” bathrooms for use by any gender.
- Yelp It. Yelp has a new feature that allows you to filter businesses based on whether they have gender-neutral bathrooms. Starbucks is always a favorite.
- Feel It Out. If the place seems like it has a high concentration of drunk, ignorant, or otherwise transphobic men around, don’t put yourself at risk in the men’s’ room. If you’re out somewhere with friends, consider asking for some company in the loo.
- Act Confident. If you walk into any room acting like you own the place, people generally don’t bother you. It may take some practice, so give it a try in places where you are comfortable on days when you like you’re feeling particularly dude-like.
- Carry Hand Sanitizer. When you just want to get in and get out without being bothered, sometimes hand washing can take a backseat. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you for those times when you just can’t stick around at the sink.
- Masculinizing Your Stream. If you’re not down with an STP device, no worries, men sit to pee too and you should be able to find at least one stall in the men’s’ room. My friend Charlie taught me this trick to make your stream sound more masculine – sit closer to the front of the bowl and allow the stream to go down the side of the bowl instead of directly down into the water.
- Know Your Rights. If you are confronted with a particularly hostile brand of transphobe, whether at a public restroom or at work, being able to confidently assert your rights can often shut down the opposition. Lambda Legal has some great resources for you. While some men may feel uneasy about you using the men’s room at work, know that it is your employer that must accommodate your bathroom needs.
Of course, the main goal is always to stay safe. Keep your eyes open and listen to your gut. If you are not comfortable, do not go anywhere alone. In the meantime, we can continue fighting for gender-neutral spaces in America. Restrooms have not always been gendered, and in many countries, never have been.