I was sitting at my hangout in Austin, Texas, when one of the lesbians emerged from the ladies room and shouted pointedly at a bunch of us girls who were seated at the end of the bar. “Hey!” she yelled, garnering the attention of the entire bar as she pointed directly at us. “Which one of you bitches left the seat up!”
We looked at one another, then back at her. “You wanna be ladies?!” she shouted. “Then act like ladies!”
One of the first questions I’m always asked when speaking to various organizations is “Which bathroom do you use?” To address this properly, I need to take you back in time.
In the 1950s, when I was growing up, the Ladies’ Room was a refuge. I recall being taken there by my mother at a very young age. It might have been in a movie theatre or a restaurant or maybe at the train station. As I recall, it was a lot nicer than the Mens’ Rooms I had been to with my father. There was a couch, mirrors, and sometimes an attendant. And mother didn’t go there just to use the facilities. She also went there to primp. That was where I first saw her smoke. On occasion she might also adjust her outfit. And once, reluctantly dragging me along, she went there to cry. It was the one place there would be no men.
In the 1970’s and ‘80’s, along with the feminist movement, the couches and attendants disappeared. But to a large extent, the traditional view of the “Ladies’ Room” as a haven away from men remained, which is one of the reasons it generates a lot of heat in the discussion of gender identity. Even genetic women who are transgender ‘allies’ become conservative when the subject comes up. They have to admit that they just aren’t comfortable having someone with a penis in there with them.
Solutions for the problem abound. Harvard University is considering building gender-neutral bathrooms. Philadelphia recently passed a law that all new or renovated city buildings should include unisex bathrooms. School systems where transgender students have challenged the rules have had to rethink their policies. In Colorado, an elementary school boy who identifies as a girl won a court case allowing her to use the girls’ bathroom. And in Arizona, a little girl who identifies as a boy now uses the boys’ bathroom.
Of course, there’s the other side of the matter which rears its ugly head in the form of laws restricting the use of public bathrooms to one’s physiology. Arizona, Florida, and our neighbor Kentucky have all proposed such laws, despite the impracticality of their enforcement. (On the other hand, it might reduce unemployment if we had to employ Gender Inspectors at the entrance to any public restroom, though I’d hate to be the one to interview those job applicants.)
What most of the arguments don’t seem to understand is that, for most transgender people, the bottom line is simply safety. When I am in public and need to use the restroom, I use the Ladies’ Room, not solely because I identify as a woman, but also because in the Mens’ Room I run the risk of being hurt (or even worse) by some dumbass who is threatened or angered or gets his jollies from it. Whereas, if I use the Ladies’ Room, some of the women there might be uncomfortable or upset, but the likelihood that they will hurt me is far less than that posed by the men.
While I have never run into a problem using the Ladies’ Room, two transgender friends who went shopping at a mall did. After spending hundreds of dollars at various shops, they went to the Ladies’ Room, whereupon they were accosted by a mall guard who was responding to a complaint that two ‘men’ were there. My friends told the guard she was correct, at least insofar as anatomy was concerned, and if the guard insisted on ejecting them, they would be happy to go to each of the stores where they had shopped, return the goods, request a refund, and explain what had happened. The guard, recognizing that Capitalism trumps all, backed off and my friends finished their ‘business.’
So now to my local potty complaint—the gay bars. At every one of them here, the guys use whatever one they like. And that’s OK with me. But they need to understand that regardless of our plumbing, we are ladies: we pee sitting down. And we really don’t mind if they leave the seat up. But it would be so nice if they would if they put it up when they pee. Is that so much to ask?