The Bathroom Chronicles

4.28.2008

By T Cooper

I was in Houston recently for my cousin's bar mitzvah, held at one of those fairly-conservative-but-seemingly-OK-with-the-gay-thing synagogues. It was a four-hour service, followed by a kosher luncheon. Naturally -- pass the Manischewitz -- I needed to use the bathroom at least twice during the festivities.

I suppose I should pause to offer a brief personal history: I use both women's and men's bathrooms -- probably 70% and 30% of the time respectively.

Here are a few situations in which I use the women's room:

1) the men's room is nastier than the primate stalls at the Baghdad Zoo; 2) my girlfriend is with me; 3) there are terrifying hicks with gun racks and/or dead animals mounted on their vehicles at a truck stop at which I find myself -- usually on an interstate somewhere between New York and Los Angeles.

Here are a few situations in which I use the men's room:

1) a lady freaks when I am in the women's room; 2) in most foreign countries; 3) at concerts, like Dolly Parton at Radio City Music Hall.

Around the second or third hour of the bar mitzvah, I got up to relieve myself. There I stood, anxiously glancing back and forth between the men's and women's room doors. As many trans and gender-variant people will echo, one always cycles through the requisite 'That picture with the dress doesn't quite look like me, but then again, I don't want to get a beat-down in the room with the picture that does look like me' routine. (Vice versa for the ladies.)

Deciding it was probably empty and likely safe, off I went to the women's room. Upon my entrance, a staff person who had been wiping the sinks shot a look at me and grew visibly terrified; she
began waving her hands and chanting softly, 'No, no! Mister?'
I froze. For some reason, no matter how many times I -- as a gender-variant individual -- go through a version of this precise
scenario it's always surprising. Before I knew it I yelped, a little too enthusiastically, 'It's OK!' and then dashed into the nearest stall.

Business done, I slunk out of the stall toward the sinks, tossing an overly friendly smile at the lady. As I was pumping the paper towel machine, in came a 60-something woman with granddaughter in tow, propping open the door and locking eyes with me mid pump. She stopped cold in her open-toe gold flats, eyes popping like in cartoons, looking back at the door, back at me, at the door, and so on.

'I think we've got the wrong bathroom, Hannah!' she warbled nervously, steering the confused toddler out of the room. But seconds later they were back, Hannah visibly tired of her arm being yanked out of its socket, and Grandma giving her best 'What are you -- a pervert?' face, as her eyes continued to dart dramatically back and forth between the brown pinstriped suit-'clad figure standing before her and the one in the triangular dress pictured on the door.

Hannah's grandmother stood protectively over her kin like a skittish badger. I slipped past them, but just when I thought I was home free, Grandma hissed into the back of my neck, 'You're in the wrong bathroom.'

Who goes into the 'wrong' bathroom? If someone's in a bathroom, I'm going to assume he's where he needs to be. It's a quotidian routine, perhaps second only to breathing, but in some ways visiting the toilet finds us at our most vulnerable and exquisitely human: literally stripped of all that usually stands between us and the world perceiving us. I know people who have been arrested for being in the 'wrong' bathrooms. People who have been deeply humiliated -- even attacked.

Right now in Montgomery County, Md., church and concerned parents' groups have their knickers in a twist over a new law that bans discrimination against trans people in public facilities. PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays) is protesting on the basis that trans people are mentally ill and that letting 'guys dressed as women' in the women's room puts little girls at risk.

But real perverts will always find kids to prey upon -- in the bathroom or on the street (not to mention right there at church). And I'm willing to bet that most people, myself included, just want to take a piss in peace without much fanfare. Truth is, I don't always know which bathroom is the 'right' one for me. But I do know one thing: If we as a society were really smart, we'd segregate bathrooms on the basis of substance'not sex. That is, number 1's to the right; number 2's to the left.

In which case, I'd definitely know which bathroom I'd rather use, hands down, every time.

T Cooper's most recent novel is Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blondes. For more information visit T-Cooper.com.

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