I guess that it first began when my mother and I took a trip to our local craft store in Maryland. I was around the age of 14. Because it was the middle of winter, we were both bundled up in our coats, scarves, and hats.
After not being able to locate a particular item, we finally asked a store employee for assistance. As I picked up a few things off the shelf, the employee told my mom, “Oh, it’s in his hand.”
We both gazed to our left and right, looking for the guy holding the item that we needed. My mom then replied, “Whose?”
The employee pointed and responded, “His.”
Still not seeing anyone else in the aisle or nearby, we both asked, simultaneously, “Whose?”
Realizing our confusion, the employee pointed directly to me and repeated, “His!”
I still remember the look on my mom’s face, while both of us tried to figure out what to do next. After awkwardly exchanging glances and silently agreeing to act as if this hadn’t just happened, the employee walked away. Under her breath, my mom said, “Okay, he thought that my daughter was a boy.”
This incident would certainly not be the last time that my outward appearance caused confusion.
I’ve never been the “girly type,” and anyone who knows me can attest to that. As a child, I quickly set aside dolls and never related to dresses. Truth be told, I hated them. Growing up, I was always a tomboy. Now, as an adult, not much has changed.
Let’s be clear: Wearing pants and having short hair doesn’t make me any less of a woman. My style might be less “feminine,” perhaps, but I’m still a woman. In fact, not until I was finally comfortable with myself and my appearance did using public restrooms become an issue for me, “the bathroom blues.”
Like many masculine-of-center women, I dread using a public restroom. In certain places—like airports and rest stops—to avoid an uncomfortable interaction, I specifically search for the family bathroom. Yes, the private bathroom where no one can question you. I’m ashamed to say that I have even strained my bladder by waiting until I got home, just to avoid the inevitable confrontation.
And, I’m ashamed that I’m ashamed. Although I am very confident in who I am, I’m still human. Imagine being challenged while having to do something as simple and as natural as going to the restroom. To me, it’s like someone disputing my right to breathe: Should I have to explain why I deserve to breathe, too?
From my occasional use of the men’s restroom, men don’t confront other men. They are there for one thing only, to relieve themselves. No questions asked.
Why, then, do women act like their restroom is some holy temple that only certain people can enter?
Apparently, women’s public restrooms are filled with gender police (or vagina police). No one should be interrogated when using the restroom, and I mean no one.
So what’s up, ladies?
Not two steps into a women’s bathroom, and someone tells me that I’m in the wrong place.
I shouldn’t have to purposely talk in my highest-pitched voice to assure anyone that “I’m a woman; I’m one of you.” Furthermore, I shouldn’t have to ask my girlfriend whether I should use the men’s or women’s restroom, based on how I look that day.
Everyone has the God-given right to use a public restroom. And, I can’t believe that I even have to say this.
I know that some people who should be reading this article might not see it. But if you are reading this and you recognize yourself, then you’ll have to get used to the fact that there are women who don’t fit your “traditional” stereotype. There are women with short hair; women who prefer pants over dresses; women who wear long ties and those who wear bowties; women who wear sports bras and those who wear binders; women who are so comfortable being themselves that they don’t care how society views them.
And, we will not disappear. In fact, there will continue to be more and more masculine-of-center, queer, and gender non-conforming individuals in this country.
Here are some tips to make the women’s public restroom a judgment-free zone:
If a grown adult enters, then you should trust that she knows her gender and the appropriate bathroom. And, transgender women have the right to use the women’s restroom, too.
If you do not own the restroom, then stop policing it. Unless someone is harassing you or causing you physical harm, then mind your own business.
Some of you bring kids into the restroom. Please stop exposing children to your ignorance. Teaching them tolerance is not enough. Teach them how to be decent human beings. (By the time they grow up, there will be more girls—and bois—who look like me.)
And, most important, if you are wondering what you should do when anyone enters the restroom…just worry about yourself.
It’s that simple.