Ok, I’m caving. With all the bathroom ridiculousness sweeping this country, I swore I was going to take the high road and keep my mouth shut. I did not deem it worthy of my time or attention to talk or write about. But I’m transgender and this stuff is about me, whether or nor it affects me directly. And I simply can’t take the absurdity of it anymore.
First of all, I have always struggled with public restrooms. At least internally. I’m probably not alone in my dislike of having to pee in public. I’ve always needed the water running or some other distraction to help get me started in bathrooms outside of my own home. On top of that (performance anxiety I think they call it), I have never felt like I belong in the ladies’ room. And since my realization that I am, indeed, transgender and that I do, indeed, not identify as a woman, I have had an even harder time with binarily-defined public bathrooms. There was the incident that I wrote about in Target a few years ago where I was literally blocked from using the women’s bathroom by the cleaning person. And there have certainly been plenty of instances of staring, glaring, gawking and awkward questioning in other public bathrooms throughout my life. Prior to going out, I often vow to myself that I will not use a public facility. I make sure that I wring every drop of urine out of my body before I leave the house. But inevitably, my body betrays me. It seems the minute I’m out in public, I have to go. So generally, I keep my head down, make eye contact with no one, look only at my shoes, do my business as quickly as humanly possible and get the hell out of Dodge. I do want to be clear, though, that while gender-specific bathrooms are onerous for me personally, they are not necessarily life-threatening as they are for other transgender individuals. What I go through is NOTHING compared to what they have to contend with. I feel as though I have no business complaining about the topic at all.
And actually, I’m not complaining. And I’m not disgruntled about the bathroom brouhaha from a self-interest perspective. I’m saddened by the whole ridiculousness from a human perspective. Why can’t we all just get along and live and tinkle peacefully together? I remember my junior high school social studies teacher being asked by a student why countries went to war against one another. I remember his response of something to the effect of: When we come up against new people or things that are different than us we immediately jump to classify, categorize, protect against the differences. We judge are they different better or different worse? And regardless of which one they are, we address them as a challenge. If they are different worse we seek to conquer. If they are different better, we seek to defend against, to protect ourselves, to preemptively attack.
I remember thinking even then that his explanation was a sad commentary indeed on humanity. Why *different* at all?! Why the need to see differences first and foremost rather than similarities? And if there is some innate reason to note difference first, why not different *hmmm*, different* wow*? Why not approach difference with curiosity and interest rather than fear and enmity? I just don’t get it. People pass by homeless people as often as they use public restrooms (give or take). And they’re using their (obviously limited) mental energy worrying over the genitalia of the person in the next stall and not the fact that they just watched another human being have to dig through a dumpster for a scrap of food?!? Are you kidding me?!
One of my first pastoral visits when I was a chaplaincy student was to an elderly Catholic man who was facing dangerous and major surgery the following day. His nurses had actually requested a priest, but there was none on site at the time. So he got me. I gave him the good news bad news scenario (good news, I’m the chaplain. bad news, I’m the chaplain). He was quite dapper as I remember. Even in his hospital johnny with his puff of tousled white hair. He noted my last name (distinctly Italian as was his) and he reached out exclaiming, “Paisan!” He flinched only slightly when he noted the yarmulke, asking uncertainly, “what happened?!” I laughed at his baffled expression, telling him that my father was Italian, my mother Jewish. He hoped I got the best of both and not the guilt. As he waved me to sit next to his bed he nodded understandingly and said, “So you’re not going to give me Communion.” Before I could confirm that he was correct, he asked rather impishly, “Well what am I going to do with my cheese?” I was puzzled, taken aback. What cheese?! He laughed out loud at my expression and said, “You know, the cheese that goes on the cracker (the Communion wafer)!” I still laugh at that exchange. The ice having been broken by humor, we talked about his fears, his hopes, his regrets. All of which I could relate to. I left him with a prayer and he sheepishly asked, “Um, what would you do if I was Jewish?” I told him I’d probably have said a prayer in Hebrew. Without hesitation he said, “I want that too.” I looked at him with my own impish expression and said, “I’m going to have to charge you more for that.” Our encounter ended with our hands clasped and heads bowed, a mixture of English and Hebrew, the offer of hope, comfort and companionship warm in our hearts.
Why did I even tell that story? Oh, yeah, right. Well, the point is we could have easily focused on and let our differences keep us apart. I could have gone in seeing an old, sick, Catholic man, someone I was unable or unwilling to connect with. He could have done the same, seeing me only as some Jewish, young whippersnapper with limited and vastly different life experiences. Luckily, we saw beyond those superficialities. Fear, hope, the longing for connection, those are definitive, irrefutable, legit, human needs that we all share. Why can’t people see that this bathroom bullshit is simply the smoke-screen distraction of fear-mongering by people seeking power?! We are better than this. Aren’t we?