We had an impromptu family dinner out the other night, which was kind of fun. While we eat dinner together as a family every night, we rarely go out to restaurants. Partly because of money, and partly because of instilling certain values in our children and partly because we have a 3 year old with whom dinner at a restaurant is particularly unpleasant. But the summer was coming to a close and we realized that it would be Joita’s last family dinner at home before heading back to college and, well, we decided to spontaneously splurge.
We went to our favorite local restaurant; a family-friendly authentic Irish pub close to home. It’s a sweet place with amazing food and decent prices. Not that I feel overly comfortable there to be honest. I mean, we all know that I don’t feel particularly comfortable out in public anywhere. But this is a place frequented by blue-collar workers stopping for a quick drink before heading home after a long day at work (at least at the time we tend to have dinner – remember, 3 year old), so it is more understandable that I feel less comfortable there. And, not to sound paranoid, but I feel as though I can hear the eye-rolling and sneers when I walk through the bar area to the restaurant.
At any rate, as I said, we don’t go out much and the last time we were at this dining establishment was before their big renovation a year or so ago. As we walked from home we wondered together about what might be different. We tried to guess whether they had changed the layout of the dining area and if they had made anything handicap accessible (while Joita can do stairs, the 3 or 4 steps to get in prevented any wheelchair user from eating there and we were aware of that).
When we got to the pub we noticed right away the new signage and the new handicap entrance (even though we went in the front door with the stairs). The bar, still dimly lit and crowded, didn’t look much different. The dining area was expanded with better lighting and new posters (mostly for Guinness and Jameson). They had also gotten new tables and chairs – though still rustic and rather dark. We took a booth near the kitchen, animatedly discussing the differences in the place, as well as the differences in each of us. Joita is going into her sophomore year of college. Nina heading into tweendom. And Ruby nearly potty trained.
As always, the waitstaff was pleasant and the food was fantastic. We laughed and shared stories and jokes. The picture of the perfect family. As the meals were consumed, Ruby announced she needed to use the potty. Emily, who’d been parenting her all day already, looked to me with a beleaguered expression and said, “Can you take her?” My brief hesitation of irritation overtaken by understanding the exhaustion of spending an entire day with a 3 year old. I get it. I really do. 3 year old energy is particularly draining. I know they say “the terrible twos”, but I say fuck that! Parenting a 3 year old feels a little like being held hostage by a tiny torturer on LSD. Still, I was irritated. Even for a moment. Public bathrooms are so hard for me. And the place was packed. I wish Emily would get it even a little, what it’s like to have to use a public bathroom as a trans person. I tossed my napkin onto the table in defeat.
As I pushed out my chair I internally prepared myself for the awkwardness of people watching me enter the women’s bathroom and absorbing their curious judgments. There is always a twinge of fear that someone is going to stop me. Or worse.
So Ruby and I, hand in hand, made our way through the crowded maze of tables. As we turned the corner into the dimly lit hallway that held the restrooms, I saw that it, too, had been renovated. Instead of separate “men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms, there was now two “all gender” bathrooms! The old bathrooms were small and each had a few tiny cubicle-like stalls and a single sink. The new bathrooms were spacious and lovely and private. It was not only such a relief as a trans person, but it made dealing with a small child so much easier as there was much more space to move around and be able to help. I practically skipped back to the table unable to stop smiling.
Ruby didn’t make it much longer at the table. In fact, she couldn’t even wait for the waitress to bring the check. So I offered to get a head start walking home with her. We made our way back through the restaurant through the bar and though there was a line literally out the door, I stopped at the hostess area and asked if I could speak with a manager briefly.
The manager made her way over to me looking nearly as beleaguered as Emily had and asked how she could help me, clearly prepping herself for complaint. “It may not matter to 99% of your customers” I said, “but the fact that you have gender neutral bathrooms means so very much to me. I just wanted to say thank you.” Before I finished, her eyes filled with tears and she pulled me into a fierce hug. She whispered, “I’m so glad. You made my day. You are always welcome here. Thank you.” I thanked her again and we left.