poetics, time, body disruption and marginally queer solutions

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Beyond the Women's Room
Written by: Dylan Vade
Curve: Vol. 13#3

Public restrooms. Rather mundane. Not much to think about — unless one is transgendered, genderqueer, a butch woman, a feminine man, or otherwise does not subscribe to rigid gender norms. Then, going to the bathroom in public becomes a daily struggle.

When I started taking hormones and looking more ambiguously gendered, no one wanted me in “their” restroom. No matter what choice I made, I annoyed someone — and that person made sure I knew. People stared at me and told me I was in the wrong restroom. Some ran out as soon as they saw me. I was lucky that these incidents didn’t lead to violence.

Bathrooms are places of heightened gender policing. Anyone who is not obviously feminine is suspect in the women’s room; anyone who is not obviously masculine is suspect in the men’s room. To be honest, I don’t understand why only people of virtually identical genders can share a restroom area. What I do know is that people who don’t fit rigid gender norms get routinely harassed in bathrooms, and almost every gender nonconforming person I know has had difficulty finding safe bathroom access. For many, even in San Francisco, going to the bathroom is literally dangerous.

According to a San Francisco Human Rights Commission (SF-HRC) survey, experiences in gender-segregated bathrooms range from harassment to violence to getting arrested and fired. A butch woman wrote about using men’s and women’s restrooms: “Women jump out of their shoes; I get harassed by the guys.” To avoid attacks, another butch woman saves going to the restroom for certain moments, such as the most interesting parts of movies (bathrooms are emptiest then). Often, harassment leads to violence: An FTM said, “I have been slapped, pushed and dragged out by security guards.” Some people avoid public restrooms altogether. One genderqueer person wrote, “I often ‘hold’ it.” Another person keeps a bucket in his car.


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