– Ani DiFranco
Aisha and I have the good fortune of being comfortable discussing pretty much every and anything that comes into our minds.
Understandably, we’ve broached some very interesting topics; a lot of commentary on social and personal behavior, and of course, contested spaces. I don’t think we’d be here otherwise.
So, when I first sat down, open to giving this blog a shot, I wanted to find a way to focus my thoughts and engage you. I stumbled upon vague, impressive proverbs and in accordance with my general humor and personality, decided to use them. This being day five of dedication (yay me!), I have found them to be working like a charm.
But there is a topic I want to discuss that has no wise, or short, adage: bathrooms.
From an early age ‘the bathroom’ has been a terrifying space for me and this terror has only morphed over the years. Early on, I was convinced there were gigantic boa-constrictors that were waiting in the pipes; I hated how dirty public washrooms were; I’ve accidentally walked in on a younger friend (four or five at the time) holding my cat down and showing it a piece of TP covered in their poop, asking my cat what it was; the first year I arrived at my new school, transferring halfway through grade one, I was sitting in the girls bathroom, about to pee and a group of girls busted the door open and stood there laughing and pointing at me. I have done a lot of work trying to figure out what the heck they were laughing at.
About seven therapists later, the only consistent answer is: girls are mean.
And yet, there is another side to the story. My sister and I recently had a moment where she, as super fucking cool as always, called me up and said (something to the effect of): I’ll love you even if you are trans. I wish I could remember the details, but I was transfixed (no pun intended), staring out my kitchen window, my heart in my throat.
How in the…?
I have been grappling with this a lot you see, so she seemed somewhat clairvoyant – but we’ll get there. What I want to share with you is this. I couldn’t respond to my sister then, so I wrote her a very long letter. In it, I wrote:
“I was allowed to know a softness half of this world never sees. But even then, it had always been a weird understanding of it. Like I always recognized the privilege of seeing mum’s life or hanging out with you and your girlfriends from the soft perspective – because it felt like I’d never be able to mirror it. But I chalked it up to being gay, low self-worth, being overly sensitive….”
So, you see I have never believed girls are mean. I love women. My whole life has brimmed over with women, and in many ways, I have only seen the incredibly soft side. My father had four sisters, I was somewhat close with two. My mother and sister are huge figures in my life. I’m gay and despite common perceptions of butch lesbians, I am one that has never managed to have close male friends. Most of my teachers have been women, the jobs I had pre-Nova Scotia were definitely female dominated and I went to an all girls camp. Right?
This is what I think happened. While I was in utero; Fate, ‘Murphy’ and my personal destiny (M.P.D) sat down and had the following conversation:
Fate: This one is going to be something eh?
M.P.D: Are you kidding?? Look at them; eyes, a light heart, crazy imagination….
Murphy: Heya guys…
Fate: Oh, uh – hey Murph. How are those laws coming along?
Murphy: I don’t wanna talk about it … who you talkin’ about?
M.P.D: Oh, just my latest Pride And Joy!
Murphy: Haha oh yeah? Great – what trip-ups did you give them, eh?
M.P.D: (looking down) gender issues, and a moderate fear of water.
Murphy: Moderate eh? Why? Why not go all-out-Jaws?
Fate: They are a sensitive soul, Murph – can’t let them wig out. You’ve heard of that new thing going around – O.C.D? Well, this one may have been in that batch. So… a minor concern with a common thing … a giant, innate, personal conflict … anyway – I am NOT saying they are totally linked but the last one….
Murphy: Hahaha how would that even go down? Oh, look at me…soft kid going pee…wondering what’s down the drain…
M.P.D: Murphy don’t!
Murphy: ….and BAM!!! MEAN GIRLS
I can see it now. I hope their drinks were cold and cheap.
But in all seriousness, what is with the bathroom?! For some, it is the mirror and navigating self-image amongst the self-fawning statues permanently planted in front of the middle sinks. For others, it is far more complicated, tied to health. For me, it has been the space where I am constantly reminded that women can be cruel, and I am not quite accepted.
I am working on being able to say something that terrible, and acknowledge at the same time, it isn’t the whole truth. But it is important for me to say the terrible thing, because you see, I own your fear. I was never one to flock to bathrooms in high school, at dances, or malls; I do not intrinsically understand the safety that the women who are cruel to me, are just trying to protect. Because I am the one who has not made it clear ‘what’ I am. But do you consider, that, for me, the bathroom is a war zone? I have been hit with purses, questioned about my genitalia (and once asked to prove it – or if not that, my chest), and denied access. When I make the very calculated decision to relieve myself in public, I literally walk towards those un-doored entries with the appropriate stick person (though I don’t wear triangles), and just hope to whom/whatever that this time, it will be empty. It never is.
I’d say my favorite bathroom in the world (so far) is the Halifax Airport. If I have to pick a gendered one. My least favorite is the Gateway Niagara in Grimsby.
I was at a bar for the welcome event for Butch Voices 2017 in Oakland, CA. After about four and a half hours of drinking, I nervously let my friend know I had to go. Placed my cider shakily on the bar and headed towards the ridiculously dark hallway leading to the bathroom. Head down, I pushed through the door I had been directed to and was surprised to walk into a gorgeous and relaxing room. Three roomy stalls, but…also…a urinal. And then a very handsome man walked in, smiled and unzipped his pants.
I shot into the stall so fast I almost tripped into the gorgeous porcelain toilette. Sitting there (and know, that grade one memory is literally always replaying as I try and start that blessed trickle), I remembered that these were the mystical gender-neutral bathrooms we’d heard of in Ontario. It was like my bladder knew too, because it was the most relaxed pee I have ever had.
Watch Ivan Coyote’s “Why we need gender-neutral bathrooms“, because I don’t think there is anyone who could explain this issue better. And for fun, check out Anwar Jibawi’s “The Bathroom Attendant” to experience a more comfortable, funnier rendition of the “WTF” feeling I’m left with.
I now have a real-life-hero who escorts me on the rare occasion my bladder forgets itself and grows weak in public. She normalizes me, makes children less afraid, and keeps the purses at hip height. And now, I know that no matter what, it will be better and maybe I’m in the ‘wrong’ room, but at least I am beginning to be able to face myself in the bathroom mirror.
“It is when you lose sight of yourself, that you lose your way. To keep your truth in sight you must keep yourself in sight and the world to you should be a mirror to reflect to you your image; the world should be a mirror that you reflect upon.”
― C. JoyBell C.
I like the intention behind this quote. But this person, I would guess, likes bathrooms. But I’ll see their sentiment and I’ll raise you the concept of a better mirror. Because the mirror does not accurately reflect our image to the world. Not just mine: the woman sadly looking at her laugh lines, the man fingering his receding hairline; the adult who still cannot see their outfit in the ‘vanity’ mirror.
So, in the bathroom be the smile. I am – even though it probably looks like a grimace. I make myself small and floppy, I sing a funny song and smile my fucking face off. I compliment women and children on my merry way to the stall.
Be a better mirror.