When I first got to Olin, everyone was roomed “girls” or “guys.” No one had a medical single for reasons of comfort. There were no gender neutral bathrooms in the AC Caitlin Jenner hadn’t transitioned, and Chaz Bono was someone who was a bit before our time.
But I was a girl, so it didn’t matter that there were gender neutral bathrooms. I could feel safe in the women’s bathroom. Why would anyone question why I was in there? Why would anyone not accept me?
Then, suddenly, I wasn’t a girl anymore.
I transitioned socially (read: not medically) the summer between first and second year. I sent out an all students email, had the pledged support of StAR and my advisor, and got a medical single so I wouldn’t be rooming with a girl. And I never went to the bathroom outside of my dorm.
Before I even came out to myself, I did a lot of internet searching. That’s one really common thread with LGBTQ+ people: trying to find out about yourself through the few visible people you can find. And there’s so much fear, so many negative experiences, so much bad history that colors your world before you’ve even stepped into it.
I was absolutely terrified of being in the men’s bathroom and having someone else walk in, see me, and wonder what I was doing in there. No matter that there were 400 people on campus and most had some vague notion of my existence via an email. I knew no one would physically try to harm me. It was a bone-deep fear fueled completely by stories I’d read online and by no personal negative experiences whatsoever.
The first time I used a public restroom since coming back to Olin that fall was at the Amtrak station on my way to my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving break. I chickened out and used the women’s.
Later that week, after a full day of museums in Washington DC, I couldn’t hold it any longer and ducked into the men’s bathroom at the American Art Museum. My uncle walked in as I was washing my hands. Fuck. What if he asks me what I’m doing in here? What if he just stares at me? What if he just turns around and leaves?
And nothing happened. Business (haha) as usual.
I slowly started using the men’s bathroom at school. I have no problem with crowded airport terminal bathrooms or ones in a public space full of strangers. I’ve gotten past my Dad being a little startled to see me waiting in line for a stall when he’s going for a urinal. Some days, I even forget that there’s anything different about me.
Then, over the holidays this year, I went to my five year high school reunion. People I hadn’t talked to in four or five years. People who knew me as Gigi. People who, given that this was at a small craft brewery, I was going to try my best not to see in the bathroom.
The first time it works out fine. In and out. Nothing awkward. Only one stall, and it is thankfully unoccupied. Then as I’m leaving for the night, my best friend, who happened to be sick at the time, decides to hold my hand. She has a track record of infecting my entire family. Bathroom trip number two for soap and hot water.
And someone I know is in the bathroom.
We haven’t spoken yet that night.
He says hi. He asks how I’m doing. He gives me a hug. In the bathroom. Do men do that? All of the advice that I’d ever read on forums about passing (being perceived as a member of the correct gender) say that men’s rooms were pinnacles of efficiency, no talking and no eye contact.
Another classmate walks in and joins our conversation while using the urinal.
Internally, I’m freaking out while simultaneously being happy that nothing is happening. But it’s not like this is a turning point for me.
I still won’t use the bathroom if someone else is in the other stall at work*. I still use the bathroom mirror to check if a stall is occupied so I can pretend I came in to wash my hands if it is full. I still worry about that fact that I sounds different when I pee into a toilet. I doubt that’ll ever change.
Maybe that’s my point.
It doesn’t matter how good Olin is. It doesn’t matter if every bathroom becomes gender neutral, or if we stop using gendered pronouns entirely. The existence of gender is not the issue. The issue is kindness. Not acceptance: kindness.
I don’t care if you accept who I am. I mean, I do, in that if you refuse to accept me as I am it’s really difficult for us to work together. But you accepting me is not the goal. The goal is that I should be able to walk into a bathroom and run into someone who I haven’t seen in five years, someone who I wasn’t even particularly close with, and not just not be harassed, but be embraced.
So Oliners, I’m going to challenge you. Not to bring in a speaker or theme a day around acceptance or even to reach out to a loved one who is some variety of LGBTQ+. I’m going to challenge you to go beyond accepting people for who they are and just start caring about them as people.
But not necessarily by hugging in bathrooms constantly; that could get a bit cumbersome. And if you want to bring in a speaker and theme a day and reach out, by all means.
*I’m not out at work purely because it’s not relevant and there’s not really a casual way to bring that up to your coworkers.