I’m Not Talking About Bathrooms

I’m going to be honest: it’s because I’m angry, and I’m tired.

This anger has been bubbling for years. Did you know that I can prevent myself from peeing for nine hours at a time? I know, because I did it every day for four years when I was in high school. Skipping breakfast and not eating lunch helps, though you’ll have a harder time paying attention in classes, having conversations, and you’ll be slightly angry all of the time. The bathroom for me, a nonbinary person, was somewhere I was explicitly not allowed to go—it says right there on the sign. In high school, I had nowhere to have a moment’s respite from the busy halls, nowhere to sit and cry when overwhelmed, nowhere to fix my outfit or hair if it got messed up. Sure, technically I *could* have used a gendered bathroom, if I looked enough like a cisgender boy or cisgender girl to use one without getting strange looks, or questioned, or harassed, or attacked. But the choice was between looking cisgender and having the illustrious privilege of being able to shit in a dirty gray rectangle with slurs scrawled on the walls, and looking like myself. And it’s not easy to forget you don’t look like yourself in a room full of mirrors. Really, that gendered bathroom sign to me may as well read “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.” I’d prefer that, actually. Then, at least, it’d have a bit of camp.

Bathrooms are a recurring motif in my nightmares.

This last week has been tiring. It’s such a little thing. A square of plastic. Yet people will pay to keep it in place, and it’s illegal to take it down. It’s *illegal* to *not* misgender me. And sure, we could just ignore it, make the bathrooms *socially* all-gender even if *legally* they can’t be. But I don’t have nightmares about getting lost in a labyrinthine public toilet because I wasn’t able to share a bathroom with all of you. There is still a sign hanging there that says I don’t have a place here—that I don’t even exist in the first place. I have been told that I don’t have a place here, that I don’t even exist, every single day of my life.

I’m tired. And I’m angry. And I’m tired. So I’m checking out: I haven’t been to any of the discussions with administration about this, because the conversation really boils down to “look, WE know you exist, but it’s just really inconvenient for us so we have to continue to publicly pretend that you don’t.” Weren’t pride parades originally something about not keeping your queerness behind closed doors at a time when it was illegal to be publicly queer? But that’s long past: now pride is about rainbows, and about showing how LGBT+ friendly you are, #loveislove! It’s about being visibly queer out in that street, just as long as you don’t come near our bathrooms, you pervert! It’s about consistently ranking in the list of most LGBT+ friendly colleges, and pride flags in the dining hall! All this talk about our software Jenzabar putting students’ deadnames on class rosters, and publicly reporting our student body makeup by “legal sex” to show how “gender balanced” we are, and this stuff about bathrooms, all that’s just talk. We’re accepting! We promise!

I’ll save us both some time, then: that’s not a conversation I’m going to have with you. If you can’t take five minutes out of your day to remove a piece of plastic from a wall, then you don’t deserve to have five minutes out of mine so I can listen to you try and convince me of how good a person you are, actually. It’s not that complicated: gendered bathrooms prevent trans people from existing in public. That’s wrong. And after more than 20 years of being told I don’t exist every single day of my life, I don’t have the energy to argue that with you. Though I may be tempted, because you get angry when you’ve been holding it in for this long.

Do You Even Care?

By an anonymous nonbinary student

The ongoing conversations about all-gender restrooms have led me to conclude that Olin administrators care more about protecting Olin as an institution than they do about my well-being as a person.

I face situations that remind me of my trauma every single day at this school. Although logically I believe I am safe in gendered restrooms at Olin, deciding whether to use a convenient restroom or to spend my time going to an all-gender restroom brings up traumatic past experiences. Knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from remembering the time a friend mentioned that I should be careful using a women’s restroom so I am not accused of rape, or the time I was told to be careful using a men’s restroom so that I do not become a victim of rape again. Knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from remembering the time someone pulled a knife on me in a public restroom due to my perceived gender, and I was terrified I was going to be assaulted or murdered. And knowing that I am safe doesn’t prevent me from irrationally fearing that today could be the day my sense of safety in Olin restrooms is proven wrong.

The school’s reason for not converting more restrooms to be gender inclusive is that it is illegal and the school could face penalties for defying this law. Members of Olin’s administration need to understand that their responses to students’ requests for more all-gender restrooms have shown me that they care more about the possible risk of fines than reducing the suffering caused by my trauma.

Improving access to all-gender restrooms matters. I should not have to decide whether to prioritize my classwork or my mental health. I should not have to decide whether I’m willing to risk a panic attack to minimize the amount of class I miss. And I should not have to decide whether to advocate for myself or protect myself from my trauma. As such, I call on all Olin administrators to reconsider their priorities. Prioritize the health of your students over unjust laws and financial risks. Show that you care about me as a fellow Oliner. Show me that you care about me as a person.

Second Chance

“Can I lick the spatula?” Suzy asked, pulling it out of the bowl, holding it close to her face, and pretending to go in for a huge lick.

I raised my eyebrow at her, confirming what we both knew: the sharing principle. It’s never been easy for me to reprimand her—ever since she was little, she’s been so goddamn funny. “Ask your brother—“

“Ask your brother about the sharing principle,” she said, laughing at the words I probably said twice a day. “Josh-u-a! Sharing principle!” she yelled. The phrase had come from a painfully dry PBS kids show Josh had watched before Suzy was born, and when it came down to teaching him to share with his new sister, it had always worked better as a joke.

“Huh?” he said, watching a hockey game with his dad in the living room. “Uh, yeah, I want some.” He always did that, processed a question slightly after he started responding. Pushing his red bangs out of his face, he rolled over the back of the couch, his lanky limbs sliding around freely. He got his legs under him on the other side of the couch and pushed his hair back again. He looked so much like Adam now, with his limbs exploding out of him like we’d always seen coming.

“You know, we could get you a haircut,” I said, but I knew what the answer would be. No, mom, it’s hockey flow season.

“Yeah, or some fresh legs, so you can actually walk around the couch,” said Suzy. 

Josh caught Suzy in his arms so she squealed. “You think I need new legs?” he asked, reaching around her to shove the spatula into his own mouth.

Suzy giggled and grabbed it back, and Josh let her. Their age difference, five years, turned out so well. They were just far enough apart that they didn’t compete for anything, and Suzy had idolized her older brother since she was a baby. Josh was trying, at twelve, to enter his sassy teenage years, but his best efforts hadn’t gotten him very far yet; I thought Suzy was holding him back somehow.

It was exactly what Jess had always wanted. I flashed back, after trying, but not very hard, to resist the memory, to sitting in my tiny single with Jess. I remembered that the floor space was too small for a couch, so we’d just sit on my bed, talking, hanging out. Jess was sometimes there for sex, sometimes there to escape her terrible roommate. She was usually drawing while they talked, her thick black hair pulled back in a messy bun that held her hair off her neck just enough. She drew what she called “dumb romance scenes,” and mythical creatures and, more than anything else, families. Pretty much exactly this was one of my favorite drawings of hers: a young boy ticking a young girl in pigtails while she held something away from him, just out of the frame. I remember that you could almost hear the girl laugh in that image.

Adam and I talked about Josh that night. He was such a sweet kid, and so, so bad at hockey. He wanted to try out for the travel team next week, and we weren’t about to stop him, but we didn’t think he would make it.

We could take him roller skating on Friday,” Adam said, his google calendar open on his phone. Always on damage control, even before there was any damage.

It was a good idea. “Yeah, okay.”

Adam turned away a little and swiped at his phone. “Sounds good,” he said, distracted.

I watched him for a second, watched his eyebrows come together under his gently receding hairline. He breathed hard once, like he was blowing something away.

I reached over and put my hand on his leg. “You okay?”

“No, yeah, it’s just Marcus,” he said, tapping the screen. Adam was a music teacher at the Pewaukee high school a couple blocks away, and Marcus was his accompanist.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing.” Adam didn’t look up from his phone. I knew better than to push, here. Adam was open with me when he needed me, and didn’t like being pushed when he didn’t.

As we fell asleep later, I thought, again, of Jess. Adam pulled his arm loosely around me, his forearm thick and hard from decades of playing the double bass. I thought of her arm around me, smaller than his, but always tighter. Where Adam held me loosely as a kindness to me, she held on hard, making sure I didn’t go anywhere.

“I’m sorry, babe,” Adam muttered into my hair. When he was tired, his Minnesotan accent came out a little, his vowels rounder. “It’s just that I’m worried about a kid in the boys choir. He’s a sophomore and I think he was just broken up with or something. It’s kind of silly.” Adam tapped his fingers against my chest. “Marcus doesn’t think anything’s wrong.”

I kissed his forearm gently. “You’re the best human.” I felt him squeeze me a little. “Is there anything else?” 

Adam’s silence filled the room.

“I love you,” I said. I closed my eyes and pushed down the lump in my chest. There was no reason to feel shitty. But still, I wished he would talk to me, open up like he did when we had just gotten together, tell me why this boy worried him so much.

“I love you, too.”

In the morning, Adam and I woke up together when his alarm went off, an hour earlier than the kids. He pulled a t-shirt and sweatpants on over his boxers and almost jogged to the basement. His hour of bass was his favorite time of day. 

I ambled over to the kitchen nook with my laptop and a notebook, and while it booted Illustrator, I poured myself a cup of cold brew from the pitcher in the fridge. Adam preferred French press, but he was so good at making coffee, so he always made me cold brew over the weekend. I loved working before the sun had risen all the way—this time always felt like free hours to me, checking things off my list before the day even started. Today, I was playing the fun, irregular game of “do I remember how to use Illustrator”? I worked as a kind of engineer-designer-human trying to do community-based work, and I had volunteered to try to make a poster for a community garden in downtown Milwaukee this week, one of those things that wasn’t really part of my job, but that I pretended I could do. This was my morning to figure it out. While dredging Illustrator knowledge from the depths of years-ago tutorial land was tricky, this was the time of day to do it. I started pulling inspiration from other community gardens, exploring the shapes of leaves and letters first on paper and then in Illustrator. Sometimes, on mornings like these, I’d chuckle a little, thinking back on classes like partial differential equations and fluid dynamics, since this is what I called engineering now.

In an hour, like most mornings, Adam came upstairs to shower and wake up Suzy and I cut up some fruit and made toast for breakfast. Josh got himself up, and liked to do homework in the morning (such a weird 12 year old). He and Suzy, incredibly, really didn’t need much help getting ready most days. Adam drove them to school on his way to work in our beast of a Honda CRV, and I settled in to my work.

Around 10am, just as I was starting to fade into hating the poster I was working on, the doorbell rang.

Thinking back, I feel like I should remember getting up. I feel like I should remember wondering who was there or going to the door or opening it, but all I remember is her face.

Jess. Her hair was pulled back in just the same way, a bun holding her wiry black hair off her neck, but now with a couple gray hairs laced in. Her nose, God, I’d forgotten about her nose. It was big, too big at first, and so angular, but it pulled her face together, made her absolutely striking.

And there she was on my doorstep, 20 years after we last saw each other. I felt that flip in my stomach, the one I’d felt every time I’d seen her the last semester of college, after we split up. All I had to say was hi, but I always felt shaky as I walked away. What the fuck was she doing here now?

“Hey, uh, you look great,” she said. She smiled that half smile that showed off that one crooked tooth. It was a smile just for me back in college, one that no one else could see. She pulled her fingers apart from where she’d been fidgeting, starting for a hug, but when I held up my hand, she put them back down.

“What are you doing here—no, come in.” I wasn’t trying to be polite, I was trying to get her out of the street where all my neighbors could see her. Wisconsiners are great, but they’re also the nosiest people in the world, especially with strangers, especially with strangers that looked… like Jess. With her flannel and her Bluntstones, she didn’t look so different than them. But there was something that made her stand out here. Maybe it was the subtle undercut below her bun, maybe the fact that her jeans were black instead of blue, maybe that she looked too hipster, too far towards the fashionable side of Carhartt instead of the working side. Either way, I didn’t need rumors starting. I practically shoved her inside.

What are you doing here? How dare you come here? How did you find me? “How are you?” I asked, gesturing toward the kitchen nook for her to sit down.

“Yeah, good.” She sat down. “I mean, um, not great.” She smiled at the table.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, surprised at how harsh it came out. But there she was, right where Adam usually sat, the cloudy morning light highlighting her nose and jaw. I couldn’t help thinking that that’s right where she should have been sitting all along.

“Do you have something to say?”

“Do you want something to drink? We have cold brew, or I can make some tea.” What the fuck are you doing here? How are you sitting in my kitchen right now? No, I wasn’t going to give her that power, of showing her she got to me.

I stood across the table from her, gripping the heavy wooden chair. I glanced over at my laptop and notebook sitting open on the table, in front of the chair between us. I wanted to close them, or push them away so she wouldn’t be able to see them, but I couldn’t give in.

In college, Jess fell in love with another girl during January term of our senior year. We’d been dating for three years, but that winter, I’d decided to opt out of J-term in favor of taking the month off and going backcountry skiing and winter backpacking in Vancouver with some friends. She had taken a women’s poetry course that month, partly because she needed the credit to graduate in the spring and partly because she was absolutely in love with the poet teaching it, some young lesbian with a mohawk and a gorgeous sleeve of mango tattoos. In the course, she met a junior, a theater major with career goals, or, as she called them, life fulfillment plans, that looked a lot more interesting than mine. Jess was an artist selling prints by then, with a major in English studies; she could create from anywhere, and she’d rather have done it in the middle of a a boho scene than out here in Wisconsin. A week before I returned to campus, and just after I’d come back from a winter backpacking expedition, we Facetimed. I was in the backseat of my car, mooching Wifi from a McDonald’s parking lot. She broke up with me then, saying that she didn’t think we wanted the same things. I’d thought she wanted a family with me, but it turned out she wanted something more exciting.

“Erin, please,” Jess said now, gesturing for me to sit down next to her. She gently pushed my laptop and notebook towards the middle of the table, and I saw that the sides of her fingers were stained with charcoal.

I sat down. It felt like a rubber band was pulling me to her, like if we just touched, or maybe kissed, some great tension would be released. I tried to push away the feeling, to think about Adam, about Suzy and Josh. I looked at the notebook in front of me, and was suddenly aware of how stupid my designs must have looked to her, poorly drawn leaves and flowers growing into words.

“I’m so sorry,” Jess said. She put her hand on mine. I melted involuntarily, feeling my stomach flip back over, and then tensed my shoulder blades, not allowing myself to be comfortable, not after 20 years.

I bit my tongue, trying to distract my brain from her hand. “Why are you here?” I asked as calmly as I could.

“I had to talk to you.”

Obviously. “That’s a ridiculous answer.” When she could have texted or emailed? Or not come at all? It was so entitled—why should I have even let her in? Why did I? And yet, her hand on mine.

“No, yeah, it is. Um, I’ve thought about you every day.”

I held my breath, wanting more, wanting her to lean across the space between us and kiss me, wanting her to take it back. She’d always opened up like this, letting me in so much, all the time. I couldn’t tell her that I had thought of her, too, because then what else would I say? That I thought about her while I fell asleep, instead of my husband with his arm around me? That I missed how she opened up to me, even when I was guarded? That I wish my kids, my beautiful kids, were hers, too?

She picked her hand up off mine. “I mean, I’m sure you haven’t, of course.” She didn’t wait for me to respond. Instead, she pulled over my notebook. “These are very nice, these designs.”

I stood and backed up, toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make tea.”

I was losing it, losing my nerve, giving in to giving her everything.

In the kitchen, I turned the kettle on, giving myself until it boiled to recover. I had a family. I had kids. I was happy. She had no right to come here, out of nowhere. Why was she here right now? What did she think she was going to get?

Grappling With What Olin Is and What Olin Can Be

I’ve been thinking about the honor code. For me, being a tour guide is an invitation to present the positives of who we collectively are, and also a time to contemplate the things I cannot say about us that I wish I could.

I know I’m not the only one who feels that the Olin I envisioned during my time as a candidate doesn’t match with the Olin I know today. That Olin had a version of me that wasn’t afraid to try and fail to rally other students and learn about what it takes to build a movement. That version of Olin featured a version of me that didn’t run away from eigenvalues in QEA 1, a version of me that asked for help on my PIE project before the deadline loomed. When I read the honor code, I saw a principle that I realized encapsulates what I wish to see at Olin and in myself: Passion for the Welfare of the College. To be ‘a steward for the welfare of Olin College through a spirit of cooperation’. To be passionate about letting things be difficult. To throw myself up in the air and do everything I can to land, and then do it again with the goal of landing gracefully. Let’s be the Oliners that reach beyond our courses for an education.

In the twenty years since the 2001-2 partner year, Olin’s culture has hosted happenings that were and are vibrant and bizarre. Today, I have felt in myself and others a fear of losing the ‘culture we have worked so hard to build’. It is well intentioned, but this fear is destructive. The time we spend thinking about culture lost is time we haven’t spent strengthening what we want to cherish and building anew what nobody has ever done for Olin. Not so long ago, other students like us saw this trend. They formalized that reminder in the honor code as Openness to Change. Let’s be the ones that drive what comes next. 

Olin has a tradition of being intensely self-critical. I believe this is a strength. At the same time, it seems we habitually give critical feedback with no intention of addressing it. We could be in danger of becoming unassertive and passive. This is why the honor code implores us: Do Something. Strive to better yourself and your community. Take action towards resolution. Expect others to do the same. As a community of simultaneously intelligent and conscientious people, we need a caveat to self-criticism to keep from tearing ourselves apart. 

I’ve started to forget that my actions have overwhelming power over what defines Olin: a few of us together create a large portion of current students. When I frame my decisions as something I could feel proud to tell about on a tour, I feel motivated to rise to a higher standard. When I realize that just as many people as before are looking in on me as when I was one of the people looking in, I feel just crazy enough to believe I have this in me.

For me, this means doing some of my classmates are doing already. I’m going to host a session at SLAC. I’m going to build new things in the shop and invite others to ride them. I’m going to master timeboxing for my own benefit, and I’m going to continue to commit to better sleep. Do me a favor. Spend six minutes looking at the honor code. Ask yourself if you think the honor code is still useful as a compass to guide you, and us, to be successful. If not, try to think about how it could change to once again become that guide during one of those rare, lucid moments during the day. It may be the catalyst to a much more successful future for all of us.

Drunk Horoscopes

Taurus (Apr. 20 – May 20): Your teammates do not appreciate your team bonding ideas. Maybe try explaining them in the form of a song? Do not count your mangos before they’ve hatched.

Gemini (May 21 – Jun. 20): Who said dispensing every drink from the fountain at once was a bad idea? This is what nirvana feels like. Just don’t spill it. That stuff will never wash out.

Cancer (Jun. 21 – Jul. 22): Write all your ideas down. All of them. Yes, even that one. Especially that one. Why aren’t you writing that one down? We’re tired of you not listening to us. Why haven’t you returned our calls?

Leo (Jul. 23 – Aug. 22): Yes! Take that risk, baby! You’re on fire! No, seriously, you’re on fire. Where was the last time you saw a fire extinguisher? Map out your memory of the passage of time on the back of a napkin. Add the napkin to the flames.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sep. 22): One day you will walk through the exact geometric center of the O, and you won’t even notice. Damn. One of your projects is over-scoped.

Libra (Sep. 23 – Oct. 22): Trains can be so romantic. Have you ever taken a ride on the Amtrak? The green line can be a close substitute, if you don’t care about quality, you cheapskate. You’ve been using too much 3D printer filament.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21): You’ve got issues, but damn, maybe someone needs them a freak like that, bestie. You will be filled with a sudden, intense urge to eat the next bath bomb you see. Follow your heart.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21): It’s time for a break. Maybe take a nice bath to celebrate? Wait, who ate all your bath bombs? Damn, guess you’ll have to keep feeding your workaholicism by starting a new project or creative venture. HAGS!

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19): Give all you can into the world. Unless you just have unsorted resistors. The world doesn’t want your striped denizens of purgatory. Go forth and choose your colors wisely.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18): What are all these ‘feelings’ that everyone talks about so much?? Is it a type of potato chip? Why would anyone call a subflavor a feeling? Maybe potatoes have all the feelings and eating them gives them to us. Wanna test the theory?

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20): You have the heart of a child, but can already hear your knees creaking. You think maybe this is a sign that you’re ready to adult. Will they build on each other or cancel each other out? Who knows???? Your aching back says to go take a shower.

Aries (Mar. 21 – Apr. 19): What’s a four letter word for two things that’s also kinda like an apple? Wait, is it pair or pear? Gah, I hate this game. Pleeaase go fix the English language for me. Thanks, I owe you one!