Friday, March 9, 2012

developing resiliency: the story of and the fallout from my first gender-associated bathroom incident

Originally posted at charismatics are dangerous

last thursday night, i was at a local establishment [in upstate new york] for “queer night”, which btw, is a usually a really awesome and fun thing. i was enjoying a few beers and chatting with some friends and generally having a good time, until i decided to use the restroom.

this particular establishment has two restrooms (“ladies” and “gentlemen”), but they’re both single-stalled, so there’s really absolutely no reason to gender them. [avoiding digression...] so here’s the thought process that went through my head:

“neither of those words describes me, but i need to pee. the line is longer for the ladies room. but i can’t bring myself to use a mens room right now. and the lock is busted on the mens room door… and these are single stalled, so surely i won’t upset anyone. and it’s queer night, so i would think probably >95% of ppl here are either queer themselves or allies…so hopefully everyone’s cool with gender-non-conformity…” [apparently somewhere in there, my logic failed...]

so i went and stood quietly in the line for the ladies room. instantly, i got looks. from the other people in line for the ladies room.

while i was waiting, women cut me in line twice, and both times, i very nicely, very quietly informed them that i was waiting in line. the looks that popped on to these ladies’ faces were pretty priceless. as much as i can interpret the body language of someone else, these expressions said to me: “wtf? why is this *guy* in this line”. i don’t necessarily fault anyone for having that response [i don't necessarily look anything but "male" to most people], but it still sucks hard to be on the receiving end of it.

i weathered the storm and waited the 10 minutes until it was my turn. during at least 4 of those minutes, there was no one in the guys room.

finally, it was my turn: the bathroom door opened and i went in, locked it, and breathed a gargantuan sigh of relief. i had made it.

until the pounding on the door started.

think ‘POLICE! OPEN UP!’-style pounding. although it was accompanied with the statements ‘WHO’S IN THERE?’ and ‘WHY ARE YOU IN THERE?’ and ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THERE?’ and so on. fits and spurts of pounding and yelling for the 3 minutes i was in there. almost to the point that i couldn’t actually pee. shiiiiiiiit.

and as soon as i opened the door to leave, the two women who had been in line behind me were standing right in front the door. they quickly stepped back. and from me, they got a ‘what the fuck? that is not cool at all. i was trying to use the friggen restroom in peace!’ there was a quick attempt from them to deflect it on to someone else, but in a way that made them seem redhanded. so i explained to them my situation ["there are words on those doors, and some people don't associate well with either, and so we have to choose something in order to pee."] and how very rude harassing someone through the door like that is. and then i left the space.

as a side note: i don’t know who did it. that’s why it’s so insidious, harassing someone through a door. i assumed it was those two ladies. that was an assumption, but not a baseless one.

i was not at all feeling comfortable or safe or happy about my body and myself. being rejected in a space full of marginalized folks is perhaps the most dejecting thing i have ever felt. i wouldn’t expect a grab bag of society to understand me very well right now. but the queers? how could they not? there is only one word i can think of to describe what i felt at that time: shame.

generally speaking, i am fucked right now. and for the immediate future. and, if i am right in my thoughts on my gender, for basically the rest of my life. i am a (pink) triangle peg that doesn’t fit neatly into either the circle or the square hole. but the world is full of two-hole options [gross], and i don’t have the energy to change every fucking social institution that asks people if they are male or female. as a few friends of me recently pointed out, it’s a lot already for me to work on just getting the people in my life to understand me. ‘railing on the system’ doesn’t necessarily help the situation, and definitely drains energy. and internalizing other peoples’ issues with me is very destructive, so i can’t just deal with it by myself.

so i’ve got to let it go. but i have this energy about it. and what i FINALLY realized, come friday morning, is that i could use that energy, which had derived from such a negative situation, for positive momentum.

it might sound trite or trivial to a lot of people, but the clothing i have worn to work [grad student...teaching!] since then has been a huge, albeit subtle, step forward for me. on friday, i had visually obvious crossing shoulder straps under an untucked dress shirt. today [wednesday], i rocked the tanktop/cami combo and some newly painted finger nails. things that i otherwise wouldn’t have done, because i would have been to ashamed/embarrassed. but i had this energy, and i used it get over that feeling.

as trite as that may seem to many people, it was a big step for me. really in ways that i can’t explain in words. but i think anybody who’s ever tried to change some behavioral part of themselves [so everybody] knows what i’m talking about. for example, i used to be a klepto when i was a kid. i even got caught stealing when i was like 12. and it made me want to change my behavior, so i did. and for like 6 years, the fact that i could walk in and out of a store without pocketing something was so huge to me. but to other people, i was just acting normally.

unfortunately, i feel like a lot of basic, important things in my life have that shame energy behind them. and it’s hard enough to overcome that by myself without also having to deal with rude people.

but now, now i know how to make those rude people work for me. because now i can draw positive energies from negative situations. i am becoming resilient.

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