The Heaviest Door

I firmly believe that the weight of any given door is directly proportional to how much you’re dreading what’s on the other side. Perhaps it’s some evolutionary advance, where instincts kick in to tell us “Don’t open that; there’s something awful in there” and our bodies do their darndest to keep us out. Muscles weaken, arms become limp and powerless as overcooked spaghetti as we strain to pull or push against towering slabs of wood or metal. But even if our bodies do know best, we are, after all, humans, and far too arrogant to ever listen.

A person encounters many types of heavy doors throughout the course of their life. Classroom doors, courtroom doors, office doors, hospital doors, funeral home doors, the doors of vaguely creepy distant relatives or angry significant others (when you know you’re in the wrong). In my experience, the heaviest door of all often leads into a public restroom.

I know I’m not the only one who suddenly finds her upper body strength depleted when faced with the emotionless humanoid silhouettes plastered across these entrances. Anybody whose physical presentation doesn’t 100% mesh with the tiny, constraining, impossible-to-breath-within borders of Society’s Acceptable Gender Standards experiences this conundrum on a daily basis. “Should I choose Door Number One and maybe get yelled at?” we ask ourselves. “Should I choose Door Number Two and maybe get beat up? Or should I just start searching Etsy for a cute vintage chamber pot to carry around with me?”

It is, of course, completely ridiculous that one of the most basic needs of all living things should inspire within us such existential questions. I mean, we’ve all read “Everyone Poops.” This shouldn’t be so hard. And it wouldn’t have to be if not for the ceaseless patrols of people who I refer to as Sentinels of the Shitter. These tireless protectors of lavatories, powder rooms, and water closets everywhere have one sworn duty: Keeping gender fucking weirdos like me out at all costs. Until my dying day, I will never understand the deep investment so many people seem to have in whom precisely is pissing in the locked stall next to them.

During a recent business trip to Chicago, I had the misfortunate of encountering one of these self-important crusaders outside of a McCormick Place restroom. I was just ending my third day of covering a particularly exhausting trade show and after hours of sucking up to PR people, begging strangers for interviews, and navigating through a sea of slow-moving middle-aged men, all I wanted to do was make a quick pit stop and catch the shuttle back to my hotel. My trip up until that point had gone smoothly enough. I didn’t get pulled aside for a “random screening” at the airport; even when I inexplicably set off the metal detector, I was jovially groped by a friendly female TSA agent. My seatmate on the plane didn’t stare or even look uncomfortable.  And best of all, I hadn’t been yelled at in a bathroom once.

So perhaps I was feeling a bit too cocky when I strode up to the women’s room, mostly deserted by then except for one member of the janitorial staff standing in the doorway. I’m sorry, did I say standing? I meant blocking the doorway like a goddamn defensive linebacker in the 4th quarter. (Sidebar: I had to look up “offensive linebacker” to make sure I had the right term, as my interests are much more Puppy Bowl than Super Bowl.) I stopped abruptly in my tracks as she narrowed her eyes ever so slightly. Opening my mouth to say “Excuse me,” I was cut off when she pointed at the men’s room behind me and spat out, “Right there. Men’s room.” It was an order, not a suggestion. Her stance and words were so commanding that I half-expected her to suddenly sprout a Gandalf-esque beard and bellow, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I should just hold it until I was back in my safe, gender-neutral hotel room. Finally, I stammered out, “I, uh, I need the women’s room.” For a moment she just stood there, staring at me as if I said I needed a one-way ticket to Mars. Then, without a word, she walked away, her eyes now locked on some space far off in the distance. I rushed myself in and out of the restroom as quickly as physically possible, as I had a sudden overwhelming need to be away from people, all people, and the only way to accomplish that was by getting back to the hotel.

As much as I should be used to incidents like that, whenever they happen they still completely throw me off. Maybe they just don’t happen often enough for the necessary numbness to set in. I still remember the first time I accidentally passed as a man and how shaken I was by it. Years later, I’ve been called “Sir” or “man” or “bro” so many times, had male pronouns forced onto me by so many strangers that I’m now actually more shocked when someone immediately knows that I’m female. Hell, even the cashiers at my Friendly Neighborhood Progressive Queer Café still think my name is “Brendan,” “Brian,” or, in a bizarre new twist, “Mack.”

I suppose that outside of restrooms – and the occasional, equally stressful changing room – I don’t make much of an effort to prove my femaleness. After all, it makes no difference to me what sex the cashier or bus driver or random person walking their dog thinks I am. But when it comes time to take care of business, I am suddenly the girliest girl to ever have girled. I stick my chest out like a rooster and my voice magically shoots up several octaves.

While most women commiserate about those infamously long bathroom lines, I am always relieved to see them, because that time waiting in line allows me to lessen any shock value my presence might otherwise inspire. It’s a chance to very deliberately place myself in a crowd of women  (“I’m definitely not some confused dude wandering into the wrong room, no ma’am!”), make some eye contact (“I see you standing there being a female, just like me, sister!”),  or, if I’m feeling really brave, small talk (“Gotta love these lines, am I right, ladies? Also, yogurt, tampons, chocolate, and household cleaning products!”).

The worst possible bathroom for me is a mostly – but not entirely – empty one. That’s when I’m most often assumed to be an idiot, a pervert, or a predator. That’s when I’m most often righteously informed by visibly frightened women that “THIS IS THE LADIES’ ROOM.” That’s when I feel that awful emotional cocktail of anger, shame, and guilt: Anger at people not minding their own business, shame at being publically humiliated, and guilt for scaring a stranger.

I know many gender outliers of my particular flavor whose solutions to this eternal dilemma are either “use the men’s room” or “become Bladder Ninjas, capable of holding it for lengths of time not previously observed in nature.” If those methods work for them, then more power to ’em, but I can’t see either working for me. If women’s rooms make me nervous, men’s rooms give me full-blown panic attacks. I find the danger in there far greater, not to mention the amount of bodily fluids that missed their marks. As for never using a public bathroom at all, well, let’s just say that I’m probably still carrying some residual emotional scarring from a particularly bad day in First Grade when I attempted to hold it during a test and failed spectacularly.

I suppose I could try to paint my refusal to be bullied out of a public space as some sort of bold political statement, instead of just me being too stubborn to change my restroom routine. I could pretend it’s a middle finger to oppression and bigotry and the heteronormative cissexist powers that be. Maybe it is that, a little bit. Maybe simply existing in front of the whole wide world can be, for all of us, an act of civil disobedience. Maybe revolutions can be born on tile floors and inside graffiti-smeared stalls. Or maybe I’ve just been pushing against this one door for so long that it seems a shame to stop now.


20 thoughts on “The Heaviest Door

  1. Ufda, do I feel ya on this one! Seriously, what’s with the Fort Knox defense on public toilets?! Even if I were in the WRONG bathroom, doesn’t my desperate pee pee dance buy me a free pass once in a while? Been pushing on that heavy door right with you since I was nine and got my first “young man” reprimand by some ancient crone at the VFW bingo night with my Grams. So sorry you had to experience that on your trip–I always feel it more when I’m away from home. Wish there was a way to make it better for all of us. No one should have to be a Bladder Ninja.

  2. It sucks having to pee. The worst was getting “stopped” going into the locker room at the gym after I worked out. Must be the hairy legs. Sometimes we just need to rant about it – the situation is so f-ing annoying.

    • Yeah, the locker room is another iffy place. I haven’t gotten yelled at yet, but probably because my boobs are so obvious so quickly in there. My chest is a mixed blessing/curse.

  3. This was a great piece. It’s too bad there’s no place where you could stand up and read this to a group of people who would really appreciate it….oh, waiiiiit. 🙂

  4. The men’s room is only scary the first few times, in my experience. After that, it’s just smelly.

    I use the bathrooms alternately in my own damn office because we share a building with lots of medical offices and there are always little old ladies in there who act like I’ve given them a heart attack. (Most recently, I got one who started explaining that in her day women didn’t wear pants.) If it wasn’t for the guy in my office who freaked out when he saw me in the men’s room (well, that and the smell), I might use that one exclusively.

    I do the “I’ve got tits!!” walk in locker rooms, too. I’ve hit upon a strategy of whipping my shirt off as soon as possible and keeping it off until I’m ready to leave. In women’s bathrooms I feel like the stakes are lower; at least there are stalls. There’s really no excuse for being a perceived-man in the women’s locker room, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to use the men’s.

    • I give you mad props for braving the men’s room. I don’t think I could do it without needing some sedatives first. Something about being in a closed space with a bunch of dudes who are whipping it out is terrifying to me. Fortunately, everyone is used to me at work, so I can use the office restrooms without stress. I get weird looks if I try to use the ones on floors other than my own, though, so I restrict myself to the 3rd floor.

      The one difference between locker rooms and bathrooms for me is I absolutely do *not* look at anyone in the locker room. Even if they all know I’m female, I then become the pervy dyke trying to sneak a look at Poor Innocent Straight Ladies in their skivvies. Really, there is no winning.

  5. We all have our share of bathroom stories (I wrote a whole post about it). But here’s a funny one to lighten the mood. One time, I used the women’s room at a concert, and when I came out, someone gave me a weird look. Then, another guy came out after me, then another, and another – because they had all followed me in! So in the end they thought it was funny that all of “us” got confused.

    Seriously, I’d start braving the men’s room – sometimes. It’s scary but you get used to the idea that guys look down and not at you. You could just be a dude with huge man boobs. Alas, I do understand the need not to compromise your identity too. But when you get kicked out of one too many women’s rooms… Mrs. Tiny Tanker is way scarier than a bunch of dudes taking a piss.

  6. Major kudos to you for addressing binary bathrooms!
    I havesome concern with those recommending to just use the men’s room. Though I’ve personally not had issues in this area (pretty feminine most days) I thought I would share a little advice from my gender queer/trans* friends…
    Choosing a bathroom comes down to feeling out the situation. While some women feel threatened for their safety by a (perceived) man in “their” restroom, many men see their masculinity threatened by having a woman or not-masculine man in “their” restroom. You really have to feel out the type of people around you, and which situation is less dangerous *for you*.
    Also, just as there is etiquette for the women’s room (chit chat is totally accepted) there’s equal etiquette for the men’s (no eye contact, no dilly-dallying).

    There’s also a website (which I don’t know offhand) that is like a google-maps of gender neutral bathrooms! Politically and empathically speaking, I really do hope binary bathrooms become a thing of yesteryear…
    Good luck, and happy pottying!

  7. Great piece, the need to know who is in the locked stall next to you is a great example of the basic need to feel safe fur both parties indeed.
    I have so much entitlement an its in direct relation to the amount of assumption i am met with around just these sort of encounters. As a beardedlady, fat, disabled, butch i am constantly clarifying gently an not so gently to all unlike you who has not the need to clarify the public’s misread of your presentation which i applaud you fur your choice of energy an need. I on the other hand move with entitlement. I feel invisible as a woman , a butch an a dyke. This is what women look like, not just the girlie cut out on the door. I love telling the women i am confronted with by stating with a grin or not that , “there is no lesbian bathroom”. I have flashed my tits a plenty an love doing so becuz it makes them uncomfortable an hella confused with beard an boobs. I refuse to made to feel in the wrong or step into the “men’s” so women can feel safe while i am put at risk I admit i will use the family pisser sometimes but that is more cuz they are large an so am i. It’s about my comfort an not anyone else’s at these moments. Im 50 an don’t have the ninja bladder nor wish too. I haven’t heard yet that there giving out prizes fur being old, fat bearded an crip so hell ya So damn right i move with entitlement cuz i need to pee an i know where i belong. fukking dyke i am

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