I was at a day long “anti-bullying” conference in a decent sized auditorium. These events have several intermissions to refill one’s coffee and to let go of some of the same, earlier ingested. I was in an aisle seat and was able to get up and out to the bathroom quite expeditiously. Although there were no free stalls, there was also no line. I waited. Here’s where I admit my own mistake. I had made a wildly erroneously assumption, this being an alleged anti-bullying gathering, that there would be some allies, some open-minded attendees, a morsel of 20th if not yet 21st century awareness of diversity, some indication or suggestion or acknowledgment of people other than heterosexual, Caucasian, Judeo-Christian cisgenders.
The door opened and through it along with the sounds of the crowd mingling in the foyer came six, maybe seven people. I looked at them. They looked at me, then each other, and the last one literally walked backwards several paces, re-opened the bathroom door and melodramatically craned their neck out and around to see which of the binary symbols was on the outside of the door. This passive-aggressive act was intended to convey that one of us had somehow entered the “wrong” restroom.
I am 49 years old. I honestly cannot even count the times during the past 46 years that I have been intentionally intimidated and demeaned in this manner, in this setting. The problem is Western culture, with its extraordinary adamance that everything needs to be forced into binary models. General population thus far refuses to accept all empirical data to the contrary. Other cultures have a much healthier understanding of a spectrum on which we can all live. What does this mean? Well, academically, we’re talking about “intersectionality.” In the real world, we’re talking about transphobia: bullying, abuse, violence, hate, fear and harm done to those who are “gender-non-conforming.” This dangerous mindset leads to those whom society can’t conveniently identify as being either female or male (which is because some folk are neither) being extinguished. This is fact. It happens in circumstances just exactly like the one I am describing to you. People seem to experience great terror when someone they won’t identify properly needs to use a restroom. And because of this refusal to educate themselves, other people suffer. We conceive of this behavior and the jealous protecting of the sacred space of toilets as “litterbox guarding.”
On with the account. I was in a position where there were I, and about 8 other people in the limited confines of the public restroom. I felt uncomfortable, a little anxious, wondering which response—if any—to offer. Under these conditions, I am the object of attention. That makes The Others an audience. I am also a professional, I do not know who these people are, but it is possible that they are people with whom we network. So I need to be careful. And safe. Due to those considerations, I did not offer any response. I went into the vacant stall. Then I came out. Usually I engage in a short internal dialogue about whether or not it is safe to stay and wash my hands, or whether to get out of there asap. I stay. I wash my hands,. I keep an eye in the mirror on what the other occupants are doing and where they are standing. I have been cornered before. Lots of times. Patronized, taunted, poked, in other words people like to bully me. So I do pay attention. I have to. This experience is not one that I enjoy. It is not one that anyone ought to be describing. But since the opportunity was presented and I accepted, please, if you see a person that doesn’t meet your expectations, can you please make a mental note of that, and try and appreciate that variety is supposed to be the spice of life, not the kiss of death.
Image credit: Sustainable sanitation/Flickr