Butch Bathroom Disasters
By Paige Braddock
Lately, public restrooms have become a traumatic experience for me. Before every foray into a public restroom now I have a short internal discussion with myself. I have to brace myself for verbal rebuffs, hostility, friction and suspicious glares from other bathroom patrons. So the internal discussion becomes… hmm, how bad do I really have to go?
I did this comic strip series a few months ago after a random encounter with an elderly lady (actually I made her look older than she actually was) and now, life seems to be imitating art more often than not.
For example, recently, my wife and I attended a movie and afterward I stopped off at the restroom. Not one, but two women gave me grief for being in the women’s restroom within a span of three minutes.
I do my best to smile, make eye contact and if possible say hello so that anyone else in the restroom can be put at ease, but it doesn’t always work. If my wife, Evelyn, is with me then she usually “spots” me, by going in first and making a big show of her femme self so that no one gives me a hard time. But she can’t always be with me in these circumstances.
Another recent unfriendly restroom encounter happened in Nevada City, California. We were driving back from a wedding in Tahoe and stopped at a restaurant for lunch. Now, mind you, we’re only about 2 hours from San Francisco, a city known to have a few gay people. Anyway, I went into the restaurant and followed a middle-aged woman into the restroom. Her husband followed me in and said something like “hey, there’s a guy in here!” to his wife. She and I were already tucked away in our separate stalls doing what women usually do in restrooms and I yelled back, “Dude, you are the only guy in here!”
His wife was extremely apologetic as we washed our hands. She explained that lately, “he’s just been very angry.” I’m not sure at whom… maybe everyone.
There’s one other thing that bothers me aside from the obvious emotional stress. That women clearly don’t think I’m smart enough to figure out which bathroom I’m in all by myself. One time, recently, I was returning from an international flight to San Francisco. I stopped off at the restroom in the international baggage claim area, which has about 50 stalls and there was only one other woman in the bathroom. She proceeds to freak out on me and lecture me about being in the wrong restroom. Well, it could’ve been the jet lag or bad airplane food, but whatever the case, I flipped out on her. I was like “Listen lady… I just managed to get myself from Asia to San Francisco… I think I can figure out which bathroom I’m in!”
Then there was the time in Japan a couple of years ago when a very tiny, elderly Asian woman ran screaming from the bathroom I was in with flailing arms. Yeah, subtle. Luckily I made it out of there before security arrived.
If I’m having this much trouble I can only imagine what trans folks are dealing with!
After several encounters in a row, I decided to call my pal, Kyle, in Brooklyn to get the low down on what men’s rooms are like… I asked questions like; do they only have urinals? Are there stalls? Is anyone going bother me if I just use that restroom? Kyle basically said that guys look at the floor, do what they came in to do and then leave. Apparently they assume anyone who’s also in the same restroom is literate enough to read the sign properly. Although, he did warn me about the untidiness of men’s rooms.
The week after I spoke to Kyle about my “issue” we went to another movie. It was deadsville on a Wednesday night. No one in the lobby but me. I decide to use the restroom before seeing the movie. I’m walking across the empty lobby and as I’m heading toward the restrooms I’m thinking to myself, should I test my theory and use the men’s room? And then I think nah… no one’s around, plus, I’m wearing a long dress coat and salmon colored pants… no way I can pass as a guy. But wait! As I’m 20 feet from the door a middle-aged woman sounds the alarm from across the lobby as she’s approaching the restroom also. “That’s the women’s room!” she yells. Not once, not twice but three times!! Each time gaining a little more volume. My hand is on the door by the third time she says it, so I turn and say, “Well, I thought about going in the men’s room, but then I decided against it.” She immediately apologized and then tried to cover her tracks by admitting that she had once gone in the men’s room by accident. To which I responded, “hmm… That’s never happened to me… I can usually decipher the signage.”
So I dream of the day when a new age dawns, the age of unisex restrooms. They have them in Stockholm and society seems to have survived.
Until then fellas, if you see me in the men’s room, you’ll know why.
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