Ask Aunt Fran: The bathroom thang

Welcome back to Ask Aunt Fran — the “ask a transwoman” column that asks the musical question: How much information is too much information?

Before I get to this week’s question, the disclaimer-and-other-important-info stuff:

I’m not a doctor or a therapist, nor am I a professional expert on gender matters. My expertise is firsthand, mostly based on my own experiences with gender transition. And every transperson’s experiences are different and unique, however similar, so take me with as much salt as you’d like (though I prefer a low-sodium diet myself).

This feature is based on questions I’ve been asked throughout this crazy gender ride. If you have any questions, email them to me at franoramaworld@gmail.com (or if you know my personal email, that’s fine, too). All questions will be anonymous, unless you prefer the credit/attention.

So the next question, one I’ve been asked by several people:

“So, which bathroom do you use?”

As I said, how much information is too much information?

*****

For some reason (and not because my favorite band, The Fleshtones, recorded the theme song), I flashed back to “Bachelor Party,” from 1984 — Tom Hanks’ first starring role, alongside Adrian Zmed and the pre-Whitesnake Tawny Kitaen. There was a scene during the bachelor party where the nerdy loser who never gets any scores with a tall, attractive blonde in a white dress. She takes him into the bedroom to partake in the garden of oral delights, after which she excuses herself. The poor schlub figures this is a good time to take a leak, so he gets up and heads down to the loo.

And what does he see? The same tall, attractive blonde in white dress at the urinal. To which he screams, followed by him wailing the immortal lines “She pees standing up! She pees standing up!” followed by a quick, thorough (and I’d imagine quite painful) self-scrubbing of his nether region.

Yeah? She pees standing up. You have a problem with that?

Well, some people do. And some have trouble with the boys’ room/girls’ room thing as well. Case in point: In January, members of a trans girls’ support group were barred from Capone’s, an eatery in Peabody, Mass., ostensibly because their IDs didn’t match their looks. The case engendered strong passions on both sides. An attempt at mediation failed, the group filed complaints, and the case wound down with the restaurant receiving a warning from the city’s licensing board in August.

As someone who has used both genders’ restrooms, I can tell you right off that I’d rather go to an eatery with single-toilet bathrooms than a multi-stall public restroom, no matter which gender; I just like the privacy. I can also tell you that, as someone born biologically male who still prefers females, it gives me no big thrill to walk into a girls’ room to take care of business. There is, and was, no creepy titillation from entering the ladies’ room. It’s more like “Let’s get this over with,” same as in the men’s room, save for fixing my lipstick and my hair.

I also can easily say that most women’s rooms are generally much cleaner than their male counterparts — most. None of this peeing-and-missing-the-bowl stuff.

That said, it still gives me pause occasionally to walk into a women’s room in a strange place. Not fear, like the first time, but a little sense of “This isn’t natural just yet” that I damn well better get over, now that my driver’s license says F.

I first encountered the women’s-room matter at the Million Elephant, the Thai restaurant in Fresno’s Tower District where I first came out publicly on a regular basis in September 2008. The place has two single-bowl bathrooms, one for either gender, and if there was a line late on a weekend night, I would just go to the one that was available. (Hell most of the genetic girls did the same, too.)

But the first time I dealt with it in an unfamiliar place was on Sunday night of Martin Luther King weekend, in January 2009, at Slim’s in San Francisco, the first anniversary weekend of my first girls’ day out.

Some friends and roommates of my old New Haven pal Fast Eddy (who recently moved back to the Elm City after 14 years in SF) were holding a benefit concert, One Night Stand. It was a great concept where about 15 ad hoc bands played four-song sets of various artists (Tammy Wynette to Hendrix to Judas Priest to my favorite of the bunch, the Electric Shite Orchestra). I decided to book a hotel a few blocks away and make a couple days of it, and I was going to go to the show as my better half. I was sort of a casual alt-rock chick, circa ’80s: hoodie, jeans, Chinese slippers.

It took me about 2 1/2 hours to muster up the balls to approach my clueless pal, Eddy, who was DJing in between bands. I talked to him for about three minutes and he still didn’t read me. When I finally dropped it on him (in my best Eddy voice: “You booooob!”), he fell out laughing and told me, “Seriously, Franner, I thought you were a chick. A fat chick. (Fuck you, pal …) A chick I used to know who was skinny and then put on weight.”

And once he knew, our mutual friends came over in dribs and drabs to say hi, and all was great. Our friend Dema, gifted fashion designer (her shop’s on Valencia between 21st and 22nd in the Mission) and the coolest chick in any room she walks into, asked me flat out whether I was transitioning and having the surgery. We had a nice talk. (Told you she was cool …) She then did something for which I’ll always be thankful to her: She not only brought me over to meet and hang out with her girlfriends, but she offered to be my wingwoman when I needed to use the bathroom.

Which I eventually ended up doing. And none of the other girls batted an eyelash — and I got a feeling it wasn’t merely because this was San Francisco, either. (And as an added bonus, I learned the deep mystery of why girls go to the bathroom in pairs or more: To talk. That’s it, guys — what you were always dying to know …)

For the most part, it’s gotten easier with time (and with my ability to pass). The only time I drew a breath was the one time last year I was headed to San Francisco and had to stop at an In-N-Out in Tracy, which is still decidedly Valley. I had never used the women’s room in a fast-food joint before, in a place that I didn’t perceive as hostile, but I didn’t want to chance it. But I needed to. I really needed to pee. I went in a side door, there was no line, and despite the midday stream of people, no one else came in or out of the In-N-Out women’s room while I was there. And I was in and out.

And around that time, I started becoming comfortable with the women’s rooms in familiar places in Fresno as well, especially as more people found out about the new girl in school and were supportive. I have no problems walking into the ladies’ rooms at Landmark or Livingstone’s or the Million or the Iron Bird Cafe, for example.

And in one last push at the TMI window here, the one concession I make — that any girl with boys’ plumbing must make — is that if I’m using a multi-stall women’s room, I sit. And make sure to pull some toilet paper when I’m done peeing. The whole idea is to not cause suspicion, and “She pees standing up!” won’t sound nearly as funny in real life as it did in “Bachelor Party.” Just like anything else in Transland, if you’re in a strange place, it might not only be unfunny, but unhealthy. Like dangerous unhealthy in the wrong time and place.

So the short of this long-winded answer is: If I’m representing as she (which is almost all the time now), I’m using the ladies’ room. If I’m in boy drag (say, just having rolled out of bed or in the midst of a bike ride), I’ll use the boys’ room. Simple as that.

Of course, if I told you that up top, it wouldn’t make for much of a column, would it?

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2 Responses to “Ask Aunt Fran: The bathroom thang”

  1. Meg Says:

    I think this is particularly useful to helping others identify privilege that is typically taken for granted. How many times do I use a public restroom in a given week? And I *never* have to think twice about it.

  2. Diana Mercer Says:

    Smart move with pulling the TP at the end. You want others to be comfortable (in your enlightened self interest) and as someone who might be in the bathroom with you if everything seems to be “business as usual” I’d be a lot less concerned that someone was up to something.

    Let’s face it: there are unspoken bathroom rules! Men’s room or women’s room. No staring at others’ private parts while at the urinals, no trying to open a door when you see feet under it. There are positive rules, too, like asking the next stall for toilet paper (and next stall accomodating you) when you realize you’ve picked a stall without any and it’s too late to call an audible.

    So I see this as just part of the unspoken bathroom etiquette.

    Good thinking.

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