Wednesday, May 18, 2016

About Those Bathrooms

First, let me acknowledge that North Carolina’s HB2 is about much more than who uses which bathroom.  This legislation is hateful and invidious.  It arose because the city of Charlotte enacted a non-discrimination clause on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons. Among other things, it gave LGBTs legal protection and gave them the right to sue for discrimination.  Like Missouri, North Carolina law does not protect LGBT persons or give them legal standing.
I regret that the publicity surrounding the North Carolina legislation has focused on the “bathroom issue.”  But let me talk about that.  On its face, the law bars transgendered persons from using the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable. Let me share my take on this.
But first, a long digression.  (You knew that was coming, didn’t you? if you have followed my writings.)
I’m female.  Always have been and never wanted anything different.  I also have a rather androgynous appearance, probably due to my Dad’s genes.  Thank God, I didn’t seem to inherit many of my mother’s genes, which were characterized by short, overweight women prone to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Instead, I seem to have inherited the genes from my father, which gave me his height, body type, the health and longevity that are a gift to the Fox family, and even my Dad’s gait.  Most of my paternal forebears seem to die healthy and old.  They are a blessing to me.  
Not a blessing are the fact that I inherited my father’s features, body type, and big ears. 
I remember a day when I was about 12 years old walking along Main Street in my little town of 5,000.  I became aware that some old guy was following me.  I slowed down.  He slowed down.   I sped up.  He sped up.  I ducked into one of the shops, where I was known and would be safe.  The dude followed me.  As soon as I got inside, he said, “You’re Ralph’s daughter, aren’t you?”  I stammered assent.  He had not been stalking me.  He had just spotted me as Ralph’s daughter and wanted some sort of conversation … the gist of which I can’t remember after all these years.  But I remember asking him, “How did you know I was Ralph’s daughter?”  He said something like, “Nobody else walks like that.”
So there you have it.  I’m Ralph’s daughter.  I have his carriage and – God help me! – his physiognomy, too.  And I wear jeans or tailored slacks all the time. It’s been several years since I wore a skirt or dress.
As an adult female, bathrooms have often posed a problem for me.  I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me.   I go into the women’s bathroom, of course.  As I walk in, I see women look around in terror, who then leave as quickly as they can. Or I’m washing my hands in the sink. Another woman comes out of a stall, heading toward the sink, and she flees the bathroom. 
I know what they’re thinking.  They think a male has entered their precious public restroom.
And here’s the crazy thing: I feel shamed!  I feel totally embarrassed! My very female presence has caused them fright. I hate that!
It happened again at our last diocesan convention.  I was washing my hands. A woman who knows me slightly popped in, saw me, and reacted in horror, then went out. I'm sure she went to check the sign on the door.  She came in again, saw me again, and reacted in horror.  Both times, I said, "Kxx, it's me. You're in the right restroom." Both times she fled.  On the third time, I turned to face her fully, she recognized me, and it was ok.
But you know what?  It was NOT ok!  I was withering with shame. Shame that she had mistaken me for a male.  Shame that she saw me as "out of place." 
At work, we have a couple of bathrooms that aren’t gender specific. Those are the only ones I use.  Not because I’m transgender. Just because I don’t want to frighten the women.
At the Episcopal Church General Convention, during a break, I needed to find a bathroom, and the line was long at the women’s bathroom.  I went wandering around and came upon a bathroom marked “Transgender.”  Our Church had pasted that label over the Convention Center’s label.  I went in there, knowing it would be okay. As it happened, I was there alone.  But I felt great relief knowing no one would hassle me, no one would look askance, no one would flee, no one would make me feel ashamed because I didn’t conform to their views of “male” and “female.”
Dear transgender friends, I want you to have a restroom in which you can feel safe.  But know there are others of us, who don’t conform to the stereotypes, who will also welcome those bathrooms as safe spaces.