5 min read

The men’s bathroom is gross, but I still want to use it

I am the transphobes' worst nightmare: a man in the women's bathroom.
A person with short hair wearing an oversized purple hoodie opens the door to an all gender bathroom.

[CW: transphobia, transmisogyny, violence]

There's something that I want to tell all of the transphobes who are terrified of trans women using the women’s bathroom. Sometimes a man does use the women’s bathroom, but it’s not the trans women who you’re trying to paint as 'groomers' and pedophiles. It’s me.

Over a year passed between me stepping into my gender and using the men's bathroom for the first time. Part of that is the timing: I came out as trans in February 2020 so for the first few months I was barely leaving my flat, let alone using public bathrooms. But even as the world opened up and I could venture outside again (mask firmly in place) I was too scared to use the men's toilets.

I'm often still scared to use the men's toilets.

It's important to acknowledge my privilege here. As a trans man, I am at very little risk of being attacked for not using the "right" bathroom. Even if I’m not packing or binding, even if I’m wearing a skirt, I’m unlikely to get more than an odd look if I use the men's toilets. In the same way that it’s far more acceptable in 2022 for a woman to wear trousers than a man to wear a skirt, it's far more acceptable for a woman to use the men's bathroom. It's not that I'm being seen as a guy, it's that people just don't care.

Lots of people have told me this, have reassured me that people don’t care. No one will look at you twice if you're using the men's bathroom. And honestly? They haven’t. But that doesn’t take away the fear.

While queer and trans intergenerational trauma is less often passed from parents to children, research suggests that there is more to this type of trauma than just genetics. (Intergenerational trauma describes the way trauma is transferred onto new generations from previous ones.) I don't know if it's fair to describe my reaction to using the men's bathroom as a transgenerational trauma response (pun intended), but sometimes it feels like one.

The fear I have of using the men's toilets is rooted in all the stories I've heard about trans people being attacked just for using the bathroom they're legally allowed to use. It's a fear that comes from the bathroom bills that prevent trans people from using the toilets that most closely corresponds to their gender. It's a fear based in the ways transphobes have villainised trans people just for simply existing in public.

It's the fear that someone is going to stop me and ask me what the fuck I think I'm doing, because I'm not a "real man" and shouldn't be in there.

Whenever I use the men’s bathroom, I’m prepared with what I’m going to say if I get questioned. I’m ready to defend myself, to talk about the 2010 Equality Act, to ask if they want to see my dick. “I don’t need to use the men’s bathroom to check out men’s dicks,” I’ve rehearsed saying. “I’m a gay man: I get plenty of cock.”

Every time I swallow the fear, remember that no one will care, and step into the gross bathroom.

Because men's bathrooms are gross. It feels like a running joke among trans masc folks that we don't know why we're fighting so hard for the right to use a bathroom with pee on the floor and the toilet seats. But when I was complaining to a friend about how much worse the men's bathroom tends to smell, their response really upset me: "Just use the women's toilets," they suggested. "You don't have to use the men's."

I don't think they understood quite how upsetting I found their suggestion. Using the women's toilets, to me, feels like me misgendering myself. It's me saying to the world 'you're allowed to think of me as a woman because, when it comes to the plumbing, I am one'. Using the women's toilets feels like I'm taking the easy way out, like I'm betraying who I am. It adds to the voice in my head that tells me that the world will never see me as a man.

I am scared to use the men's bathroom, but I hate using the women's.

Sometimes, though, there isn't a choice. While I usually use period underwear, my period can still catch me off guard and force me to pick up a pack of pads when I'm out and about. (I haven't been on testosterone long enough to know whether my periods have stopped; I've gone three months between periods before.) Although the increased trans-inclusivity in discussions about menstruation is good, we have a long way to go until this translates into practical applications of that inclusivity, like bins for period products in men's toilets. So I'd use the women's instead - it made me hate myself, sure, but at least I felt safe to change my pad.

At least, I used to. Since I started writing this newsletter, a trans man in Ohio was attacked for using women’s bathroom - after being instructed to use the women's bathroom. And when the police arrived it was him, not his attackers, who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing official business. He had asked which toilet he should use, and he still got beaten up.

I cried when I heard about Noah Ruiz. I cried because I can't protect my trans femme friends, who are at far greater risk of being assaulted for using the bathroom. Who are at far greater risk of being assaulted for just walking down the street. I cried because it feels like every trans person I know is screaming about how our rights are being taken away and no one seems to care. I was angry and sad and scared and I cried and cried and cried.

I recently bought my first stand-to-pee packer. I can't imagine being brave enough to use it in a public toilet. The gender euphoria of using a urinal would be choked by fear, by the worry that I was drawing a giant target on my own back by pissing with my silicone dick.

Legislation that stop people from using the bathroom that most closely corresponds to their gender is legislation that aims to stop trans people from existing in public. Several states in the US are currently trying to pass such legislation, forcing students to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate. (Research shows that 36% of trans and non-binary students in this situation are likely to report being sexually assaulted.) It's not about protecting "women only spaces", it's about erasing trans people.

I want to use the men's bathroom, even though it's gross. Even though I'm scared. And if the transphobes want to stop that, then they are creating their own worst nightmare: a man in the women's bathroom.