For most of us, using a public restroom is something to which we give little thought, except perhaps for a fleeting concern about cleanliness. But Nico Lang of Rolling Stone says that a survey found that “nearly 70 percent of trans people had experienced negative interactions in public facilities — from dirty looks to snide comments to physical violence.”
Lang interviewed selected members of the transgender community about what it is like to use a public restroom and it is often an experience fraught with anxiety.
Here’s one story.
“Early in my transition, it was hard because I didn’t blend in well as a female, but I really didn’t look like a male either. So I didn’t get to use any bathrooms. When I did, I had to sprint into it and wait in a stall until everyone was gone, and then run out as fast as I could.
“You stand outside the bathroom for maybe a minute or two to make sure no one is coming out or no one is coming in. Then you go inside and if you hear someone, you just look down and hope they don’t look at your face…. You run into the stall and you lock the door as fast as you can, and then you do what you have to do. If you hear someone walk in, or you hear someone else in there, you have to wait until they leave. Once you hear that they are gone, you can run out. Washing your hands is a difficult situation because it takes time, so hopefully you brought disinfectant.”
Here’s another one.
“The worst part was the dirty looks and people doing double takes at me coming in there. I’ve had the ‘What are you doing in here?’ question. Honestly, the only thing that saves me is that I’ve had enough voice training that they’re like, ‘Oh, never mind.’ But seriously, my voice training saved me.
“[These situations] happened to me early in my transition. After I grew my hair out and after I’d been transitioning a while, [they haven’t] happened since. A lot of times I think there’s a perverse irony in that the only people [the North Carolina bill] is going to be targeting are the transgender people who are already the most vulnerable, the ones who are early in their transition, or transition later, or the ones who don’t look a particular way. It’s dangerous and it’s sad that we’re targeting people based on how they look.”
You can read the other stories by following the link.
It is good to read these experiences because it enables those of us who are not transgender to get a glimpse of how difficult the mundane things of life can be for those who are. But we must not fool ourselves about how far our ability to relate extends. While we may be able to understand better, we cannot really feel what they are going through. The bromide of “I feel your pain” that people sometimes say when trying to empathize is, even when well-intentioned, essentially false. We can never really feel another’s pain.
I think that difference is best captured by this clip from that great old TV comedy show Barney Miller that I’ve shown before. The bigotry being dealt with in that case is race but it applies to any other differences.