When Societal Conditioning Outweighs Gender Identity

CW: Discussion of harassment and assault.

Growing up I was always told to make sure I didn’t accidentally go into the men’s room, even though at a few points early on in life my dad had had to take me into the men’s room to use the bathroom because my mom wasn’t around and I still needed help using the bathroom (those toilets are tall when you’re a young kid!). I heard stories about how dirty they were, how men just pissed everywhere and didn’t care because someone else would deal with it, how guys were just these disgusting filthy people who always looked for a reason to pick a fight to prove their masculinity.

I am thankful that my parents didn’t push these views on me, but that didn’t stop society from pushing it on me through TV, movies, books, and those I interacted with. Men’s bathrooms were dangerous and evil places, and by the time I was in my teens, I couldn’t even enter a “men’s room” without a sense of anxiety and fear.

Keep in mind that I also didn’t feel comfortable with being in the women’s bathrooms due to my gender issues, so using the bathroom in public places was a source of distress and fear for me.

Fast forward to two years ago, when I had just started HRT and begun my transition. I had decades worth of conditioning that the men’s bathroom was a dangerous place, and sadly the men in the bathroom I used…proved my fear correct.

I really had to go to the bathroom, and my dysphoria was so high that even the thought of using the women’s room was enough to push me to use the bathroom matching my gender…even though I looked like a cis woman. So I went into the men’s bathroom and right away things went south.

I got cat called, one of the guys made a derogatory comment to me, and when I made my way into one of the two stalls in the bathroom I didn’t even have a chance to pull down my pants before someone started pounding on the stall door and making rude comments about my genitals and asking if I was one of those “sissies” (he assumed I was a man who was sissified) or a “tranny” that got kicked out of the women’s room.

I couldn’t use the bathroom because he began getting ruder when I didn’t respond, and threatened to open the stall door to “beat my ass” if I didn’t answer him. Worse yet was he was trying to peer over and under the stall door! I threatened to call the police if he didn’t back off, and that just got laughter from the other guys in there and sadly made the situation worse.

So instead I called my husband.

I had to be fucking rescued by my husband from these men because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the men’s bathroom undamaged.

That wasn’t my only bad experience though with using the men’s bathroom. It did get a little better as I began to look more like a cis man, but the fear never left that I would be “discovered” for not having a penis. The fear from all those years of conditioning and being told of how dangerous the men’s bathroom could be had been confirmed during that trip, and the harassment from subsequent trips have only made it that much harder to use the men’s bathroom. I can’t use the women’s bathroom because well…I’m not a woman; but I can’t use the men’s bathroom because I become so uneasy and scared that I am literally unable to do anything but sit there and shake.

I’ve been accused of being a trans women when I use the women’s room, and harassed by cis women…and I’ve been full on threatened with violence by cis men when trying to use the men’s room.

When the only available bathroom for me to use where I won’t be in danger is a bathroom that has been taken from families or from people with disabilities, I am left with the choice of taking a space from someone else (most “gender neutral” bathrooms are repurposed single use bathrooms for people with disabilities or are family bathrooms) or risking just going right there on the floor.

I want my cis readers to think about that for just a moment. You can’t use the bathroom of your gender because you risk being attacked, you can’t use the bathroom of your assigned sex at birth because you risk harassment (and possibly being attacked), and if there even is a gender neutral bathroom, you’re fighting people for a space that has been in many ways taken from them.

How would you feel?

We hear stories about trans women being harassed, and their harassment is something we need to keep speaking out against. We also need to keep in mind the very real fears and conditioned beliefs of trans men when we tell people that the moment they come out they have to start using the bathroom of their gender. We need to step up to ensure that gender neutral bathrooms aren’t just a bathroom taken from another group. We need to speak up about the toxic behaviors that have caused so many people to tell cis women, trans men, and AFAB non-binary people that using the men’s room is so unsafe they’d just be better off using the “wrong” bathroom.

There are very real problems that need to be addressed. But the question is: who is going to step up with us trans folk when we speak out against these problems? Who is going to step up to call out and work towards fixing the issues that have created the level of social conditioning in AFAB peoples that put trans and non-binary people staring at the two bathrooms and questioning if it’s “worth” it to even try.

Let’s stop with the “boogey men” narrative that people use to demonize trans women and instead deal with the actual problems that are leaving trans people (especially AFAB trans and non-binary people) stuck between two impossible choices.