the problem with cisgender bathrooms

in the late 90s, i was driving from kansas city, mo, through nebraska, by myself, to go home to wyoming to visit my family. at the time, i had a buzzed haircut & a wary approach to most anyone new i met. honestly, i was wary of most of the people i’d known before the buzz cut, because, myself, out loud, as an obvious lesbian (who flaunted it with her boyish looks), made a lot of people uncomfortable. those of you who have lived in the margins know there are times (fewer now than before, but for how long?) when you moved quickly through territories with known or unknown threat levels: walmart, suburban grocery stores, anything with boutique in the name, states between california & new york, etc. you very carefully chose when & where (or even if) to use a public bathroom.

it was late summer, & the sky was wide open & edged with the purple of a coming star-filled night. most of my friends thought i was crazy to drive that stretch of the world, primarily because it’s a yawn fest, but it’s what took me home to a loving family. remember, it was the 90s, which meant the world was perhaps a bit of a darker place for me than some women. part of this darker world meant knowing that i needed to stop as few times as possible along my 11-hour way: something i wouldn’t have to worry about if i had long flowing hair & wore fashionable women’s attire (i didn’t & still don’t). i knew that when i did stop, it needed to be fast & efficient: pump the gas. get some snacks & water. stretch my legs. call home collect & tell my parents where on the map i was. & no matter how tired i got, don’t drink too much coffee because you do not want to have to pee in goddamn nebraska if you can help it. (sorry nebraskans, but y’all were scary in the 90s.) however, running out of fuel had far scarier scenarios attached to it so, inevitably, i stopped to get gas at a little place off the interstate. a common, easy thing to do, right? no biggie. just a girl filling up the tank & emptying her bladder.

i remember it like yesterday. the smell in the air. the smell of the great plains, fresh with a hint of sugar beets & hay. crisp like hope when the breeze makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. if you’ve never enjoyed the dusk of nebraska or wyoming at the end of summer, you may be missing out on one of the wonders of the universe. & i felt good in that night air as my punk rock t-shirt & cutoff shorts caught the ruffle of the wind. but as per usual in the world, things go as they go until someone like me goes to the bathroom.

you all know the set up: doorless entries facing each other with a water fountain in between. signs make it clear: cowgirls this way, cowboys that way. as i was walking toward the restroom a trucker & his belly (whatever you picture here, you’re probably right) came into the station & harrumphed his clearly tired body past the candy & chips to where i was, standing at the place where two roads diverged in a yellow fluorescent wood. so i took the road i’ve always traveled by & went the way of the pointing cowgirl, giving her an imperceptible look of solidarity knowing full well she’d never have chosen that outfit to wear for all her sign-ly eternity if it had been up to her — as trucker belly took a right at cowboys. but i wasn’t going to get off that easy. he’d caught a glimpse of me out of the corner of his eye & jumped back like he’d been bit by an electric rattlesnake. he had mistaken me for a boy. i have not heard again the likes of the high-pitched startle that emitted from him all because he thought he was going into the wrong bathroom. so, instead, he turned to follow me into what he assumed was the men’s room. hail mary when he realized that i was never a boy & that he was now in the women’s room — time … literally … slowed … down. this time, when he jumped into the air, arms spread out like there was a sheriff with a warrant waiting in there for him, his high-pitched startle came out in slow-mo & i am not kidding when i tell you i thought he was going to kill me. he was so animated. it was like his brain just quit being able to make sense of the world. & then he got mad. because that, in my experience, is what men do when they can’t compute — not computing makes them embarrassed & being embarrassed makes them feel like they were wronged & being wronged causes them some sort of emotion & that emotion makes them feel weak & that weakness makes them angry — & that anger needs to be taken out on somebody.

i can’t say i’ll ever fully understand it, this reaction to someone who doesn’t fit someone’s idea of woman or man. i can’t imagine, personally, wanting to be any other kind of woman than the woman i am, & i wouldn’t want another woman to be different than the kind of woman she is. because it’s not a cliché when i say our differences are what makes the world so much better, smarter, exciting.

anyway, i didn’t get to use the bathroom at the gas station that day. & the woman working there said, honey let’s get you out of here & she rung me up faster than she’d ever rung anyone up in her life & didn’t charge me for my snacks because i could only grab what was at the counter. all the while she was keeping an eye on angry trucker belly who had begun yelling at me, what are you! what the hell are you! he was so angry he was spitting. his hands were clenched. he was so red i thought he might drop dead. i didn’t run to my car. & i didn’t look back. i knew if i ran, he’d chase, & if i looked back we’d make eye contact & he’d get even more mad, or i’d say fuck off you fat slobbery redneck dickwad piece of shit. i got in my car & pulled back onto the highway. he got in his truck & barreled after me, honking & swerving & flipping me off & making rude gestures (my own private thelma & louise moment!). it was probably just a few seconds that he was behind me before he passed me & left me & my aching bladder in the dust, but it felt like a lifetime. not because i was scared, which i was, but because this is where i stopped being able to compute. as it was happening i was replaying it, looping it over & over — what in the hell are you ! — trying to figure out what in the hell was happening, trying to figure out why he was so mad.

i’m not telling you this to make you feel bad for me (dear gods don’t!), because that guy was an idiot & i am/was strong, & i wouldn’t change any of my experiences because they reinforce my reasons & needs to be overtly who i am. i shaved my head & said without saying a word, i am a motherfucking proud lesbian, in a time & place where most people didn’t. i made that man see me. & maybe somewhere along the way he stopped & took a look at himself.

i’m telling you this simple & ultimately painless story because it is not my only terrible public bathroom experience, as so many of my lgbtq sisters & brothers will tell you: the verbal & physical abuse we have endured just trying to pee is beyond most people’s comprehension.

i am telling you this because i am asking you to fight for my community, especially & most importantly for the trans community. when a government decides to take away protections for children in our public schools simply because they are trans, that is NOT government for, of, & by the people. it is an endorsement by that government to enact hatred upon a community — & people follow their government’s lead.

i am telling you this because i am asking you to stand up to people who use christianity as an excuse to bully others. i am asking you to tell the people in your churches & communities that if they believe that we are all, indeed, made in god’s image then we are as loved as anyone.

i am telling you this because when you take away protections for those in the lgbtq community, specifically protection for lgbtq youth, suicides & suicide attempts rise. i am telling you this because not everyone feels safe telling you.

i am telling you this little story because ignoring little things leads to big things. big things that history won’t forget. because hatred that starts designating who can use which bathroom or drink from which drinking fountain or buy a wedding cake from which shop, will, unless we stand up together & loudly say no, find us all, shamefully, sadly, finally — equal.

— dc lozano