My company moved offices about a month ago. At the old office, we had an open space, which was getting very crowded. Then we got acquired by a huge corporation, and our lease ran out. Off to cozy up to the corporate headquarters, where I get my very own cube and officially join the ranks of the corporate drones.
At the old office, I was blessed with two single stall bathrooms, which were designated gender neutral (they were obviously not designed as gender neutral, since one had a urinal, and the other had the ‘feminine hygene products’ disposal, but luckily they had been stripped of their signs). So when I had to pee, I just got up and went.
As we got word of the impending move, more than cubes and desks and Aeron chairs I had one thing on my mind: bathrooms. I nervously waited to find out what the situation would be like at the new office, and when I finally got a peek of the floor plans, my fears were confirmed: only two gendered bathrooms on the floor.
The gears in my mind began to turn as I struggled to come up with a plan. I could email HR – which in this new conglomerate means “logging a ticket” to empty space – and ask about the availability of a gender neutral bathroom in proximity of my office. So I waited, letting the anxiety build up while at the same time trying to brush it off as no big deal. Then I got the reply: there were no gender neutral bathrooms in the entire building, except one in the Lobby next to the security desk. “Well that’s that” I thought, as I tried to rationalize the inconvenience.
Days before, I carefully laid out the plans I had made in anticipation of the move. I would ask for access to this bathroom in a far away place anyway, because at least I’d have a fallback. Unfortunately, the virtual HR person informed me that this bathroom in the lobby was no longer available (there were new shops in the lobby) and there was one available on the 41st floor (for which I have to go down to the lobby and take a different elevator up) but the security manager wanted an “end date” to when I wouldn’t require access to this bathroom. Sounds complicated? Now I had no fallback. But at least I still had the rest of my plans, which I had calmly thought out and worked through. I was prepared. I was ready.
Then the day of the big move came. It was a Friday, and I stepped into the new beehive, found my spot on the honeycomb, and thought I was going to die. Actually I think a part of me did die. But we’re not here to expound upon the soul-crushing effect the cubes had on me. It was more than that. I had to pee (as I always do, almost every hour) and my stomach plummeted as my heart fluttered.
“Just use the men’s room as planned, no big deal. Besides, it’s closer, so you have a good excuse.” My inner dialogue is so nonchalant. Why is it so important for me to use the men’s room? Because, why should I be forced to use the women’s? I have a right to choose, and I choose to be contraire. Oh, and not compromise my identity for fear of making others uncomfortable.
Yet little did I realize how uncomfortable I would be. Not to mention that these are horrible bathrooms in the first place – there are only two stalls in a floor of maybe 80 (most of which are men), the space between the stalls is like 5 inches wide so you can literally see through them, they are always full, and they smell terrible. All the guys I’ve talked to find them awkward and unnerving as well, so it’s not just me, in that sense. But it was just me totally freaking out on that first day on Friday, most likely undergoing an hours-long panic attack.
Well, this was certainly unexpected. I mean, I had notions of there being a potential issue, some awkwardness, some conscious thinking about bathrooms on my part, at least at first. But I was not expecting it to be an issue. But it was. It became an issue. Without my consent, without my anticipation, and without my understanding. I was confronted with a very visceral, emotional, uncontrollable reaction to something I had thought was already accounted for with logic and rationality.
At this point I can explain why or what triggered this particular reaction, and how come bathrooms are actually still an issue for me. But that’s not the point. The point is, it’s an issue for me, and that’s that. It deserves respect, and time, and acknowledgement.
It has since been a whole month, and I still struggle with the bathrooms, though not as much. Sometimes I use the men’s room on my floor, though I avoid it. The second week I had discovered that the 14th floor was empty, but this gloriousness was short-lived. Most of the time I go down a floor (though inconveniently there are no stairs), because it’s simply cleaner and it’s less likely to be crowded, and there’s less of an awkward run-in with a male coworker (of which almost all of them are). Sometimes I use the women’s room, because I just really have to go, and it’s clean, usually empty, and want to avoid the hassle of taking the elevator. Other times I go as far down as the cafeteria bathrooms, because I don’t want to be bothered with being anxious and worried, though clearly this move has already been prompted by relative anxiety and worry. Yet every single time, I pause. And think. And make a conscious choice.
Sometimes we can’t really find a solution, we just learn to deal with it. So while my conscience slowly rots under the fluorescent lighting, my bladder suffers more.
38 thoughts on “The Bathroom Issue”
My son struggles with this every time we are out in public and i’ve made a point to find unisex bathrooms in every part of our town so no matter where we are, he can find a place to “go” and feel at ease. I am so sorry you have to deal with this day after day at work. It’s discriminatory, in my opinion. Just like there have to be x number of accessible parking spots depending on the size of the lot, there should have to be x number of unisex bathrooms depending on the size of the building and/or the building’s capacity. My husband assures my son that biological males are oblivious in the bathroom (and in general) and will not notice you at all if you just go in, do your thing, and exit. Not sure if that helps, but he shares this with my son repeatedly in the hopes of putting my son’s mind at ease, and while travelling my son has used the men’s room a few times without too much stress. I hope that somehow the situation gets better for you (and your bladder!) soon.
I have slowly made a transition to use men’s restrooms in public, and it’s been fine so far. Sometimes when it’s dirty or full I will literally go out of one bathroom and go into the other.
The issue here is twofold. For one, it’s not a random public restroom – it’s the one I use every day, with my coworkers, not strangers. I imagine your son will go through something similar at school, which will probably be much worse than my case. Furthermore, these particular bathrooms are awful – all the guys complain about them, not just me. (I actually just had a conversation with yet another guy who finds them pretty terrible.)
The second problem is what you bring up. My final response to HR explains this clearly:
I think you are making a reasonable request. It seems to me that there should be at least one bathroom for people who want privacy for whatever reason. As you say, there are all kinds of reasons for wanting privacy.
Meanwhile, do you think you could also make a complaint about the men’s room on your floor? Seems pretty awful for a big corporation to have an office with a disgusting bathroom.
Actually a coworker just showed me a secret bathroom a little ways off that is way bigger and much cleaner. I sense this will much improve my situation.
But in principal the lack of accessibility its still disappointing.
choosing a bathroom is pretty hard for me, but at least my workplace and school have non-gendered bathrooms. actually, my school specifically states that the non-gendered bathrooms are available to “people of non-binary gender”, pwd, families, etc. (they know i exist!)
your request is totally reasonable. everyone has to use the bathroom and everyone should be able to do it in comfort. it should be mandatory to provide non-gendered bathrooms– i hope that “secret bathroom” works out for you. …which sorta reminds me of my “secret bathroom” in elementary school; outside in the bushes (i didn’t think i was really allowed in the gendered bathrooms). yeah.
I’d tend to agree with you, I can’t really imagine having that level of trouble with the restrooms where I live. But that is partly why I don’t travel often, and why the idea of being any place other than the state I live in is horrifying to me. I am glad my state has it, but I feel like a prisoner in this state because of the fact that if I move anywhere I “want to” I face that very issue. I feel like I am stuck here by the lack of accommodation other places. Furthermore, the anti-GLBT groups are working harder than ever to block passage of laws for everything from restrooms for trans people, to civil unions for gays, even in Colorado.
It’s hard to not feel the struggle being waged on all sides, and I think all people have the entitlement to equal protection of the law, laws I sacrificed 10 years of my life, many relationships, and my health to up hold from foreign interests. It just makes me sad that it seems like so many don’t honor this and violate the principles of our constitution to make laws against us. It’s the governing of individual freedoms for the sake of fear and bigotry plan and simple. Here’s to seeing that it does get better.
This is an interesting case where it’s a mix of legal/political issues, and simple awareness and visibility. Legally, buildings are required to be accessible – ie, to people in wheelchairs. But I bet many establishments would gladly provide access to gender neutral bathrooms, if they only knew this was an issue! For most people, it just doesn’t cross their mind at all. This used to be the case for people with disabilities, until they raised visibility and fought for their rights. We need to do the same, little by little.
Agreed. We are getting more visibility, but it’s just that there is still more to do.
“At this point I can explain why or what triggered this particular reaction, and how come bathrooms are actually still an issue for me. But that’s not the point. The point is, it’s an issue for me, and that’s that. It deserves respect, and time, and acknowledgement.”
Yes. This issue deserves the space to be worked out in your head, to your level of comfort and understanding. But in practical terms, that sucks. Really. We have angle stall bathrooms that are gendered at my work place and I use the mens and women’s rooms interchangeably. I live in a lgbt popular area (more l than anything, with a little t thrown in) and I have brought it to the attention of some of my co-workers that the bathroom situation is a bit antiquated. Now that I am out as trans to my supervisors, I think I will press this issue a bit more once I come back from surgery.
Sorry Buddy. I hope this gets better for you.
I am so angry that you have to deal with this at all. RRRGH. Please keep us updated and know that I’m thinking of you and feeling really mad for you. What line of work are you in? Fluorescent lighting is bad for the heart. Love, BW
Thanks for the commiseration – your rage soothes mine. The “not-so-secret” bathroom that my friend showed me has alleviated a lot of the anxiety because it’s big, clean, and far enough away that none of my coworkers know about it. It’s still gendered, but I don’t have as much of a problem with that. It’s in an adjacent building which connects to ours on the exact floor I’m on – the only drawback is I have to open 7 doors to get there, and then 7 doors back. Hey, at least I get a mini-workout on my bathroom breaks!
Also, I foresee plenty of fluorescent lighting in my future. I’m a web designer/developer, therefore I spend all my waking hours starting at a screen. Luckily right now I am starting at a screen… outside! With the sun!
Sadly this is all painfully familiar to me, down to usually going well out of my way onto a different floor to try to find the least busy toilets when no gender neutral options are available in the building. I didn’t find a way around any of this, I just eventually started working from home. I hope you find an easier solution than mine!
What’s extremely sad is that after all these years we still don’t have a “solution” – though I was half-expecting you to conjure up one, seeing as you’ve been at it for so long. But there is none, really . All we can hope for is learning to deal with it, at best.
So I finally told my manager about the Bathroom Issue (among other things). We’ll see what happens – whether it gets stuck in the corporate molasses or a solution will actually come to fruition….
i really hope it works out! …the “corporate molasses” is pretty sticky, though.
NOOOOoooooo… caaaaan’t mooooooove… (aaaaaaaaarrrrgh…)
You always make me laugh, maybe you should be an actor or do improv!
Washrooms are the worst. There’s a neutral one in my school but it for teachers mainly. I used to use it tons more, until one day I was waiting for it and some teacher yelled at me about how students shouldn’t use the staff washroom. His office is right outside it and guh… its so uncomfortable to go now. I’m afraid to wait outside if it’s in use.
Oh no, this is terrible to hear!
Have you tried approaching this teacher, or another teacher (one who could be your ally) or the principal about this? Remember, gender-neutral and/or single stall bathroom access isn’t just a trans* matter, it’s a privacy and diversity issue, accommodating different people’s needs.
Check out some of the organizations listed on the Resources page – some of them work with schools and have useful documents to help you navigate this with your administration.
In particular I linked to a very useful and thorough resource created by the Transgender Law Center, which serves as a toolkit for Gender Diversity and Safe Schools: http://neutrois.tumblr.com/post/24593524345/beyond-the-binary-a-tool-kit-for-gender-identity
You can always point the school authorities to this resource.
Keep us posted on how it goes. Each win is a win for all of us.
i totally agree with maddox; that cat gives good advice. access to non-gendered bathrooms is pretty much a human rights thing. i don’t know if it would help, but it couldn’t hurt to mention that many schools have non-gendered bathrooms in order to accommodate the diverse needs of their students. http://www.amplifyyourvoice.org/youthresource/genderneutral
Excellent link Punk! I am adding this to an (eventual) endless resources list.
Ugh. Bathrooms are always horrible. I’m still using the women’s bathroom for the time being. I dread the day I can’t find a gender neutral bathroom and have to use the men’s room.
Eventually you just switch, for one reason or another. My reason was being at the beach – topless. Also, avoiding long lines. It’s baby steps first, and slowly you get the hang of it. But I still always go out of my way to use a gender-neutral one.
Any update on this? I hope this gets worked out for you! Curious to see how your workplace responds.
No, I barely brought it up this Wednesday. Given the usual timeline of anything in that company, I wouldn’t expect to even hear back on this for at least a few weeks. Moreover, I lumped in a bunch of other issues. I think, even if the bathroom situation were entirely resolved, I’d still be somewhat uncomfortable working in that office environment.
I hope the situation there gets resolved soon. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like not to have a restroom to use when I needed to go.
Well it’s still an issue, but at least I don’t get as stressed. I just go through a mental list of the options I have, and randomly pick one depending on how I’m feeling. Often I will literally go into one, see that it’s full, and go across the hall into the other one.
After reading your post it inspired me to write about my own experiences on the subject. For that I do want to thank you.
Thank YOU. We need more voices added to the issue.
my (pre-transition) babe thinks a lot about this, about when to switch in the future and it comes down a lot to, “i’d rather get yelled at in the women’s room than beat up in the men’s room.”
The thing for me is, I am not intimidating. I’m lanky white and 5ft tall, look 14. So my chances of getting beat up are slim (and I clearly would not be the aggressor), while the chances of getting stared at /kicked out of the women’s room are quite high.
So far it’s been a great move, I actually feel super awkward whenever I do use the women’s now.