I”ve always thought of the ladies” room as a sacred institution: A haven, if you will, for blind date refugees and unabashed tampon exchanges. A place to laugh, a place to cry a place to give (and receive) impromptu self-esteem crisis-aversion therapy between classes. Race, religion and economic status are of little consequence in the ladies” room as long as you have to sit when you pee, your neighbor will gladly pass the toilet paper under the stall without so much as a snicker. Estrogen is thicker than water, is it not?
Around this time last year, I removed my head from the clouds just long enough to catch a glimpse of a different perspective. A friend invited my brother and me to a Queer Visibility Week event called the Gender Bender Revue a variety show minus all that silly socially constructed gender stuff. “I”m reading poetry,” he said. “Bring friends.”
So we went: Two confused-looking gender-unambiguous straight kids at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered event. My brother asked me if I was nervous at all. I responded the way any self-respecting sister would: I teased. “Ha, ha! You”re afraid of all the gay people!” Apprehensive? Me? Certainly not. More like open-minded and accepting and perfectly secure in my gender identity and sexual orientation, thank you very much. Perfectly. Shut up or I”ll kick you.
We said hello to our friend, who thanked us for coming and told us that Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps was in town he”d been snooping around while they were setting up. They invited him back for the show. Saved him a seat at front and center. He stayed away the rest of the night.
Our friend introduced us to his friends. I smiled and silently vowed not to say anything dumb.
For the first time since middle school, I was terribly concerned about how I looked to everyone else. Would they all hate me if they knew I was thinking these ridiculous, needlessly defensive thoughts? Could they tell just by looking at me? Now that I thought about it, why was I thinking those things? First of all, I knew that “gay” and “transgendered,” while not mutually exclusive identities, were not the same thing it was possible that none of the people I met were gay.
But even if they were, what was the big deal? Why the sudden urge to profess my sexual orientation like it was my religion? I had gay friends (not in a “some of my best friends are gay” sort of way) and I was completely cool with their gayness. Wasn”t I? Was it all an act? Was I homophobic? Xenophobic? Pantophobic? Did I have a future lugging signs around with Phelps and his band of unwitting pre-pubescent accomplices?
With each introduction, I felt an overwhelming desire to grin goofily, stick out my hand and blurt something like, “Hi, there! Nice to meet you! I like boys, myself I mean actual physical boys with Y chromosomes and all the requisite appendages but I think it”s great if you like girls. Really! I mean, more boys for me, right? Ha, ha. Love those biological males. In fact, I have two boyfriends right now. Three, actually. Do you have any girlfriends? Just the one? That”s great!”
I told myself to cut it out. The show was starting.
It took me a few minutes, but I eventually calmed down and stopped trying to figure out whether the people in the show were “really” male or female. I realized my ten minutes of itchy silence about my affinity for boys paled in comparison to the years of silence many of the people in this room probably spent hiding who they were from the world.
That”s when one of the emcees made the crack about getting kicked out of bathrooms. I don”t remember exactly what she said, but it was something that made everyone laugh sympathetically, as though they got kicked out of bathrooms because their genders didn”t appear to match the labels on the doors all the time. I was taken aback. It seemed such a grave injustice to ask a lady to leave (or attack her or drag her violently from) her sanctuary when all she needed was a tampon or a pep talk or a good laugh. Denying any lady these bare necessities is tantamount to withholding toilet paper: Vindictive, selfish and disgraceful to my gender. Sacrilegious, one might say. Remember to worship peacefully.
Aubrey Henretty can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.