Last semester, I developed a research project examining the implications of political policy on bathroom use and medical conditions including urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and dehydration. In the research preparation phase, I was not surprised to find that there is far too little research out there: there are not nearly enough studies showing the quantitative or qualitative experiences of trans folks and non-binary folks and the implications of political policy on our existence - even though there is an extensive amount of policy regulating and admonishing our existence.
The main source of data on the community, The U.S. Transgender Survey, looks at the experience of trans folks in the United States. This survey found that almost a third of trans folks “limited the amount they ate and drank to avoid using the restroom in the past year.” Eight percent said they had developed a urinary tract infection or a kidney-related health problem due to restroom avoidance. Not to distract with profanity, but what the fuck ya’ll? Are you seriously going to keep demonizing, politicizing, policing, and attacking our bodies on the pretenses of social modesty and decorum?
The heinous attacks on trans bodies, a betrayal against humanity that is perpetuated by conservative minds daily, is literally killing children in obscene and strategic attacks. These incendiary attacks on our youth are at minimum blood on the hands of evangelical separatists who in their wild imaginations have decried our bodies as some sort of sexual attack on human decency and social order.
My own relationship with accessing public bathrooms is tumultuous at best. Bathrooms are the bane of my existence. Whether on college campuses; at work, museums, or restaurants; in bars, libraries, or any public-fucking-space, I am constantly assessing what kind of access I have and how safe I might or might not be. Every gendered bathroom sign is a sign that I am not safe - I count myself as extremely privileged, as I am read as a white male 97% of the time. Whether or not this is how I identify, this more ‘normative’ presentation helps to keep me safe.
Imagine having to calculate and assess your safety every time you want to drink a glass of water, or enjoy a beer with friends at the bar. Think about whether you could attend class or get through a day at work without a single stop to the bathroom… A couple of years ago I would attempt to time the most ideal moment to access the campus bathrooms when it was least crowded (which was not during break) – meaning I had to lose a few minutes of class learning time in order to check out the bathroom and if it was empty, use it quickly. If not, I would have wasted those few minutes of my education (this adds up), and would return to class still needing to pee.
I have a dear friend in Seattle. When I visit and we go out, without prompting, she always lets me know what the bathroom situation is when we walk into a place (single stalls, gender neutral, etc.) This is such a tender expression of caring that does not go unappreciated. Every time she does this, she is telling me that she sees me, that my struggle is not something I must carry alone, and that I have an ally.
I was on a date at a winery once. The bathroom was busy, so it took me approximately an extra 6.5 minutes to pee because my anxiety was so high as I assessed my environment. A few thoughts that ran through my head then and continue to every time I walk into a gendered public bathroom:
“If I pee sitting down, will I get the shit beat out of me?”
“Will it sound like ‘girl pee’ if I pee and consequently, will I get the shit beat out of me?”
“Did I make too much eye contact walking in here, am I going to get the shit beat out of me?”
“Does my small-frame or walk make me a target, am I going to get the shit beat out of me?”
"Should I pretend I’m pooping and take longer so my sitting is justified?"
"Should I wait a bit before pulling toilet paper from the dispenser?"
"Should I pretend to stand to pee while someone is in the bathroom at the same time as me and wait until they leave to actually pee?"
…Not even going to tell you all my thoughts when dealing with a menstrual cycle and using public bathrooms as a trans person.
When my sweetheart and I began dating, we were at a queer party at a bar with some of the worst bathroom options ever: the “men’s” room did not have a door and had a single toilet facing this open doorway, with a urinal next to it. The end. I didn’t pee that night. Throughout our relationship my sweetheart has offered to scope out the bathroom situation when she senses my anxiety, but I insist on navigating it, because I’m an adult, and I should be able to go to the bathroom on my own. This isn’t an attempt to be tough, this is an attempt to reclaim the most basic necessity of my human existence. I just need to pee. Sometimes my navigating it means fingers-crossed I can pee in this place without having my ass kicked, or fingers-crossed I don’t pee on myself because this place is way too much and I can’t possibly pee here safely.
The current policies that are policing my body make this nearly impossible, and highly unsafe. I am not going to sell you on the idea of “Would you want me in the bathroom with your daughter?” – because that’s complete bullshit: it sexualizes the bathroom and my identity, and hyper-genders me based on appearance to prove a point. It isn’t an argument I want to make. I do not want you to say “Yeah, this dude belongs in the men’s bathroom because he looks like my version of a man.” I want you to say, “This human being needs to pee; they should have a place to do so - just like I do - so they can be engaged in public life.” I am not hyper masculine, nor do I want to be, but I do want to pee. I want to pee in a bathroom, a loo, a water closet… I just want to be able to be out in the world, and if the need arises, to use the bathroom like a human being. I want my trans and non-binary community to be able to access public spaces safely. I want kids to be able to safely learn in a classroom, eat lunch in the cafeteria, and pee in peace after drinking the proper amount of water in a day - without sacrificing class time to do so. What I want is very basic, but is continuously turned into sexualized propaganda. I assure you, using the bathroom is for everyone. There are kids books on it.
I am angry, I am heartbroken, and I am not surprised. I am also uplifted: our community is born of survivors and fighters who continuously show up to do the work in the most incredible ways, making the world a better place for everyone. I am where I am today because of the amazing folks that came before me, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Florynce Kennedy, Lou Sullivan, and the list goes on...I and so many others will continue to stand up, speak out, and take action against injustice.
To my trans and nonbinary family, we are in this together, our world is brighter and more beautiful because of our existence. There’s a hell of a lot of love here and there’s a whole lot of fight in us as a community.
So, what happens after I write all this out and I work my thoughts into actions?
I have been in the conceptual stages of a project, but with these recent events, my idea is rushing forward. I’ll be peeing and photographing public bathrooms all around the world using the hashtags #SitToPee and #pissoffPOTUS – my own reclamation of my right to pee where and how I want, and to work through anxiety around public bathroom access. SitToPee is a project that uses peeing as protest, and is accessible to follow on social media (Instagram: @sittopee) A portfolio will be coming soon to Travelin Queeries.
A note: Within the transmasculine and FTM communities there is an acronym ‘STP’ or stand to pee: for some this is the goal, for me it is a huge anxiety. I am in no way attempting to shame or shutdown folks who stand to pee by using the phraseology sharing the same STP acronym or by pursuing this project. I am continuously learning to fall in love with my queer body, and for me this project is about letting go of any notion that I must pee in a particular way in order to qualify for my right to pee or feel comfortable doing so.
So, here I am announcing that I’m peeing on everything, sitting down. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s dismantle dangerous masculinity, gender-binaries, and the policing of our bodies as we dismantle these heinous attacks on our youth and the most vulnerable within our community.
Follow @sittopee on Instagram and look out for more info about it, here on Travelin Queeries.
If you're seeking out information to better understand what is happening in politics and law currently, read more on the most recent policy change and its impact on the Gavin Grimm case, and stay up to date with articles, like this one, by Chase Strangio, one of the ACLU attorneys on the case.
If you are wondering what you can do to fight for equality, stand up against injustice, and support the LGBTQ+ community donate time and/or funds to organizations like Trans Lifeline, National Center for Transgender Equality, and your local LGBTQ+ organizations.
If you want to talk, reach out to us here at Travelin Queeries, or if you need support from some incredible folks reach out to The Trevor Project (866-488-7386) and Trans Life Line (877-565-8860) are incredible resources and are accessible 24/7.