I still have flashbacks to that night out in my first year of uni where I was spat on because I was “in the wrong toilet”.
Since then, being afraid to use the toilet in public is something I’ve grown used to, as someone who is gender non-conforming, and shamelessly so. I’m small, have long hair and often wear makeup on nights out. But my hair and height alone are enough to trigger homophobic and transphobic behaviour, regardless of my actual gender.
After that night I decided to no longer use men’s toilets on nights out – but on reflection though, I didn’t register how messed up that really was. When I got spat on, I didn’t even tell my friends until the night was over, instead essentially blocking it out. I remember the cubicle door shaking and slurs flung my way, but beyond that it’s all fuzzy.
I have too many of these stories for someone who is still only 21. But being gender non-conforming means I have to live knowing that I could experience that again, or worse, whenever I have to use single-sex toilets.
“I’m worried recent transphobic trends will have fostered a newfound hatred toward me and those of us who do not follow normative scripts of gender.”
Lockdown, though certainly not an enjoyable experience, has been a strange refuge for me, and likely many gender non-conforming people, because we haven’t had to anxiously rush into a toilet, hoping that both a cubicle will be free and that no one antagonistic is present. For months, I’ve been able to use the toilet without having to preempt violence. I haven’t been exposed to public indecency, followed, or stared at. I haven’t had to stress about whether I can hold it for that little bit longer. It’s been a relief – although a bittersweet one as lockdown ends as I know, soon enough, my anxiety about navigating this mundane necessity will surface once again.
As lockdown restrictions begin to lift, public space will fill with people glibly attempting to maintain social distancing rules, wary of one another. Many will be anxious to re-emerge, and for very valid reasons – remembering how to interact with other human beings in public can be challenging when we’ve been so isolated for months.
But most people will have gone months without seeing or encountering a gender non-conforming person, and I’m worried recent transphobic trends will have fostered a newfound hatred toward me and those of us who do not follow normative scripts of gender.
I’ve briefly forgotten what it’s like to be harassed in public, and now the thought of using men’s toilets seems even worse than when I was used to it. I know I will encounter men who will stare at me in disdain, who might think it’s their place to tell me where I should and should not be. I know I will rush in and out of public toilets like I shouldn’t be there, even though I have a right to use the toilet safely. Maybe I will have to tie my hair back just so I’m not mistaken for a woman.
“The simple reality is that transgender and gender non-conforming people like me really just want to urinate in peace.”
All this comes amid an alarming assault against trans and gender non-conforming people everywhere. Only weeks ago, the US reversed healthcare rights for trans patients. In the UK, it is reported the government is unlikely to reform the Gender Recognition Act, making self-identification even harder. Only weeks ago, author JK Rowling instigated yet another debate about the existence of trans people. And this is not to mention Hungary’s end to legal recognition of transgender people, or the epidemic of murdered Black and brown trans women around the world.
Such policy, and such discourse, is restricting trans people’s social mobility, deciding what spaces they can enter, and exacerbating the violence they experience. The lives of trans and gender non-conforming people will be increasingly more difficult as long as their identities remain continually questioned. Trans women are regularly framed as predators that single-sex spaces need protecting from, but we have all likely urinated in a cubicle next to a criminal and no one ever really knows who is in the same toilet as them. We must question why trans and gender non-conforming people are somehow the exception.
For me, public toilets have become places of discomfort and harassment. The simple reality is that transgender and gender non-conforming people like me really just want to urinate in peace. So, if you do emerge into public space, and you use the toilet, I ask that you proceed with empathy.
Luca Demetriou is a freelance writer and masters student. Follow them on Twitter at @aphroditus_
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CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that “women and equalities minister Liz Truss revealed her plans for the Gender Recognition Act”. The government is yet to respond to the consultation on proposed reform to the Gender Recognition Act.