Young, Trans, and Afraid of the Bathroom

Editor's Note: Today, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice made it clear that they will not uphold guidelines designed to help schools support transgender students. Our faith tells us trans students deserve to be treated with dignity and respect—this includes the ability to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with who they are.

I was not always out as trans, but I was always uncomfortable in school bathrooms. 

In middle school, I would orient my entire day around when I could go to the bathroom alone. 

I remember orientation at my brand new public middle school in my hometown of Colorado Springs. I spent the day ignoring our 8th grade tour guide, and instead, I noted where all of the single user and “hidden” bathrooms were located throughout the school.

While I’m a naturally detail-oriented person, it was the gender policing and rituals that terrified me enough to plan entire days around when and where I could go to the bathroom alone.

Throughout middle school, I kept a rotating schedule that corresponded to our “block” scheduling, so that I was never asking my teachers to go to the restroom in the same class, on the same days, at the same times. I regulated my water and food intake to try to mirror these patterns. 

Maybe this sounds extreme, but so is gender policing in middle school. 

As a young queer person, I began to feel my attraction to people, both “girls and boys,” during middle school, like most adolescents. But it was my attraction to girls that caused me the most discomfort. As a person assigned female at birth, I knew this would be troubling news for my conservative family and friends. 

With this quiet knowledge in the back of my head, I wasn’t able to engage in a lot of the usual (homophobic) gender-based banter with my peers. But when a beautiful girl on my basketball team joked about being a lesbian and flirted with me, I over-corrected, pretending to be disgusted.  

When I moved to a public high school in a different school district, I met the first (somewhat open) gay women I had ever known—two of my basketball coaches. It blew my mind in the best way possible. 

For the first time, I saw people who were LGBTQ living their lives, happy, contributing and caring about me. It had a huge impact on my life at that time. Probably not coincidentally, my fear of bathrooms lessened, and I developed feelings for a female friend of mine. 

Neither one of us characterized our experience as “gay” at the time. 

While we were very close, she always had a boyfriend. Perhaps that’s what gave me the confidence to try to explain to my parents how much I cared about her. My attempts at sharing this part of myself with them landed me in conversion therapy and a private, Christian high school.

My return to the private Christian school, where I had been for elementary school, meant returning to gender policing and bathroom behavior I had never understood. I distinctly remember the bathroom next to the locker room where we all got ready for basketball practice. I always changed in a bathroom stall. Many of my teammates changed in the open (never getting fully undressed), but still joking about being lesbians while in their bras and underwear. This was too much for me, on many levels. 

When such joking happened with me as the target, I always tried to be a good sport and go along, but truth burned in the back of my head. I had boyfriends, went to dances with boys, and still tried to never see anyone in a bathroom or locker room, especially not girls. 

Meanwhile, my gender presentation remained at best tomboyish, but I was clearly a boy to anyone who was paying attention.  

For this reason, I was very uncomfortable in a “women’s” restroom, though that’s of course where I was relegated for much of my life.  

As I moved into adulthood and closer to coming out as trans, my gender presentation became more and more masculine. During summer’s home from college, I worked as a grounds keeper on the Air Force Academy golf course.  Our uniforms of work jeans, steel toed boots, and heavy polo shirts combined with my very short hair cut and fitted baseball cap meant that I got yelled at and chased out of women’s restrooms more times than I can remember. 

While I can say that coming out as a man of transgender experience a few years later helped me realize the source of some of my discomfort in bathrooms, I can’t say that it alleviated it entirely or changed my relationship to these hyper-gendered spaces.

As I began my physical transition, I gained an awareness of single-user and gender neutral bathrooms, which helped me to avoid the scrutiny of either binary space; this way I could simply “opt out” of having my gender examined by total strangers as “too masculine” or “not masculine enough.” As testosterone helped my shoulders broaden, my voice deepen, and my face sprout hair, I felt more confident venturing into “men’s” spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms.  

But as I mentioned, my discomfort hasn’t been totally alleviated, even with the privilege of a full beard and occasionally accompanied by my cisgender male friends. I still worry about someone watching me opt for a stall when there are four open urinals, or hearing me pee knowing I am sitting down. 

Maybe this sounds absurd to you, but THIS is my reality and the reality for so many other transgender people. 

Safety in bathrooms has never existed for me, or other trans people, or even for cisgender people who are too feminine or too masculine for their perceived gender. 

Reflecting on all of this brings me to think about Gavin Grimm, and so many other trans teenagers like him who must navigate a world where cisgender people seem even more vigilant in their bathroom-gender-policing. 

My heart breaks for Gavin, who will spend his last days in high school, a time that should be filled with optimism, and excitement for his future, thinking about his long walk across campus to the nurse’s bathroom. 

This is not what I want or what trans and gender non conforming youth in this country deserve.  

We deserve the ability to navigate necessary spaces safely, like our cisgender friends, family, and loved ones.  We deserve to spend our energy and time creating a better world, using our talents and abilities to make our lives and the lives of those around us more beautiful and radiant.  We don’t need to waste our time worrying about our safety in bathrooms. 

Photo by Tyler Nienhouse

Comments (3)

Carl,
I am very proud to call you my nephew. We love and support you.
Uncle Tim

Thanks Carl for sharing your story. I was a closet gay for 44 years, and am still trying to figure out which letters I should stand beside. :) I admire your willingness to be out and open, to help other youth (and adults as well). We all need to be in community and help each other.

God bless you....please know my prayers continue to be with you....as a proud member of UCC Church of New Smyrna Beach, Fl, I have so many friends and acquaintances who have been unable to be themselves when they worship. YOU WILL ALWAYS BE WELCOME HERE. Much love and many prayers for our continued breakthroughs. LOVE MUST WIN.

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