I Am Not Allowed to Use the Public Toilets

Auriane Alix
The downsides of being an androgynous woman.
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Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

I no longer have a choice. I need to go. If only I could avoid this moment. I spot the little light sign at the other end of the gas station. Men on the right, women on the left. I turn left.

I try to make my chest stand out. Avoid eye-contact. Phew, there is one free cabin. It’s even worse when I have to wait, standing in the middle of the room.

Suddenly a voice hails me, rising above the slight hubbub.

“Hey, this is the women’s toilet here!”

The tone is accusatory. Confident. Like a superhero ruling his own territory. The whispering stops. All eyes turn to me. A spotlight would be pointed at me in a dark room that I wouldn’t feel any different.

I stop dead in my tracks. I turn around, stare into the accuser’s eyes. My hands grab the bottom of my shirt, which I lift to my chin, revealing my breasts.

“And there? Is it good? Am I allowed to take a piss?”

I would dream of doing that. Probably I will one day. One day too many.

Instead, I turn around. More often than not, that’s enough. The accuser sees my face, with its feminine features, and realizes with shame their mistake. Often, they apologize. Sometimes I reply insolently.

In any case, I end up getting my right of passage.

This has happened a good dozen times in my life. And even though I am proud of who I am and pretend that it doesn’t affect me, these small moments have created an anxiety in me: that of using gendered public places.

Changing rooms are the reason why I don’t sign up at the gym.

The only time I feel confident using the public toilets is when I’m wearing a tank top, which leaves my sports bra visible. The worst times are when I’m abroad, and I don’t know how tolerant people are of those who don’t fit in with the crowd.

I am an androgynous woman. I am exactly on the line between femininity and masculinity. I have short hair. Wavy on top, skin-faded at the sides and the neck. I wear jeans and shirts or t-shirts, all with rolled-up sleeves. I’m rather thin, and my breasts are concealed by the sports bras I wear.

I can understand why, at a glance, you might think I’m a man. But, seriously, pay close attention to my face, and the doubts fade away.

That’s not what bothers me. I love being androgynous. I can even sneak into the men’s bathroom when the women’s is crowded. I can go home alone at night without worrying too much. And most importantly, my physical appearance tends to be the perfect mirror of what I feel like inside.

Gendered places are the only flaw in my confidence. Toilets are not the worst. Evil is in the changing rooms. It all started when I was in high school.

We had the first gym class of the year, with a new teacher. I was chatting happily with my friends in the girls’ changing room. We were probably taking too much time, because the teacher knocked on the door before entering the room, to tell us to hurry up a bit, the boys were already ready.

As she said these words, her eyes stopped on me. I immediately saw what was happening. I knew what words were forming in her mind, but I didn’t know yet if she would dare to say them.

“I didn’t know the changing rooms were mixed,” she said, in the tone of, “you thought you were going to go unnoticed, but I found you, you little pervert.”

I turned tomato red. I looked down, in front of all those girls staring at me. I was just getting out of the “weirdos”. Just as people were starting to see me as one of them, a teacher was pointing out the gap between me and them.

I couldn’t say a word. Don’t ask me why, but I was ashamed. It was a friend who exclaimed, surprised: “But it’s a girl!”

Since that day I can’t go into a changing room without a ball in my stomach. That’s even the reason why I don’t register at the gym. I tried it once. But besides having to find the motivation to exercise, I had to find a stronger one to just change.

Can we please change our mentalities?

When I tell people about these stories, which I don’t often do, they have two reactions.

First, they get angry at people who create such a problem with something that is not a problem in the first place. Then they look at me, the almost always confident person they see, and ask me why it bothers me so much. That I shouldn’t care.

I tried to self-analyze my reactions and feelings. For sure, it doesn’t matter. These are people I will never see again in my life. Besides, all I have to do is turn around, I can even allow myself to say something spicy, and I win the debate.

They are the ones who feel ashamed, stupid, sorry. They don’t know where to stand anymore. It’s even quite funny.

But still. I can’t get over it.

Maybe it’s the suspicious look. The scornful tone. The aggressive attitude. The feeling that one day I’ll be taken by the arm and thrown out without any consideration.

Or rejection. I think I’ve always had a problem with that. I am rejected from a public place, so by definition open to everyone. A place where I have a fundamental right to go.

I am relegated to the rank of a curious beast. I have no place anywhere, neither among women nor among men.

At the same time, as I write these words, I can’t help but listen to the voice inside me that says: you like to be out of the ordinary.

So can we please change mentalities?

Can we please stop being so narrow-minded, categorizing people, trying to deprive them of something to which they are intrinsically entitled when they have as much right to be there as you do?

Are you so unhappy in your life, do you have so little self-confidence that in order to feel good, you have to diminish others? These are toilets. You’re not even visible in there.

From now on, I will stand a little more upright. I will raise my chin. Dare to tell me something, and I’ll tell you what I think.

This has been going on for too long.

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