Meredith Russo, in her compelling New York Times Op-Ed piece What It Feels Like to Use the Wrong Bathroom, writes about her experience of doing something as a transgender woman that many of us take for granted: using the restroom while at work. She describes the day she came in to work for the first time dressed as a woman. It was 2013 and she was working at a call center:
Things went well at first, with co-workers taking it in stride and customers reading my voice as female, but then one of my bosses demanded to speak with me.
She wanted to talk about bathrooms.
“Have you had the surgery?” she asked. (Have you ever talked about your genitals with a superior at work? It’s not exactly a party.) I told her no. “Well, then, you’ll have to use the men’s until you do. We can’t risk a lawsuit.”
I headed to the men’s room, where I waited for the solitary stall to open up. I considered going all punk rock, hiking up my skirt at a urinal and flipping off any man who looked at me funny. But there is probably no meeker creature on earth than a newly transitioned woman.
The man who emerged from the stall looked at me as if I were a jug of spoiled milk. I waited on the toilet until the bathroom was empty again, but as soon as I started washing my hands, another man entered. He looked at me for a long time and then made a beeline for the urinal next to the sink, inches away from me, his stare never breaking.
There was a lot of turnover at this job, so every two weeks a fresh batch of employees seemed to come in. This meant that every two weeks new men would come into the bathroom, assume they’d accidentally entered the women’s room when they saw me there, and then glare at me when they figured it out. Some insisted that I was in the wrong place — until they realized what I was, and got really angry. It got so bad that I stopped going to the bathroom at work altogether, and I developed urinary tract infections. So then I stopped drinking water before and during work.
Russo is from Tennessee, where the law does not currently bar her from using the women’s restroom. Law aside, however, she lived in fear of being fired for disobeying her employer’s wishes, choosing to instead jeopardize her health. Eventually, she found a way to leave the situation altogether:
After a year, a book deal let me quit my job to write full time. Nobody can harass me for using my own bathroom. In many ways, I have it easier than others: I’m white, and I sort of pass when I’m wearing makeup. I haven’t been assaulted or raped, a common experience for trans people.
That doesn’t mean it’s not still an issue when I have to use a public restroom. The fear is still there — that someone will take offense, get angry and attack me, or that I’ll be made to leave a business, that I’ll be accused of sexual misconduct, arrested and sent to men’s jail.
That’s the main thing I wish the supporters of these laws would realize: We are much more frightened of you than you are of us.
You can read more by Russo in her young adult novel “If I Was Your Girl” and find the full text of the article excerpted above here.