When I was 12 years old, a girl named Jane pulled me into the girl's bathroom for my first kiss. This defying act should've made me the Don Juan of my small, Catholic school. However, it didn't because I was gay and trying to force a boner by imagining the Fonz as Jane and I were locking lips (I developed a nasty Henry Winkler fetish when Happy Days began airing on Nick at Nite back in the mid-'90s.)
I discovered two things during that first kiss. One, I was absolutely, unapologetically homosexual. Not even the Fonz's trademark "Ayyy" could keep me hard for long. The second was that the girl's bathroom was a hidden paradise. True, some of the tiles were tinted yellow by girls who hadn't yet mastered the art of aiming, but the stalls didn't reek of unflushed number twos and instead smelled of freshly-sprayed lemon-scented Lysol. And there were also mirrors. That's right. The girls had fucking mirrors in their restroom -- something which was completely unheard of and foreign to the boy's facilities. I began using tongue because I never wanted to leave.
A clean and safe place to poop means everything to a gay boy trapped in the closet and the boy's bathroom at my school was the opposite of safe. It was barbaric. You were called a fag if you accidentally looked to the side while you were peeing, and you were kicked in the nuts if you tried to re-gel you hair after PE. Okay, that last bit was exclusive to me. But in all seriousness, one time some boys in the grade below drew swastikas on the bathroom door and blamed it on someone else. It was a terrifying place of wrongful guilt and constipation.
Many, many years later I found myself debating the potential existence of all-gender bathrooms with my boss when I worked at a small press in Manhattan. The issue of all-gender lavatories was a national hot topic after the Wyatt Maines case, in which a male elementary student was prohibited from using the girl's bathroom, made headlines.
"Little girls shouldn't be forced to use the bathroom with boys," my boss said.
I argued that gender should be as important as one's eye color, and she told me to have children before I opened my mouth on the issue.
Sometime later I found myself working on Wall Street. During those long workdays, I never thought about the financial crisis or how my role as a temp served the greater American economy. Instead I fantasized about writing an expose on the curious bathroom habits of heterosexual males and the isolation a gay man feels whilst urinating among such filthy creatures.
"Bless you," a financial analyst said in the bathroom.
"That wasn't a sneeze," another analyst replied. "It was a fart. I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can warn you to get the hell out of here. "
If I had to blame the economic downfall of our country on one thing, it would have been the taco truck parked across the Charging Bull.
It seemed I was forever destined to feel exiled each time I used a public bathroom. That is until I began my MFA program over at The New School and was welcomed into a real life all-gender bathroom.
An all-gender bathroom at a university means many things. For starters, it's a small step in the right direction for transsexual rights and one giant leap for gender equality. It also sends a message to the students that the administration views us all as equals. However, in my head it meant I wouldn't have to feel shame for styling my hair or doing a double take in front of the mirror. I could now take my time to apply concealer, and perhaps give a little strut, and there would be absolutely no judgment.
There was only one other person in the bathroom when I entered. It was a girl with long dark hair similar to that of Jane's and she was applying makeup. I found a sort of poetic justice with the entire situation. I was finally urinating where I was always meant to. I had it all planned out. Once I was done peeing, I'd go up to Faux Jane and tell her how much I loved her eye shadow. I didn't even know what color she was wearing and quite frankly didn't give a shit. I just wanted her to know I too was fabulous and she can be comfortable with me should she decide to defecate.
I even began thinking that for my literary seminar I should write a short story about a gay man picking up a girl bestie while peeing. It would have a humorous spin on it, of course, but tackle the progression of gender equality. It would be a topic no one has ever thought about.
Though I won't lie, it took me awhile to begin voiding into the toilet bowl. I had psyche myself up, I admit, but also I had never just openly peed in front of a female stranger before. It felt like I was violating a social taboo. Finally, however, I was able to go and once it was flowing I felt good about myself.
"Oh my God, you're fucking disgusting," Jane's doppelgänger screamed upon hearing me pee.
I heard the zippery sound of her makeup bag closing shut and her ankle boots pounding the gray tile, growing louder and louder as she walked towards me.
"You're so fucking rude and misogynistic," she yelled, punching the stall's door. "Get the fuck out of here."
I was certain I didn't accidentally walk into a girl's bathroom because I Instagrammed the bathroom sign of both male and female before I entered. I had even jotted down the words on the bathroom sign that read, "Anyone can use this restroom, regardless of your gender identity or expression."
A sense of courage washed over me. This wasn't junior high. This was my graduate program. I was not about to spend two years being teased again in a bathroom where I had the right to apply under eye concealer and pee standing up.
I quickly opened the stall and chased after the girl.
"What did you say?" I shouted.
But it was too late. The girl had put her ear buds in. Regardless I still chased her down the hall.
"I'm going to write an essay about this," I threatened. "I'm not misogynistic. I'm gay. There's nothing misogynistic about homosexuality."
I then realized I was standing in the middle of the lobby yelling at a girl with my pants unbuckled and my baby blue Calvin Klein underwear expose to my peers. An underclassman with hot pink hair circled around me.
"You shouldn't scream at girls," he said. "It's pretty douchey."
Wrongfully accused as always.
In the months that followed The New School has added even more gender-neutral facilities throughout campus and I'm proud to be part of a school that is redefining the norms and values both its male and female students equally.
I followed up with my threat and originally published a version of this essay with Slice Magazine and have continued to use the same all-gender restroom since. I've given Faux Jane the benefit of the doubt and theorized she thought she was in a women-only bathroom. I wish I would run into her again, so I could clarify the situation, but in all honesty I wouldn't recognize her if she bit me in the ass because men and woman all look the same to me now when I pee. And if that makes me misogynistic, then so be it.