Two words: "men" and "ladies." When taken out of context, they're harmless. But when posted on the outside of a swinging door that might be used by someone who's transgender, they become catalysts for anxiety -- more so, it seems, for those who aren't transgender.
Trust me, I know.
Ironically, the day I spent the most time in the ladies' room at Arnold Advertising was also the same day I was announcing to the Executive Board that I was really a man. The fact that I have a bladder the size of a grape is bad enough, but when I'm nervous or anxious, I have to "go" pretty much every 15 minutes -- regardless of fluid intake.
The board meeting was already in progress so I waited outside, knowing I was last on the agenda. At 5:05 p.m. the door to the well-appointed conference room opened and Ed Eskandarian, the agency's CEO, stepped out. He looked at me with sympathy, concern and a hint of fear.
"You ready?" he asked.
"I think so, Dad."
With my father seated on my left, I began explaining to the elite group of white male conservatives what it was like to be transgender. It was 1995 and back then, the word didn't exist. "Transsexual" was the only term and society's frame of reference was limited to movies like Silence of the Lambs and The Crying Game and guests on Jerry Springer. I knew I had my work cut out for me so I delivered a heartfelt, well-rehearsed speech that lasted roughly 15 minutes. It was factual, emotional and very very personal. Most of the men were uncomfortably looking down at the table, finding their half-empty china coffee cups suddenly very interesting.
When I finished, one board member broke the awkward silence by kindly asking what they could do to help make things easier for me. I breathed a sigh of relief and outlined the steps I'd be taking to begin my transition. Everything was fine until I mentioned I'd be using the men's room. And then, as they say, Shit got real. The gasping, the murmuring, the eyes darting all around. I couldn't believe after everything I'd said, this was the thing that was freaking everybody out. Someone suggested sending out a memo, which put my father over the edge.
"WE'RE NOT SENDING OUT A MEMO!"
I calmly told the group they wouldn't need to. That 12 of my closest Arnold friends would be spreading the word once this meeting was over and by noon tomorrow the whole agency would know. I then assured them that I wouldn't use any of the men's or ladies' rooms at our offices for the next two weeks -- just to give everyone enough time to let this sink in. Instead I would use the unisex bathroom around the corner at Rebecca's Café.
As predicted, word of my impending gender change spread like wildfire. And despite the overwhelming support I received from my co-workers, I kept my promise. For two weeks, every time I had to "go," I took the 14th floor elevator down to the lobby, headed out the back entrance of the building and walked two blocks to Rebecca's.
When I finally made my men's room debut at Arnold, yeah there was some awkwardness and gossip at first, but everybody got used to it and got over it. I mean, I was using the stall so it's not like anyone could see what I was doing or I could see anyone else. Years later when I was finally equipped with outdoor plumbing, I took my place on urinal row and the chatter started up again -- though I'm not sure why. Etiquette states you're supposed to look straight ahead. I'm not trying to sneak a peek at your junk, you shouldn't be trying to get a looky-loo at mine. So what's there to talk about? Nothing. Which is why the conversation died down pretty quickly.
I was 26 when I first transitioned. And while I'm happy to see kids are now getting the support they need to begin the process at an earlier age, I'm saddened to see them having to go to court for the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which they clearly identify. Honestly, I don't understand what people are so afraid of. I assure you, most of us who set out on the long, hard journey to correct our gender are doing so to be true to ourselves and be normal -- not get access to the bathroom of the opposite sex for spying or anything perverted. I for one do not like to spend any more time in a public restroom than absolutely necessary. Take it from me ladies, the men's room is a whole 'nother level of gross.