OP-ED: I’m just trying to piss: The gendering of nongendered experiences

Lee Thomas, Junior

Illustration by Madeleine Stolp.

I like the bathrooms in Cleveland Commons. While I don’t go there often anymore, except for working and taking napkins for my house, I always enjoy being able to walk into whichever side is closest (or was most recently cleaned). I secretly love the confused looks I get from visiting prospective students and fresh first-years (usually from “women” when I’m presenting masculine or from “men” when I’m presenting feminine) while I wash my hands, and they wonder if they’re in the “right” bathroom. The Cleveland Commons bathrooms eliminate the unnecessary social categorizations from the nearly universal, purely biological experience of pissin’ and shittin’. It’s the little things–which, because of how few “things” that we queer and genderqueer people get to have in life, can actually be a big thing. 

The bathrooms just outside one of my classrooms have little labels under their “gender”/”sex” signs that read: “Gender Inclusive Restrooms at East side of Building” (they forget to mention that they’re also two floors below). Oh. Cool. Ok. I love when my ever observant professor wonders why it takes me twice as long as other people to urinate. Whatever, it’s none of he/him/his business anyway. 

Nonetheless, the metaphorical (and literal) hikes myself and other queer people must make to affirm ourselves in a world that socially, legally and physically refuses to acknowledge or support us are reinforced by these “little things.” Watching a friend make the trek to the library’s fourth floor to take a dump ”gender neutrally,” then, is more than just a few extra steps or an elevator ride, at least to me.

Whitman’s solution to my problem is to slap an “all gender bathroom” label onto single-person bathrooms intended for disabled people, and I end up feeling guilty for robbing others, as an able-bodied person, of a necessary resource all “just” to affirm my identity. And then I realize I’m weighing (and subsequently rivaling) the needs of minority identities against each other, and that’s just gross and unnecessary. Accessibility and inclusivity for all is the name of the game. All I can speak for directly right now is what I know best: queerness and my own queerness specifically. 

I worry for my binary trans friends, for the transwomen and transmen who enjoy gender euphoria by entering and using The Ladies’ or The Men’s room. Though I don’t believe in any sort of binary for gender, I want to be affirming and supportive of my fellow queer people and their identities. I regret how we’ve allowed such an endangering experience to be one of the most euphoric ones. 

What defines gender and sex is very different for different groups of people, and certain groups like to enforce their definitions onto others violently. Thanks to inhumane laws, lack of legal protection, and violent transphobic vigilantes, the binary bathrooms can be as threatening as they are euphoric. We need other binary daily situations to be gender-affirming, that don’t invalidate nonbinary people.

This doesn’t work with situations that nearly every human body experiences identically (come on y’all, we’ve all got urethrae and colons no matter how many X chromosomes you got). We need some way to productively provide these moments of binary gender euphoria without enforcing a binary upon nonbinary people such as myself, in the way we do when we “his, hers, and other’s”-ing something that is so “everyone’s.” 

I guess what I’m asking for is bigger than what Whitman can and would indulge me in, but when isn’t that the case for me. At the very least, I can ask for open ears and acuter awareness of “the little things”… and for fewer stares (and sometimes glares) from random people just for disregarding the gendered labels that don’t apply to me and entering whichever bathroom is closest (I’m about to piss myself, alright?).


Lee Thomas is a humor writer for The Wire.