I saw this the other day http://free1love1tool1box.tumblr.com/post/31277581031/mxshota-cissexism-assault-harassment, and it got me thinking.
I’ve never been harassed in a public restroom. I’m not sure why. I hear it’s a thing that happens frequently to gender-anomalous and gender-nonconforming folks. It happens enough that there’s discussion of it, writing about it, workshops about avoiding it, art about it. But it hasn’t happened to me. And I don’t know why.
I certainly look strange, in terms of gender. Some folks find my gender hard to ascertain. Some stammer over pronouns or sir-ma’am-sir. Some ask outright which I am. Some ask if I’m changing genders, and some ask what else I’m planning to do in the gender change they assume I’m undertaking. But I haven’t been hassled in restrooms.
It’s not that I haven’t been in public restrooms. It’s not that I go out of my way to use single-stall restrooms. I’m not even consistent in which restroom I use. Mostly I go for the women’s, but if the line is shorter or if I just feel like it, I’ll use the men’s.
I’m not an intimidating person. It’s not that a potential attacker would look at me and decide I’d win the fight.
Maybe I’ve just been lucky, not to have been hassled in a public bathroom. But it seems like, given the frequency of harassment others report, I should have been hassled at least once by now.
A while back, a fabulous queer friend suggested that maybe it’s because I’m clearly not trying to pass as anything. It’s no secret that I’m oddly gendered, so it’s no fun for a would-be-bully to point out my difference. It’s no secret what my genders are, so no one will feel duped when they “realize” that I’m not what they thought. No one gets to feel righteous by outing my sneakiness or gets to be a know-it-all correcting my error. The friend pointed out that attempting to pass is implicitly asking those around you a question: “Do I pass?” By necessity, it’s putting the decision about your gender in the hands of those around you. It’s giving the people around you the opportunity to approve or deny. I’m not trying to pass, so I’m not asking anyone a question. I’m not giving them the implicit opportunity to evaluate my gender. So, while my gender is non-traditional, it’s also not a secret or a question. Which takes all the fun out of harassment.
I think I also benefit from a dearth of stereotypes about bearded women. To take the South Pacific view on prejudice, “you’ve got to be carefully taught” to hate others. No one really gets taught to hate bearded ladies. There are slurs for gay men, for lesbians, for races of all sorts, for many religions, for women, for disabled folks, and for transgender folks. But there isn’t really a slur or a stock set of insults or jokes about bearded women. Sure, people learn to tease a woman who sports a hint of darker lip hair. But a full-on bearded woman? We’re believed to be mythical. We’re considered hoaxes, invented by clever make-up artists of bygone circuses. Or, if we are believed to be real, we’re considered so rare that you’d never expect to meet us – we’re a once-in-a-generation world record, a believe-it-or-not fascinating freak, like an 8-foot-tall man or a cow with two heads. We’re in the category of rarity that borders on the fantastical and miraculous, chimeras that are possible cousins to mermaids and centaurs. The most common reactions to my beard seem to be confusion and disbelief, followed closely by curiosity. Anger and derision almost never come up, in bathrooms or anywhere else.
Now, there have been a few times when someone got upset by my gender. Twice, the worst insult they could come up with was “bearded lady,” and they had to rely on their tone of voice, volume, and adjectives to convey their displeasure. The other time, I got called an abomination, in Hebrew. Apparently the ultra-Orthodox have a stronger set of gender-policing insults at the ready than most Americans. Or, to be fair, one ultra-Orthodox man did.
When I first grew my beard, I was nervous about restrooms. I followed the advice from friends and workshops. Go in with a friend. Talk as you go in, so they can hear your high voice that confirms your place in the ladies’ room. Avoid eye contact. Rush in, rush out. Try to avoid standing in lines, which gives people time to look at you. Now, I forget to do these things.
I wonder what else is protecting me from restroom harassment. I’d like to think that my confident posture is helpful, but I’m not sure that’s true. Partially because my posture isn’t always that confident. Maybe it works in my favor that I’m not intimidating. I’m short enough to not be very threatening, so maybe women don’t feel scared. Or maybe it helps that I have at least a few clear signals that I belong in any given restroom: tits, stature, voice for the women’s; beard, haircut, clothing for the men’s. So, if anyone is looking for confirmation that I belong, they can find it easily enough.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. For someone to hassle me or assault me in a public restroom. Four years and counting, and it hasn’t happened yet. Knock wood.