This morning, I camped out at Panera’s.
I was focused on writing a new story but my ears perked up when an older woman a few tables away started talking about President Obama’s mandate that all schools allow transgender students to use bathrooms of their choice.
It was the word “transgender” that caught my attention and caused me to reach for my rainbow zebra notebook.
She said the word like this — TRANS gender? — as if she were angry and it weren’t a real thing. Like fat-free butter or a lesbian who has never attended a potluck. I avoided looking at her, but I imagined her shrugging her shoulders and making a sour milk face.
“All it does is cause more strife,” she said.
I wanted to tell her about the strife I feel as a butch woman when I’m out shopping or to dinner and need to use a bathroom. About the strife I feel when I have to determine whether I can skip using a public restroom and make it home in time.
About the strife I feel when I open a door emblazoned with an image of a person in a dress with an impossibly round head and arms thick like salamis and the word “WOMEN” or “LADIES” printed below and prepare to be misgendered and humiliated.
About the strife I feel when I rush to the first empty stall and hold my breath and let out a tiny puff of air when I lock the door and hear the click of the slide bolt.
About the strife I feel as I wait in the stall and try to pick the right time to leave. Now. No, not now. Now. This time for real. 1, 2, 3. Now.
About the strife I feel when I notice my heart beating too fast in my chest.
About the strife I feel as I try to blend in when I’m at the sink washing my hands, even though I haven’t been able to blend in for most of my life.
About the strife I feel as I fast walk to the door and try to look “natural,” whatever that means.
When I am safe on the other side, I wonder why using a public bathroom should cause anyone so much strife.