On the inconvenience of being trans

I use a Diva Cup. I don’t generally announce it, but I’m happy to talk about it with people who are genuinely interested. I believe that alternative, reusable menstrual products are often better for people who menstruate and better for the environment. Most importantly, I’ve certainly found they’re better for me.

In normally find my Diva Cup to be extraordinarily convenient, since I generally have access to my own personal washroom at home. Because most people can wear a Diva Cup for twelve hours without having to empty and wash it, I can usually just deal with it when I’m home. And when I’m out for more than twelve hours, I can ordinarily just find a single-seat (usually wheelchair accessible) washroom with a sink and a toilet to give it a wash. It works out fine.

Sure, I know that one can find all kinds of solutions for a menstrual cup in a multi-stall public washroom. Lots of people do it. But I prefer a little privacy for emptying and a quick wash.

Yesterday, I got my period. I’m at Congress 2013 at the University of Victoria, and I’m staying in one of the UVic residences. My residence building has an accessible single-seat washroom on the first floor. It is locked. I do not have access to the key. It’s possible someone would give me the key if I asked for it and explained why I wanted it. But I don’t want to explain, so I don’t have the key.

I knew I was due for my period, so when I got here, I scoped out the single-seat accessible washrooms. Most universities have them. I found two of them near my residence building. One is in the student centre two buildings over. The other is in a building that hosts the residence cafeteria. When I got my period and needed to wash out my cup late last night, I headed to the student centre.

I couldn’t get to the accessible washroom. The student centre was unlocked, but that part of it was closed off with gates.

So I headed to the building with the residence cafeteria. Part of it was open; people were eating and drinking and having fun. I was just looking for a unisex washroom. I wasn’t having fun, but I thought I was getting closer to finding what I was looking for.

I asked the gentleman at the bar about where the accessible washroom was. He told me it was in the part of the building that was locked, and asked me what was wrong with the washrooms I could get to. I didn’t answer his question. I told him I was looking for the unisex washroom. He offered to walk me over to it. I accepted.

He walked me through kitchens, back rooms, storage areas, and hallways. I thanked him when we got there; he was very kind.

I couldn’t think about much, on our arrival, other than the inconvenience of being trans. That’s the least of it, of course. People who are trans experience prejudice, marginalization, and violence. Many rightly fear being judged, and even beaten or killed. These are major threats. We can and must do more to fight them.

And yet, it also seems to me that being trans could at times be very inconvenient. I got only a little taste of that last night. I had to spend time finding washroom spaces that would meet my needs. I went back to them only to find that I could not get to them. I was asked why the gendered washrooms weren’t good enough for me.

I am lucky that I could do all of this without fear of being injured. I am lucky that I could spend twelve hours using the women’s washroom as many times as I wanted without fear of harassment or anxiety. I am lucky that all I really found was inconvenience, and a little anger.

Ironically, I had this experience at the University of Victoria, which has made great strides toward making its washrooms on campus accessible to trans students by converting multi-stall washrooms to gender inclusivity.

I’m glad that I got this very small taste of what trans people can experience on a daily basis, over something as simple as using the washroom. As someone who is cisgendered, I hope it will help me to be a better ally, and to remember that so many things I take for granted are so difficult for some of the people around me.

Gender inclusive washroom sign, the student centre, University of Victoria
Gender inclusive washroom sign, the student centre, University of Victoria

2 thoughts on “On the inconvenience of being trans

  1. Unfortunately, it is not terribly surprising that an accessible washroom is locked. That rather severely cramps the notion of truly “accessible.” Yes, a truly accessible washroom would mean that the washroom would have all the disability access features you could generally think of, in addition to being unlocked. For some reason, that needed explaining. Luckily enough, I personally have enough mobility to use a “ordinary” washroom. Many folks do not. As the population ages, more and more people are needing mobility devices of various descriptions. But I think you and I come away with the insight of what a particular privilege it is to use a washroom that apparently “everybody else” uses.

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