I was born and raised in a small town about an hour and a half outside of Houston. To put things in perspective: my town was the sort of place where we would talk about Houston as the “big city” — that place where all of the queers and misfits would go to after high school. Driving to Houston on the weekends was a vacation into a seemingly liberal oasis where people drank and fucked and sometimes even transgressed gender norms (God Forbid!)
So it’s not that I was surprised to see people casually and unabashedly holding signs that said, “No Men in Women’s Bathroom.” It’s not that I was surprised to hear people regarding my and so many of my friends’ identities as “costumes” that we put on to “invade” women’s spaces. I heard all of this (and more) growing up. They say that everything is bigger in Texas and I assure you: transphobia is no exception.
Often when we speak about violence we stop our conversations at the act of discrimination: the hate speech, the assault, the policy. But there’s a whole afterlife to violence: trauma stays with us long after the incident. The trans people in my life have all developed different strategies to cope with the trauma of a world so invested in telling us that it knows our bodies better than us. For me — I learned how to naturalize a lot of violence that happened to me growing up — to not question it and just take it. And that form of submission was its own form of resistance. How could violence hurt when I grew to become accustomed to it? How could words sting when I was as familiar with them as the sound of my own name?
When I heard about this loss in Houston I remembered some of the own flavors of loss in my own life – the parts of myself that I suppressed in order to get by.
The truth is: I didn’t use the bathroom once when I was in middle school and high school. I’m serious. I held it in every single day. I would get to school by 7:00am and leave by 6:00pm. I tried to drink as little as possible. I made constant mental calculations: only one more hour until your home, only twenty minutes, only…peace. What kind of fear is so foreboding that it’s stronger than a bodily need? What happens when your body becomes its own closet? I grew so accustomed to holding parts of myself back growing up – and this wasn’t an exception.
I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing and to some degree no one noticed. Back then I didn’t have language like “gender non-conforming” or “gender binary,” but I had that feeling of fear and anxiety in my chest at the very thought of entering the boy’s restroom.
Truth be told: I was terrified of restrooms not just because I was scared of “boys,” but because I was scared of “gender” to begin with.
When we speak about restrooms we talk as if gender ends on the sign outside the door. But I learned intimately how gender segregated restrooms are here to actually create gender itself. The boy’s restroom was where my classmates peered over one another’s urinals to look at each others dicks, was where they talked about the girls they wanted to fuck, was where they came to have private conversations, to fight, to tease, to compare. I didn’t go into the boy’s restroom because I hated being gendered. I wanted to pee without having to have my body surveilled, compared, categorized.
When trans people are invited to speak about our experiences of violence we often have to stop at the trauma of being misgendered, but are we willing to have a conversation about the violence of being gendered itself? It’s not just misgendering that’s the problem, it’s gendering.
What a strange world we live in where an entire campaign can be mobilized to prevent people from being human (read: digesting food) safely.
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