The reality is, I just have to pee. And I’m scared.

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When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Except when you can’t. Whenever I am in a new public place, I scour the facility for restrooms, keeping my fingers crossed for a family restroom or a single occupancy bathroom. No I don’t have an overactive bladder. I get stared at. I get laughed at. I get whispered at. I get told I’m in the wrong restroom. Almost every day.

“Excuse me sir, you are in the wrong bathroom.”

Public restrooms are a huge source of anxiety for me. The reality is sometimes I’m terrified to go to the bathroom alone. So I make my wife come with me. I make her talk to me so that my voice can be an indication to others that I am a woman. I am careful to remove my hat so people can see my face. I remove my jacket or sweatshirt so others can see my breasts.

Recently my fears and anxiety intensified.

On my way to work the other day an ad came on. My heart sunk, my hands got clammy, and I got a pit in my stomach. The 1-minute ad argued that a Houston ordinance would allow men to use women’s bathrooms. The spot ended with a call to action urging moms, sisters, and daughters to take a stand.

I’m a mom. I’m a daughter. I’m a wife. And I’m a masculine woman. It has taken me years to become comfortable in my own body. But my body seems to make others uncomfortable. My body has become a political battleground.

I’m not going to hash out the arguments or sides of the issue here. Many have written about it already. This isn’t a political issue for me. This is a matter of survival. The reality is, I just have to pee. And I’m scared.

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Erica is a New England native who moved to Houston with her family in June 2014. She and her wife Christina live in Pearland with their daughter Quinn {Dec 2013}, dog Charley, and two cats Phoebe and Oliver. Erica is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston where she teaches classes on strategic communication and social media. When Erica isn’t busy teaching, researching, or being a mom, she enjoys getting her yoga on, creating culinary delights, scoring deals shopping online, and exploring Texas with her girls.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Such a well written article. I do the same thing and I often get stared at and looked up and down to see if parts of me look like a female.

    Great article, Erica!!

  2. Thank you for providing a personal perspective on an issue that has become highly politicized. I admire you for many reasons, but your continued efforts to live a life that is true to your personal identity and social ideals stands as top among them.

  3. Erica is female so she belongs in the girls bathroom, it would be inappropriate for her to use the men’s room since she’s not a man. I think it’s rude for someone to call her Sir. This must be difficult for the workplace environment especially at a school. Great tag line, totally got my attention!

  4. •I don’t know you, nor have I seen you in a restroom, but your article got me thinking•

    Urinvited: an open letter of apology

    May my brain work faster and my face be less betraying. May your only fear in the restroom be running out of toilet paper.

    Brains are awesome. They give us ridiculously fast information based on past experiences so that we can do stuff like slam on the brakes because an adorable bunny runs into the street. Brains are also assholes. Sometimes slamming on the brakes for that bunny means you get rear ended by the car behind you. Agreed? Awesome! Let’s move on to the peeing.

    I walked into the men’s restroom on accident when I was younger. I, being a young girl, was mortified. No one likes likes that feeling. I get it. So, if you identify as female, of course you should use the women’s bathroom. (Or the other way around)

    Back to my brain being an asshole. Let’s pretend I’m done with my business and I’m at the sink washing my hands. Cue a couple bathroom scenarios and how my brain works- *note my mouth would stay shut

    ?Person born male, but obviously identifies as female: brain- man? (If I even notice), feminine, women’s restroom, ok whatever, drys hands
    ?Person born female, who appears masculine: brain- did I go into the wrong bathroom again?!, no I’m in the women’s restroom, is he looking for some one? Are they in the wrong wrong restroom? No, they seem to be sure. Ok. Well. If they’re sure that’s ok I think. Yes. Shut up and let me dry my hands brain! Way to make this awkward brain. This is fine. Why did I panic? Stupid brain. Now I feel like an ass. Drys hands

    So. I apologize that I questioned your right to the throne. My brain is used to taking very quick routes and when I detour, I sometimes get lost. Next time I will try to have a quicker (and less awkward for both of us) reaction. The time after that, maybe my brain will have adjusted its reflex.

    No one should need an invite to use the restroom of their choosing, and will fight to keep it that way. I realize that my face fails to hide surprise or confusion, but please give me another chance.

  5. Unisex bathrooms will probably be here before you know it. Here’s the deal, you have a boy haircut. Ok who says it is a boy cut, just what society recognizes as a male style. Would it be hard to have a more female short hair cut? It goes a long way of you identify yourself as a female too. best of both worlds. We recognize our gender by our hair and clothes. A simple way of changing up a cut can go along way.

    • I find this comment so offensive. Being able to pee safely without harassment is a human right. She shouldn’t have to change her looks to pee. Your comment is akin to: if a person is being harassed they should change. NO! The harasser is the one who needs to change. Having a short haircut might seem like just a style/preference. But for many it is an expression of who they are.

      • Being mistaken for male isn’t “offensive”. People are stupid and say stupid things.

        Being offended because someone tried to offer, what they apparently perceived to be, helpful advice is stupid.

        Maybe if people spent less time being “offended” by everything, this world would be a better place. Maybe if people spent less time being worried about what other people think, this world would be a better place.

        If you are so wrapped up in how other people perceive you, then you have a long way to go.

        Good luck on your journey.

  6. Erica,

    First of all, I want to thank you for writing this. As a trans woman, I can tell you it mirrors exactly many of the fears I have felt using restrooms.

    I can still remember sitting in a stall one day in terror. The lock didn’t work, but I had to go. Right as I sit down, a little girl came in the restroom talking loudly and trying doors in an attempt to gind an empty stall. I just knew she was going to try and push my stall open. The lock wasn’t going to hold. It barely held the door shut without someone trying to push through.

    At that point, I had a decision to make. Sit there silently, or say something. The only problem was that my voice wasn’t ready. I had been practicing, but it still sounded more like a guy. My choices seemed to be between keep quiet and risk an intrusion that would have certainly led to problems, or speak up and possibly give myself away. Either way, I envisioned some large protective father waiting outside ready to beat the hell out of me.

  7. Thank you Erica for writing a thoughtful reflection on the issue – but even more for opening up in a deeply personal way. Seeing how real live people, not the theoretical “they,” are affected is the best way to change minds.

  8. 1 I’ve been told I was in the wrong bathroom when I had super short hair. And was wearing Tevas, shorts and a t shirt

    2 I have accidentally gone in the wrong bathroom (long story, sleep deprivation makes you do strange things)

    3 I’m tall for a girl and often am called ‘sir’ even with longer hair

    4 I am not masculine at all, I love dresses, cute shoes and I do wear make up though not all the time. My style is sort of woodsy meets the Hepburns. I still get called ‘sir’ sometimes.

    5. I am so sorry people are stupid, I can’t fix them but I can help my children be more kind and mindful of what they say.

  9. If anyone calls you out on it, all you have to do is say “I’m a woman I just have short hair”. That’s a small price for you to pay to protect girls from being victims of perverts. You’re the one that wants to live outside of norms and that’s completely cool but that also means you should expect people not to immediately understand you because it’s literally not the norm.

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