Transitioning: The Bathroom Battles

<- Women don't pee standing up!        <- This bathroom is reserved for male-to-female transsexual women!

"It's always the bathroom issue!" That's what they say about transitioning in the workplace, and it was true for me. This essay captures the on-going bathroom battles when I transitioned in the workplace. Although this is always THE issue, I found very little helpful information written up about it. Hopefully this little essay can be of help to others in their bathroom battles. I have not reached the end of my battles yet. It is my intention to keep this essay updated as things develop.


What is it about the bathroom? Not the bathroom in your home, but the men's and women's restrooms in public places. Are there more mysterious and forbidden places on earth? When I first began crossdressing, using the women's room was a major fantasy for me. When I first started going out dressed, actually using the women's room was a huge terror and thrill. In fact, it was a principal highlight of many of my outings. Why? I couldn't have told you then, and I still can't explain it today. It was NEVER anything to do with seeing women's naked naughty parts. I never imagined women paraded around naked in the restroom, nor did I every have peeping Tom fantasies. The best explaiation I can come up with is this: it is an extremely feminine thing to do. NO MEN ALLOWED. In those early days, I had no conscious idea that I was transsexual. Nevertheless, was the thrill for me simply that I was participating in a particularly womanly ritual?

After a while, using the women's room became less of a thrill, and my attitude became dominated by the risk that something could go wrong and I could "get caught". I wasn't really worried about getting arrested or anything that severe, but I could imagine the store manager testily asking me to please leave and never return to his chaste store! I wished to avoid such humiliation, so my use of the women's restroom became (like most trannies) on an "as needed" basis, and then it was quickly in and out with no fuss and bother. To this day, as a transitioned transsexual woman, that is still pretty much my policy. I will stop to wash my hands and perhaps fix my make-up if I need to, but I don't dawdle.

I have been using women's restrooms in stores, malls, airports, hotels, restaurants, clubs, etc., for over 10 years now. Mostly it has been around the San Francisco Bay area, but some outside as well. From time to time women have chat me up in the restroom, with no apparent concern. In all this time I have only been hassled once, and that was very minor. I was in The Usual nightclub in downtown San Jose, dancing. As the night wore on I needed to use the facilities, so I did. There was a line of 3 or 4 women inside waiting for an open stall, a situation I try to avoid, but there was no help for it. So I stood in line. I got to chatting with the other women, and eventually got my business done. I left the restroom, and half a dozen steps later, a heavyset security guard grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me aside. I couldn't imagine what he wanted, so I started to go with him. "What are you doing using the women's room?" he growled. I stopped in my tracks, jerking my arm out of his grasp. I looked him in the eye, motioned at myself up and down, indicating my nice skirt and blouse and long hair, gave him an exasperated look, and walked away. That was the end of that. Except that the next day I sent this e-mail to the club's management. I never got any response.

"It's always the bathroom issue!"

Except for that one incident at The Usual, I had been crossdressing and using women's restrooms for many years without problems. As recounted in tiresome detail elsewhere on my web site, there came a day when I realized I am a transsexual woman. And the time came for me to transition at work, and begin living full time as a woman. Much to my delight, not only did I not lose my job, but people at work were wonderfully kind and supportive. I could not have dreamt of a smoother or happier transition experience. Except for the bathroom issue. It has been said many times, "It always comes down to the bathroom issue!" and this was true in my case as well.

I discussed my transition with the Vice President of Human Resources (let's just call him VPHR from now on) as an initial step in my process of transitioning at work. He was extremely supportive and said he did not see that there should be any problems. I thanked him profusely. Then I suggested that we should discuss the bathroom issue. He looked puzzled.

"What's that about?" he asked.

"Uh-oh!" I thought to myself. "He isn't even aware of the issue!" "Ummm," I told him, "Some people may be uncomfortable with me using the women's room."

"I don't see why they would!" VPHR chirped.

"Well," I continued, "they tell me it is always an issue. What is the restroom set-up in the building?" I asked. (Our little company had just been acquired, and we would be moving into their building, which I had not seen yet.) "Are there any private or unused restrooms where it wouldn't be an issue?"

"Unfortunately, no," he answered. "There is one set of restrooms upstairs, where most of our employees are, and another set downstairs. Your cubicle will be downstairs. Half of the downstairs floor is sub-leased to another company, and they share the restroom facilities." Darn, no easy solution there, I thought.

"That's too bad," I said. "It would have worked nicely in this building, because we have a one-holer toilet with a locking door. That is always the most trouble-free answer."

We discussed it a little bit more. We agreed that the best thing to do would be that I should just go ahead and use the women's room, and see if anyone complains. I also suggested that he should talk privately with one or two of the women who might be leaders in the building, and make sure they were okay with it. I figured we could line them up as cheerleaders for my cause.

Reality bites

So even the restroom issue was going to be wonderful in my transition. How lucky I was! I went on Christmas break thinking this was a done deal. Naive little girl!

I arrived at work on Wednesday January 2, 2002, my first day working en femme. I was a little nervous but as happy as could be. I dressed modestly all in tan: low-heeled pumps, slacks, and cable-knit sweater. My short red hair added a dash of color. My co-workers old and new greeted me warmly and made me feel most welcome. But soon VPHR caught my eye, and motioned me into his office. After some friendly welcoming small-talk, he said, "Elaine, I need to talk to you about the restroom situation. We discussed it at executive staff meeting last week, and they are worried about the liability of sexual harassment lawsuits if you use the women's room. We talked to our corporate lawyer and he agreed it was a problem. So we would like to ask you to please continue to use the men's room, at least until such a time as you become a real woman."

"Oh that won't work!" I responded reflexively. Then I remembered that my plan was to be cooperative, not confrontational, for any issues that came up in my transition. I quickly added, "I certainly see their point, and I am willing to give that solution a try. And I'm sure we will find something that works for everyone. This won't be a deal-breaker. But I'm afraid that using the men's room isn't going to work out for me or for the men. Ha ha, I warned you this would be an issue, didn't I?"

We discussed it some more, in very friendly terms. I could tell that VPHR was not happy to be the bearer of this policy, and that he personally would prefer to just have me go ahead and use the women's room. I offered that I would do some research about it. Surely since this has always been "the issue", there should be some helpful legal or other precedents to help us.

I went off and did the research, combing the internet, querying friends, and getting some books on rush-order from Amazon. I found very little that was any help. Legally, the issue seems to be unsettled. It varies state by state, and in general there isn't legislation or case law that clarifies the situation. As far as OSHA is concerned, the employer is obligated only to provide restroom facilities that are safe, reasonably convenient, and dignified. Clearly the best approach is accommodation and compromise. (Here is one or the best links I found addressing the issue.)

I began using the men's restroom as I promised, but I found it very uncomfortable. I used it as little as possible and tried to avoid using it when other people were inside (deja vu!). When I ran into men in the restroom or entering or leaving, I got puzzled looks, especially from the people from the other company that shared our floor.

Over that first weekend, I wrote this letter and sent it to VPHR first thing Monday morning. I was having some trouble with my new e-mail, so I checked with him Tuesday to make sure he got it. He looked harried and a little embarrassed, and said he had seen it but had only had time to work through the first couple of paragraphs so far.

On Friday afternoon, I sent VPHR another letter. I also had an interesting talk with one of the secretaries who had befriended me that week. She knew of my situation, including the restroom issue. She's quite a spitfire, and she told me she didn't think executive staff had any business poking their noses into my private bathroom habits! Shouldn't they be spending their time on more important things, anyway? She also confided in me that she thought the Human Resources Department sucked--that they didn't care about the people, they just looked out for the company. She told me my problem was I was too honest. I should never have asked permission!

In retrospect, maybe my secretary friend was right. If I had not brought up the issue, I could have just gone ahead and used the women's room and established that there was no problem, before it ever came into management's consciousness. Or maybe not. Who knows? But I recommend that others consider that approach if they have a similar situation.

By the next Monday, starting my second full week of work, I had heard nothing back from VPHR in response to my letters. Perhaps he was waiting for the next executive staff meeting, which was delayed due to the CEO being out of town. Or maybe he just considered it an issue that he could afford to let ride for a while. Or maybe my friend was right, VPHR is an asshole! In any case, I took matters into my own hands (shame on you, no joking here!) and began using the women's restroom. I figured that I had only promised to "try" using the men's room, and try I had. Besides, management had "plausible deniability"--if anyone complained, it could not be said that the company had sanctioned my restroom use and therefore supported a hostile work environment. In fact, I only ran into other women a couple of times, quickly in passing, and I could not tell if they even noticed anything unusual. (These are women from the other company that shares our floor, so I have not formerly met them.)

That is where the matter stands today. I will keep this essay updated as things develop. But do you know what? It feels really great to use the women's restroom. I am living as a woman.. I am a woman.. and I use the women's bathroom, goddamit!

Update: Feb 14, 2002

This update is of the "No News is Good News" variety. I've been using the downstairs women's room for several weeks now, and no one has said anything about it one way or the other. VPHR has not talked to me about bathrooms or anything else transition-related. I'm dating a nice 5th grade teacher, but he seems to have gone into stealth mode for Valentine's Day. I forgive him--I remember just how scary V-Day is for boys! (I just threw that in to have something interesting here.)

Update: Jan 27, 2003 - The Battle Ends!

Today I was laid off. The Bathroom Battles end! And just when I was about to get my Permanent Bathroom Pass. (My SRS is scheduled for February 17.)

My layoff did not have anything to do with my transsexual status. The company has not had any revenue to speak of for the last 2 years, so I pretty much saw this coming. 10 people were RIF'd (Reduction In Force, as the call it.) I joked that I would sue for sexual discrimination and claim that all the men who were laid off were gay. When I told one gal I would sue for sexual discrimination, she beat me to the punch by asking me, "Which sex?"

At my exit interview, the VP of Human Resources let drop the fact that the person who had originally demanded that I use the mens' room was in fact the company president. In my year with the company, the president never said one word to me personally. But lots of employees could say the same thing; he just isn't a very sociable guy. No wonder the company is in trouble!

So end the Bathroom Battles, for me at least. Now I have a bigger challenge: finding a new job!

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