Last week, two women at my job started a discussion with me that left me feeling uncomfortable. During a working meeting with them, completely unprompted they brought up my choice of the restroom at work. Since coming out, I have only used a single occupancy, gender-neutral restroom at the office, a decision that apparently did not go unnoticed. These two women wanted me to stop doing that and start using the women’s restroom. They never gave me an actual reason, just lectured me that I should. It wasn’t even a conversation, they were talking at me. It was a pretty uncomfortable situation and the more I dwell on it, the more concerning I find it.
Two aspects of this odd intervention stuck out to me. The first was being informed about a meeting that occurred following my coming out. After I came out at work, a meeting was held with many of the women I work with to determine their comfort level regarding me using the women’s restroom. Only one person in the office had an issue with it at that time, and so they argued that I should be comfortable using the women’s restroom. I didn’t even know of that meeting until this conversation and it doesn’t sit right with me. HR had told me that I could the women’s restroom months before I actually came out at work. Also, it isn’t up to my coworkers to determine which restroom I am allowed to use. What would they have done if it proved unpopular? My employer is legally obligated to allow me to use a restroom corresponding with my gender identity, no matter what my coworkers think. In my opinion, they shouldn’t have asked for my coworker’s permission at all. They have no right to offer input on my gender transition.
The other odd aspect of the conversation was several comments about my sexual orientation, which they didn’t actually know. It’s not a secret that I am a lesbian, but I also don’t go out of my way to share it. Without outright saying it, they made it obvious that my sexual orientation was a significant factor in how comfortable they were with me using the women’s restroom. They clearly preferred that I be straight. They ultimately acknowledged that they couldn’t actually ask me about my orientation and so didn’t, but the whole conversation was inappropriate. Why does my sexual orientation impact what restroom I should use? Would they have been just as concerned about sharing a restroom with a cis lesbian? The whole interaction made me incredibly uncomfortable.
The oddest part is these two were not the only people to say this to me in the last few weeks. Two other people have also told me to start using the women’s restroom recently, both times completely unprompted. This seems to be the only conversation that people want to have about my transition and it also shows just how poorly most cis people understand the decision. They always frame it as a matter of rights, that I have the right to use the women’s restroom because I am a woman, but that never plays a role in my decision-making. For me, the decision of what restroom to use is always a matter of risk assessment, and what choice is safest. At work, it is a choice between a non-zero chance of encountering harassment and potentially violence or walking 2 additional minutes to the gender-neutral restroom. When running errands, it is a choice between taking a risk on using a restroom in public or making an extra stop back to my apartment. I shouldn’t have to make these kinds of assessments for decisions that most people take for granted, but I do. And I will always choose inconvenient safety over taking a risk.