Three months of lockdown has shriveled all of our piss-fitness. In my case, it's also shriveled my genitals. I began hormone treatment as we all "went inside", having realised a few weeks earlier that I am, and always have been, a woman.
Here we are, two of my most affirming, trans-positive friends, and me, on the deck of bar that's been closed for months, necking our third cocktail, and ready for our first bathroom stop. I don't know this right now, but this pee will relieve me unlike any pee before it.
In early high school (age 13), when my identity was firmly buried, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in binary-gendered bathrooms and changing rooms. Why?
Men. Boys and men. If you're a woman, imagine that. Only men and boys in your changing room. Nobody but you and a pride of men and boys. In most ways they didn't know who I was. Hell, I didn't know. But in some ways I did. I bubbled with fear. And the energy of that fear broadcast something that ratcheted up these boys' machismo. They stuck out their jaws and their chests. They sprayed about, like untrained dogs, and trialed their burgeoning misogyny.
We arrived for "P.E." (physical education) and entered the change rooms. Their black shoes, laces still tied, were kicked towards the wall. Their blue school shirts were partially unbuttoned and then tossed onto the bench. Their grey pants were flicked on top. Each item, emblematic of a woman’s care, was flung away in victorious disdain. Most of these boys were getting one over on their mums. The only items treated with deference were their black leather belts and their ties, which they hung neatly.
Their banter dipped into Trumpesque brags about their sister’s friend, or their neighbour’s daughter. The names of their conquests were never spoken, lest their humanity emerge (or lest their exaggerations revealed). The verbs they employed included "banged", "smashed" and "hit" - hissed and spat with percussive disgust. The air was thick with their venom and with a secret - the pretense that this is "who they were". But of course they weren’t. They were just learning their assigned toxicity.
I shed my clothes with perfect mimicry in some ways: I copied the contemptuous toss of the shirt and shoes. When removing my pants, however, I was a mouse. My pulse quickened and my face ran hot. What was inside there was not right. I didn't know why, so I assumed others would be as disturbed by my genitals as I was.
This was the moment, surely, when they would "clock" an enemy intruder. They would point, alert the party, and the mob would pounce. They were short on weapons in there, but their hanging belts looked likely. Lord of the Flies with a girl instead of a redhead. They would snatch their belts on their way to me. They would mount and flay and fuck and lash, tearing apart my flesh. As I let down my pants and shook, standing in my underwear, I could feel and taste the blood their belts would slice from me.
I kept myself safe by blending in with exaggerated enthusiasm. I smiled and laughed and grunted along with them in those change rooms, with their quips and their stories. Nodding and smiling and laughing. Pounding underneath. It was miraculous to me that each time I walked free from those change rooms, unfucked, unflayed, unmurdered.
When terror ends, an animal exhales, and tension evacuates the body. Not all of it though. The animal is prone to aftershocks. Small frights re-ignite the cascade, and fight-flight-freeze snaps again. I realise now that I spent the six years of high school in this state - moving between moments of unbounded terror, to calmer plateaux of sub-panic readiness. I moved from one scene to the next, expecting the worst at each moment. Though some spaces scared me more than others, my baseline of confusion, dysphoria, and fear, had me consistently primed to fight (but there was no winning these fights), to run (but there was nowhere to run), or to freeze (but I was in no mood to give up), and so I fawned. I fawned most aggressively to the least feminine people - the toxic masc' crowd; "jocks".
I had refuge in my group of art/queer/music friends. They weren't going to kill me. There was little emotional violence and we genuinely liked and cared for each other. We would tease with love about what was in our lunch box today, about our eccentricities. Our differences were celebrated. Rarely did anyone there feel persecuted. Nevertheless, I was prone to aftershocks. I would enter this group during lunch breaks elevated from exchanges with more threatening boys. Every person in that pod would have received my truth with compassion and care. Yet I feared them. And now I understand this was not only a misreading of them. It was also that the threat they posed was even greater than the threat of violence. These people could hurt me differently. They were like me. If these people saw me and then rejected me, they wouldn't lynch me. They would abandon me. Not death. Something worse - I would sit alone forever in the school yard.
Which brings me back to binary-gendered bathrooms.
In the men's bathroom, I fear being seen and murdered. But i know the rules. I've successfully applied them for nearly half a century. My physical body will survive in there.
In the women's bathroom, where my people pee, I fear being seen and then rejected. Abandoned by people who are like me. They will confirm my deeper terror - that I have no tribe.
Kym takes my hand. "Come on honey. Let's do this."
Her hand, her confidence, and her effortless femininity lift me, weightless, and we skip (really, we skip), inside through the bar, giggling, towards the bathroom. We round the annex and there they are, two doors. Unconsciously, I lurch towards the men's. Kym tugs me back towards our prize. I let go of forty-odd years of pretending and shove the weighted door aside. We dance into a fluorescent space, garish and arresting, like all the bathrooms I've fought before, but now my pulse is easy. No trough, only stalls. I walk into one, checking so very carefully that I am not intruding. And I close the door behind me. I lift my frock and pull down my tights, more safe than I have ever felt. Kym hears my tears .
"How are you doing, honey?"
"I feel so safe. I love you."
"I love you too, Emma."