We Just Want to Pee: Navigating Trans Needs in Gay Spaces
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As a gay man, moving to Palm Springs seemed like an easy choice. The vast array of businesses, bars and activities curated for my community attracted me to the area. But as a trans gay man (someone who was born female but identifies as male, and is sexually attracted to men), I’ve been learning the harsh reality of my existence in these spaces, especially when it comes to using the restroom. As a trans man I hate the constant conversations around using the restroom. Unfortunately, it’s not something I can ignore anymore, especially because I identify more within MSM culture (men who have sex with men), and problems with inclusive restrooms are everywhere in this community.
A few weeks ago, I went out to the Toolshed, a bar well known for its relaxed, counterculture vibes, which promotes itself as welcoming and inclusive to the community. It’s loved by many, and usually busy on a Sunday afternoon. But as a trans man, I quickly realized my experience in this bar was not going to be the same as the cis men who frequent it. My first hint came from a conversation I overheard, expressing disgust and confusion around people who identify as nonbinary. Unfortunately, I’m pretty used to overhearing this type of conversation in these spaces, so I ignored it.
But soon I had to pee.
Peeing is the ultimate test of just how “inclusive” a gay bar truly is. Often the bathrooms are completely unaccommodating or difficult to access for individuals who have to sit to pee, as was the case for the Toolshed. The bar provided no options to sit in privacy, the only toilet being in the middle of urinals and behind a door that does not lock. So my husband stood outside the door, told people not to come in and was met with rude comments. My only other option was to pee in front of everyone, which would have outed me as a trans gay man and potentially put me in danger. When I tried to ask the staff if they had other options, I was met with hostility.
I wish I could say this was a unique situation, but nine times out of 10 this is the case. I’ve only been living in Palm Springs since June and have already realized the bars here are not meant for my body. I really love the vibes of these bars, but I’ve resigned to the fact that I must decide if holding my pee is worth going out.
Nobody should have to worry about maintaining their dignity while using the restroom, especially when they’re going out to socialize and have a good time. But as a trans man who occupies mostly cisgender gay spaces, it’s always something I think about. Cis gay men take a lot of things for granted, but one thing I feel never crosses their mind is the safety of being able to use the restroom in an establishment curated for them, and how not being able to pee can make you feel completely worthless and unimportant.
I know the cis gay community experiences its own fears around peeing among non-gay culture. As a youth, bathrooms and locker rooms are often places of bullying and shame around sexual identity. So why bring this onto others who, while built differently, are still a part of your community?
Not every trans gay man has a penis, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t entitled to pee in peace. The body types of gay men have changed, and it’s about time gay establishments change with the times.
I’ve also heard individuals ask “the point” of changing bathrooms for such a small community. But let me tell you, we aren’t that small. In fact, if you made your bathrooms easier to utilize, you’d be surprised just how many of us would be more likely to come out and socialize.
There’s also a notion throughout much of the gay community that a trans gay man isn’t really a gay man, so why help us? But we’re men who love men, too, and isn’t that the basic criteria? It infuriates me that while many cis gay men are so wanting to jump in bed with trans men, they won’t take a moment to acknowledge and accommodate our basic human needs. Perhaps if they understood that a bladder infection means no sex, they’d be more willing to help?
The truth is, I’m not asking for a lot. In fact, all I’m asking for is to provide access to basic human dignity; a simple lock on the door or allowing access to a single-stalled restroom doesn’t take that much work. Or, if a bathroom requires a key, don’t make us “out” ourselves to ask for it. Just give it to us. I’ve been to bars where I’ve had difficulty finding a safe restroom, and upon speaking to management was told there was a key, but I needed to ask. Upon asking the next time, it became a game of 20 questions around why I wanted to lock the door, and the only thing that granted me access to that key was telling them about my trans status.
Some of us would be happy to help the gay community make our spaces safer and more affirming for transmasculine bodies, if only you’d ask. But we aren’t asked for help, and unfortunately, I feel we never will be. So the burden is put upon us trans men. And we do take it on, but it’d be really nice to have that burden lifted so we can simply enjoy a drink at our local gay bar in peace.
Jake Rostovsky, MA, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and the CEO and founder of Queer Works, a nonprofit organization working to provide free therapy to the LGBTQ+ community in California. Openly transgender since he was 13, Jake uses his personal experience and professional background as a mental health clinician to educate and facilitate deep and meaningful conversations around topics facing his community. Through appearances on Oprah, Buzzfeed, Dr. Phil and global news sources, he has brought a unique and dynamic voice to an often ignored cause. To learn more about Jake and his work, visit queerworks.org or jakerostovsky.com.
Photo at top: Sean Murphy / Getty Images