Last night, when I was out at a Cosmopolian pub and had consumed three pints of their fine beer, I found myself in need of using the facilities. I sort of enjoy the bathroom at this particular pub, because the stalls have full walls and floor-to-ceiling doors. There is none of that having to see the awkward positions of other people's feet or to hear the crinkle of plastic wrappers. Some activities just seem far too personal to be done right next to me with such minimal privacy. It seems kind of ridiculous to stand behind a sheet of metal in a large room and defecate or shove something up my hoo-ha right next to a total stranger. I am not a fan of public restrooms.
But my distaste for near-contact bowel evacuation is beside the point. What is not beside the point is that when I was in the stall, I read the graffiti on the door. This pub is frequented by early- to mid-twenties granola-ish cool kids, and the females of the type tend to write slogans or even entire paragraphs on the bathroom walls that are meant to be empowering. They write things like "We are all our own Goddess" and "You will find the love you deserve" and "Don't let a man tell you how to feel". I am sure that the women who write this crap on the stall doors believe they are transmitting positive messages to each other that communicate how women are strong and deserving and capable, but that is not what I read from it. I read a culture of young women with low self-esteem who feel disenfranchised and abused.
I remembered a time back in the mid-1990s when I was in a nearly sexless lesbian relationship with a woman who was a completely closeted gender dysphoric. The near-sexlessness and complete ignorance of each others' gender dysphoria is also beside the point, but no matter. At that time, we did not feel terribly comfortable being open about our relationship in public. We had both been spit on and yelled at by strangers for our notable, bald-headed difference and knew the stories of others who had been chased down, curb-stomped, raped, and otherwise physically harrassed by sub-human assholes. We were not keen on finding more of that ourselves, so our public outtings were usually limited to a local gay bookstore/coffee shop and this organized movie night we attended that was held at the home of a middle-aged lesbian couple. The couple looked identical to each other and had two identical dogs, a living room that was overrun with fake wood panelling, and a wall-to-wall gold shag rug. I was surprised that they didn't have plastic sleeves to cover the furniture.
When we went there for movie nights, the living room would be filled with young women much like ourselves, non-straight with a transgressive aesthetic and a need to establish positive connections with like-minded people. No matter how lonely the world had made me, though, I could not relax there. The more lesbo-centric VHS tapes they plugged into the VCR, the more depressing the situation seemed to me. Movies like Indigo Girls tour documentaries and "Go Fish" were good to see, but I felt like we were hiding out. I did not feel empowered by sitting in a dark room in an unfamiliar house surrounded by women who, despite their being more like myself than almost anyone else I had encountered in my life, were strangers to me.
What I wanted more than anything was to be okay with myself. I did not want to feel ashamed and silenced and afraid and isolated into invisibility. Confining my more honest experiences of self to an apartment, one coffee shop, and the living room of a couple whose names I could not even remember did not make me anything but lonelier and more depressed.
Thankfully, my world did not stay so small. I grew up; I grew into myself. What has not changed, though, is that sad feeling I get when faced with the truth of things, which is that some women still feel they have to encourage each other to be strong and smart through sex-centric messages in women-only spaces. These anonymous, morale-boosting messages are kept away from the eyes of males, transmitted among members of an underclass that is still largely afraid to say, do, and feel it all out loud in mixed company. It is as though large numbers of women are closeted: the sort of woman the world expects is on one side of the bathroom door, and the sort of person one actually is is on the other. On this side one can be brave and buck the system, but one applies another layer of lipgloss and adjusts her brassiere before pushing back out into world at large.
I like to think that we are people first before our relative genders and that gender is a lens through which our experience is filtered. The fact that the assumed specific configuration of my genitalia can dictate how one might judge my abilities or social value angers me more than I can say. The thing that I am is not primarily female or male; the thing that I am is a human being, first and foremost, like every other (mostly) hairless biped with opposable thumbs on the planet.