Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baby Butch Bathroom Shame

Butch invisibility has guaranteed that Butch women have to deal with various levels of harassment and embarrassment through their being ignorantly mistaken for men by other women whenever they use public ladies rooms. Whether it is as minor as a women walking into the ladies room seeing a Butch woman washing her hands, then going back out to verify she is in the right bathroom, to the down right rude and nastiness of some women screaming at said Butches to "get out" or "there is a man in the ladies" and getting a manager. Public bathroom issues are par for the course for Butch women, we may not like them, but as adults we deal with them. Some days they evoke in us anger, same days shame. While it would be easy enough to devote a whole post to this, (and I may later) I am going to instead write a bit about my feelings and experiences of when this issue first began for me.
Its interesting to see how early girls begin internalizing misogyny, especially baby Butches.
Not surprisingly my first experience with using a public bathroom was also my first experience in shame. It was kindergarten. The first day. Part way through the half morning class we were given a snack and a pint of white milk. After everyone had finished we were directed to line up in front of the girls and boys bathrooms which were located within the classroom. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach at the very thought of having to stand in the "girls" line. I hesitated, waited until all the other girls lined up, then stood behind them. Granted, I had no desire to stand with the boys either, but I still felt sickened and ashamed of having to stand with the girls, in the girls line. It was literally like a kick in the gut to feel I was a girl. I knew I was a girl alright, but knowing doesn't quite register the way feeling does. I was okay knowing it, I wanted to die feeling it. From then on, I did everything in my power to hold it till I got home. Even skipped drinking the milk, not that that was too difficult as I hated
So began my pattern of bathroom shame. In first, second and third grade which I went to at the the same school as kindergarten, I simply held it till lunch (went home for lunch), then held it again till I went home after school. It became a regular worry, which honestly lasted until the day I dropped out of high school in grade 12. Worry and shame. Worry and shame. Worry and shame. I find my adult self grieving the pain, suffering and shame my younger selves lived, not through, but with, everyday. My 5 year old self, my 12 year old self, my 19 years old self, and on and on, were all shamed because nowhere could they look, no direction known to MAN reflected them back to themselves in any manner! So shame became the natural outcome to my Butch invisibility.
The sad thing is, it isn't even men who failed me, men fail women with every breath taken, its the women who failed my baby Butch self! Failed to create a space for me, failed show me how truly powerful they are to my shamed filled budding Butch self. Failed to show me they are more than a piece of meat to be sucked dry by men, failed to show me they are not defined by men, failed to show me there isn't as single way to be a woman, failed to show me the backseat they take to men is truly the drivers seat, failed to show me brains and brawn were within my reach, failed, failed, failed and still failing!
I no longer feel ashamed of being a woman, I do however feel a deep burden every time I am "sir'd" because for every "sir" I receive there is a baby Butch somewhere reeling from the very same shame that had assailed me for so very many many years. If I'm invisible, she is invisible and ashamed, with no language or potential to understand her shame. I am invisible in the light, she is ashamed and alone in the dark.
Stop Butch invisibility
Stop Butch shame
See me, see her, see us!

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  1. This is a great post! Nobody TALKS about this pain!! And yet, it's SO REAL. So common.

    When I first encountered this situation with my girlfriend (who could pass for male, though I've never been able to), I was absolutely SHOCKED and HORRIFIED by other women's poor behavior towards butches!! WTF is wrong with them? I was completely naive. She asked me to go to the bathroom with her at a rest stop & I was like, but I don't have to go. She said PLEASE, so no one says anything to me--and I wanted to cry. I simply had never imagined the shame and worry of having your womanhood insulted EVERY FUCKING TIME YOU HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM outside of your home or other Safe Place.

    I imagine that this kind of confrontation happens more frequently in certain areas of the country. I am in Boston, and previously in Northampton, so I figure that butches are safer here than just about anywhere else---yet it still happens. Enforcing femininity as a prerequisite to using the ladies' bathrooms is both offensive and abusive! I vote for UNISEX bathrooms. Or maybe MEN and EVERYONE ELSE (I don't like men in MY bathroom. They spray and leave the toilet seats up).

  2. Spot on OCP! I always have a g/f or female friend go to public bathrooms with me. Its hell!


  3. Oh my word. this post and this comment. shocked and horrified by other womens' 'ignorance' toward women who appear to be men? really? wondering WTF is wrong with them? you honestly don't know? I will tell you. Women, especially those who appear to be women, are under constant threat of sexual assault by men. There are very few women who would feel safe walking into a public restroom seeing a MAN in there. Do you know how many adult women have been raped? how many women who were raped or molested as girls, how many girls are molested and raped? and that is 'just' sexual assault, I won't even get into physical assault. It's not 'ignorance' to feel frightened and extremely alarmed at seeing what appears to be a man in the women's restroom. It is not unreasonable for any woman to think about self-preservation before asking um are you a woman or a man? or assuming that the person who appears to be male is actually a woman. I walk into a bathroom and see a man, that's a split-second decision that's about protecting myself from sexual assault.

    as women YOU KNOW THIS. if you are going to be pissed at anyone, be angry that men terrorize women in this way.

  4. Trula, if you bothered to read more than a post or two you would know I write regualrly about misogyny in ALL its forms.

    But as a Butch woman I also write about issues that are particular to Butch women. And bathroom shame is one of them. There is no reason Butch women should be harassed in the the ladies if women simply bothered to give us a second glance. There isnt anything about us that "looks like a man", because we are women. We have womens faces, breasts, hands, feet, hips, skin etc.

    Beyond the invisibility issue, most Butch bathroom shame could be avoided if other women just bothered to see instead of jump.

    Interesting though how you jump down my throat, I wonder if you are doing to the same to the tens of thousands of actual Mtf men who are now using the ladies and fighting to have laws passed when they cant. Hmmm....


  5. I totally missed this lesbian-hating comment! Or I would've come back earlier to be like, HELL YEAH DIRT!

    I hate men with the best of em' but I have NEVER encountered a woman in the bathroom who I felt needed to be ejected by the "authorities-that-be." If the absence of an adam's apple wasn't clue enough, most butches DO feature hips, breasts, faces, and hands that are clearly characteristic of the female sex.

    Anyways, what is the solution to this? That ALL women wear skirts and conform to the patriarchal standards of femininity so as to be more easily identifiable targets for male violence?? PLEASE spare me. Gendered differentials are the basis for violence by misogyny in the first place!

  6. I don't normally scare women that way, well maybe when in full leather, because I have a more obvious female physique, big butt, large breasts, even though thoroughly Butch..nonetheless women hold their purses tighter and do their best to not look at me...but I just take up my space.

    What REALLY bothers me, is everytime I go to a mixed gay event(meaning not women only, but even possible at a women only event), there's ALWAYS these obvious Drag Queens, and I don't even mean transitioned MTF's that take up such space in the women's bathroom doing up their hair, their drag, their whathaveyou with their obvious male voices. It really, really bothers me at times.

    And it bothers me, I'd NEVER want a unisex shared bathroom, cuz I don't like peeing after males, nor would I feel physically safe. Women need to look beyond obvious feminine clothes and see us for who we are. Us Butches have been around a long time, so ignorance is no excuse!

  7. I live in NYC, and just recently travelled to Amsterdam. (you'd think gay-friendly enough)

    When I was at JFK for my departing flight, heading towards the womens room, two janitors standing outside of the bathroom, said "that way that way that way" pointing to the men's room. And then I said "take a good look." And then he said sorry. At the airport in Amsterdam, a woman standing outside of the restrooms with her boyfriend/husband tried to re-route me in the "right" direction. And, lo and behold, I was welcomed back to NYC when of course I couldn't take 3 steps into the women's restroom without someone (who happened to look slightly butch herself) came at me arrogantly with her "excuse me excuse me!" and i think the bathroom thing happened a few other times but those are the ones that stand out. and if i stressed over the "sirs" then i'd just drive myself crazy so i'll leave those out.

    i guess you can consider me a baby butch so for me this was rough to see what the actual ramifications are of just dressing/having your hair in a way that makes you feel like yourself as opposed to dressing to make other people happy.

  8. Anon,

    Thanks for the comment, it reads to me like the typical day-in-the-life of a Butch woman. I've even got my share of "you're in the wrong bathroom" at lesbian bars over the years, as long as Butch females remain invisible (even in our own communities) this stuff will continue to happen.

    Sadly, when the lesbian community is more interested in accommodating mainstream society, Butches issues will go on being ignored/down played.