It’s become an end-of-summer tradition. Over the past several years, I’ve created a collection of posts about family vacations with my gender-ambiguous wife. Whenever we travel, public restrooms are a problem, because we never know when Katy will be read as male and when she’ll be read as female. We’ve studied the variables, but there doesn’t seem to be any discernible logic to the “sirs” and “ma’ams” that come her way. From South Texas to Hawaii, we’ve navigated public restrooms as carefully as the average traveler might step through a poopy cow patch.
This summer, we decided to take a family trip to Japan. Our 10-year-old son is passionate about Japanese cuisine, so we weren’t worried about how to feed a finicky kid in a foreign land. We were meeting our friend Nancy, who travels to Japan several times a year, so we weren’t sweating over transportation or communication. As always, we were concerned about where Katy would pee. It’s one thing to be chased out of the women’s restroom in a familiar culture, and quite another thing to be chased out of a restroom in a place where you don’t know the language or customs.
On our first day in Tokyo, we set out for Senso-ji temple. Perhaps it was the presiding spirit of Guan Yin, goddess of compassion, but Katy spontaneously decided to try the women’s room first. (In the US, the women’s room is the riskier option.)
What happened next was refreshing. No one stared, no one gave her the dramatic double-take, and no one gasped that she was in the wrong place. Senso-ji temple set the tone for the rest of the trip, and Katy used the women’s restroom without incident. It was a rare treat to be able to visit the same restroom together without coming up with some plan (like gabbing in our girliest voices) to encourage people to read Katy as female. We were able to relax and enjoy our favorite Japanese technological innovation—the multi-function bidet toilet complete with calming music and a butt blowdryer. (We are totes going to get this toilet.)
I asked my friend Yumi if she had a hypothesis about why Katy had such a great experience. As a Tokyoite, Yumi suggested that Katy’s difference as a white foreigner probably trumped any other differences. Also, she mentioned that people in the city just want to avoid trouble and go about their business. They’re less likely to engage a stranger—especially when there’s a language barrier.
I suppose we’ll never know why the bathrooms were so blissfully uneventful on this trip, but it was certainly a welcome respite. I’m curious to know what other gender nonconforming folk have experienced in Japan and elsewhere?
Sensoji photo credit: James Willamor.
Wireless Toilet Control Panel photo credit: Chris 73 on Wikimedia Commons.
August 30, 2013 at 4:03 pm
I tend to avoid public bathrooms unless I am accompanied by my partner. I had an ugly scene once in the Houston airport trying to pee between flights and that still sticks with me.
I recently travelled in Guatemala and was read as male a lot; so I didn’t try using the always available and clean women’s pay toilets in the markets (a godsend for Donna who needs to go every 2 hours). I just held it until I got someplace safe. I’m a big believer in pee before you go, and in any cafe/restaurant I patronize.
September 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm
Prayer for Pissing in Peace:
Good and Just Lord
Creator and Maker of all things
Divine wisdom that has allowed me to live a life in two genders
Grant me the serenity to speak with your love
To persons who deny me a place to pee.
Grant me the patience to not lift my leg upon them
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Blessed be….in the footsteps of the activist of Nazareth…
So mote it be.