Queer Rock Love

A Family Memoir



Genderqueer Family Trip to Japan

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.

Waylon looks suspicious on the streets of Tokyo.
Waylon looks suspicious on the streets of Tokyo.

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.)
Statue of Guanyin at Sensoji Temple.
Statue of Guanyin at Sensoji Temple.

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.)

We are totally getting a Japanese bidet toilet some day.
We are totally getting a Japanese bidet toilet some day.

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?

Family portrait at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.
Family portrait at Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.

Sensoji photo credit: James Willamor.

Wireless Toilet Control Panel photo credit: Chris 73 on Wikimedia Commons.

Back to School for Transgender Elementary Students

This fall, as elementary-age kids head back to the classroom, some transgender students are returning with more than just new school supplies. For these children, the beginning of the academic year is an opportunity to introduce a new name, new pronouns, and a new social identity.

Over the past several years, resources for transgender elementary students and their families have grown rapidly.  They now include multiple mainstream media reports (with varying levels of accuracy and sensationalism), new organizations such as TYFA and Gender Spectrum, and innovative medical protocols to delay the onset of puberty. While access to these resources is by no means universal, it is becoming increasingly possible for elementary-age children to begin their transition before the maelstrom of middle school.

However, as Elizabethe Payne and Melissa Smith suggest in their recent Huffington Post article, most elementary school teachers and administrators have not been trained in strategies for create an inclusive learning environment for gender nonconforming and transgender students.

As an elementary parent and an educator, I am passionate about welcoming schools. Katy Koonce and I recently had the privilege of creating a training for teachers and staff at a local elementary school. There are stellar materials available, and I wanted to share our outline and some of the things that we found most helpful.

Establishing a developmental timeline

As Payne and Smith point out, “Americans think of young children as ‘innocent’ and ‘asexual,’ so sexuality is considered unmentionable in elementary classrooms.”

Children are perceived as ‘too young’ for such conversations. Because of the ways gender and sexuality are connected in our culture and thinking, addressing non-normative gender brings the ideas of ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’ into the ‘innocent’ elementary school space and is thus dangerous.

The first task of our training was to reorient teachers and administrators with accurate information about gender and child development. We used Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper’s The Transgender Child, specifically chapter three, “Developmental Stages and the Transgender Child,” which contains a detailed breakdown of gender identity at different ages. (If you don’t have access to the book, there is a version of this timeline available on the Gender Spectrum website.)

Information about developmental stages (hopefully) speaks to elementary educators in the language of their professional education. Our next step was to introduce them to the words and experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming elementary students. (Again, our overarching concern at the outset of our presentation was to convince listeners that “this really happens at the elementary level.”)

To this end, our training included excerpts from Queer Youth Advice for Educators, which is based on interviews with LGBT youth from across the nation and includes several personal stories about elementary school experiences. This book is available as a PDF download from What Kids Can Do, and hard copies are available for $9.95. I give copies to school counselors and administrators whenever I can.

Establishing the costs of inaction

Once we had established that gender identity is within the purview of elementary education, we wanted to briefly highlight the social and emotional costs of unprepared schools. The personal narratives from Queer Youth Advice for Educators continued to be helpful on this point, especially when paired with GLSEN’s Harsh Realities: The Experiences of Transgender Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. Based on the 2007 National School Climate survey, this report speaks to educators in their language, linking harassment and lack of safety to poor educational outcomes.

In our case, we felt it prudent to follow the carrot of educational outcomes with the big stick of federal antidiscrimination law. Presumably most educators are already familiar with Title IX, the section of the Education Code that prohibits gender discrimination. We were excited to learn about a 2010 letter from the Department of Education that interprets Title IX as applying to gender-based discrimination that targets transgender students.

Title IX prohibits harassment of both male and female students regardless of the sex of the harasser—i.e., even if the harasser and target are members of the same sex. It also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping. Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment and gender-based harassment of all students, regardless of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the harasser or target.

Special thanks to the National Center for Transgender Equality for making this letter available as a PDF on their blog.

Outlining best practices

At this point, we felt it was important to move into practical, proactive policy recommendations. For this particular educational context, our recommendations included the following:

  • Honoring preferred name and pronouns
  • Maintaining confidentiality
  • Restroom accessibility
  • Staff and faculty training
  • Addressing gender inclusion in the curriculum

Our recommendations were based on personal experience as well as three excellent resources:

Curriculum for teachers and students

Initially, making suggestions for gender-inclusive curriculum seemed like the tallest order. After all, we live in Texas, a state that’s not exactly known for its progressive curriculum. Luckily, my friend Abe Louise Young alerted me to Gender Doesn’t Limit You: A Research-Based Anti-Bullying Program for the Early Grades, which was developed by the Gender and Racial Attitudes Lab at the University of Texas and distributed through the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program. While not explicitly designed to speak to transgender issues, these detailed lesson plans include case studies and rhyming scripts to help young children learn to analyze and respond to gender-based bullying, and many of the examples involve behaviors that don’t conform to rigid gender norms. As an added bonus, the rhyming scripts can be useful for teachers who need words to respond to gender bias and bullying on the spot in everyday classroom contexts.

Future presentations

We learned a great deal from our first training with elementary educators, and we hope to continue to work with more schools and to share resources with other people engaged in similar projects. Personally, I’d like to write some case studies based on experiences of elementary students who have transitioned at school. Do you have other suggestions for other resources or ideas to help us improve?

Paige Schilt has taught college students for 18 years and served as Interim Assistant Dean of Student Multicultural Affairs at Southwestern University in 2011-2012. Katy Koonce is a former school social worker and a psychotherapist in private practice.

Mommy in the Middle

A couple of years ago, I interviewed my wife, Katy Koonce, about life as a genderqueer mommy. Many things have changed since that initial interview: our son is in third grade, and Katy’s gender presentation is ever-evolving. In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to post an updated conversation about mothering in the middle.

Barton Springs, April 2012

Paige: These days, it seems like half the strangers you encounter read you as a man and the other half read you as a woman. That’s a pretty good match for your identity, but it’s awfully unpredictable. What is it like to live with that uncertainty?

Katy: You know, it’s mixed. It feels exciting and right, but it can also be really hard. The other day, I was in GNC shopping for vitamins, and the sales guy started calling me “sir.” Then, about half way through our interaction, he seemed to change his mind. Before I left, he actually asked whether the masculine terminology was correct. I loved that! I told him I was very comfortable with both and that he “couldn’t get it wrong.” Poor guy. I think it was like a “Pat” moment and he was left more confused than before. I kinda want to go back and interview him about what made him question his assumption and where he got the nerve to ask. Part of me feels responsible, like I should try to ease his discomfort. But I also want to reinforce that it’s okay to ask. Cuz that’s how I roll.

Paige: Our son is in third grade, which has been the threshold of greater self-consciousness about his family. You volunteer in his classroom every week. What’s it like being the indeterminately gendered parent in that setting? How do you navigate that?

Glam Mommy

Katy: Several weeks ago, one of Waylon’s classmates, whom I have known for a couple of years, yelled “Waylon, your dad is here!” It surprised me so much. “Dad” does not resonate with me. I am Mommy! Luckily, about half the class responded “that’s Waylon’s mom” in unison.

My approach to the elementary school setting is very specific to my personality. I am just plain old counter-phobic. I used to be afraid of heights, so I bungee jumped and skydived. At Waylon’s school, I often find myself being extra charming and behaving as if no one should be shocked when I casually mention that I am identified as transgender and then ask them if I can pick their kid up next week for a play date at our house.

Paige: Sometimes you say you feel tempted to transition simply because the pressure of staying in the middle is too much. When do you feel that most?

BATHROOMS! Also at the mall when they “sir” me the whole time and then, when I am giving them my money, they ask for my name and address so they can send me spam.

Paige: How has being a parent affected the way you inhabit your body?

Katy: In every way possible. Waylon likes to be on me. It appears I am very comfortable to “lay” on. (In Texas, we say “lay down.”) He likes to grab my belly and knead it. It can be a challenge, because I come from a fat phobic family and my belly has typically been a source of shame and discomfort. But I really feel that he loves every inch of my menopausal body, wrinkles and all. In response to this, I have felt shame just completely transform. I can’t say it’s completely gone, but it is different, no doubt about that.

Paige: What’s your favorite thing about being mommy?

Katy: Even in a room full of people who think I am a dude, it still makes me so happy to hear “mommy, mommy look!” I love the way he loves me. I love that he knows I am the mama bear that will protect him at all cost.

Paige: Hey, I’m the mama bear! You are the mommy bear. Step off my nomenclature!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Katy: Yes. Happy Mother’s Day to the best co-parent a girl/boy could ever ask for. You really are the best!

Paige: Happy Mother’s Day to you!

The Little Zeus’s Room

This past summer, our family vacationed in Hawaii. We spent a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, picnicking and thinking about where my wife, Katy, could use the restroom.

In our regular life in Austin, this is less of a problem. In Texas, Katy gets read as male about 50% of the time and as female about 50% of the time. Her Gender Attribution Average (GAA) is actually pretty close to her internal gender identity, which is cool – unless she needs to pee. Still, in her day-to-day routine, Katy is usually able to avoid unfamiliar public restrooms.

In Hawaii, however, Katy’s GAA was 100% male. This is not usually a problem either. When she’s in a highly gender-conforming context, it’s often easier for Katy to use the men’s restroom, because she experiences much less rubbernecking and gender policing.

The problem lay in the fact that we were on vacation with our 8-year-old son.

For the longest time, Katy and I were like the stereotypes of the overprotective lesbian parents. I took Waylon with me in the women’s restroom until…let’s just say recently.

Thus, the beginning of our vacation found me pacing anxiously outside a men’s room at LAX, possibly looking like some kind of creepy bathroom peeper, while I waited for Waylon. I was worried that this would turn out to be one of those labyrinthine airport bathrooms with multiple exits and that my baby would wander out into the wrong corridor and be swept onto the busy streets of Los Angeles.

It seemed like hour later, although I suppose it was only five minutes, when Waylon emerged, looking disturbed. “What happened?” I cried, expecting the worst.

He crinkled his nose. “It just smells like a bunch of URINE in there!”

Clearly we needed to try a littler harder to help our son adapt to the restrooms of his gender tribe.

Our hotel in Kauai was located on a breathtaking beach in a rocky cove. In the mornings, when mist hovered over the water, it made me think of Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.” Waylon was going through a Greek mythology phase – not a casual “I enjoyed The Lightning Thief” kind of thing, but more of an “I’m crying because I realized that I’m reading an abridged version of The Odyssey” kind of thing.

He’d discovered a quiz that could determine which Olympian god a person most resembled, and he’d pegged Katy as Zeus and me as Athena. I was flattered that my son considered me to be the goddess of wisdom, but I was also uncomfortably aware that I was gay married to my own mythological father.

Still, the strangeness of our mythological May/December union paled in comparison to our queer presence at a swanky beachside resort. Katy’s cousin had generously given us a weeklong stay at her timeshare, which turned out to be Honeymoon Central. There were honeymooners in the hot tub, newlyweds at the bar, and humongous wedding parties posing for group photos next to the koi pond.

Perhaps it was the overwhelming heterosexuality of all those honeymooners that predisposed people to read Katy as male. Whatever the cause, Katy’s Gender Attribution Average seemed impervious to the fact that Waylon called her “Mommy” every few seconds.

On our first full day in Hawaii, Katy and I lounged around the hotel’s enormous, flower-shaped pool while Waylon demonstrated 500 variations on the basic cannonball. “Hey, Mommy, Mommy, watch this! Did you see that one Mommy? Watch! Mommy, how big was my splash? Mommy!”

A polo-clad waiter appeared to check on Katy’s drink.

“Can I get you another beer, sir?”

“Mommy, Mommy, look at this!”

Katy had the deer-in-the-headlights look that means she’s afraid someone will revise their gender attribution in the middle of an interaction. It’s not that she cares so much how they read her; she just dreads the rollercoaster of confusion, embarrassment, and hostility that sometimes ensues. I decided to try to help her out.

“What is it, Waylon?” I asked, lowering my sunglasses.

“Not you! I’m talking to Mommy!”

Despite the fact that Waylon had blown Katy’s cover, the waiter continued to address Katy as “sir” for the remainder of our stay.

The highlight of our trip was a day spent snorkeling at a secluded hike-in beach on the north side of the island. At first Waylon was hesitant to swim out to the reef, so Katy wrapped her arm around him, and he clung to her like a happy submarine sidecar. As we approached the reef together, the sun burst through the morning clouds, illuminating brightly colored fish in all kinds of fantastic sizes and shapes.

By the time we hiked back to our car, afternoon rain clouds were beginning to gather, and Katy really needed to pee.

I think that there’s something particularly ominous about state park bathrooms. Maybe it’s the polished metal “mirrors,” which hint at violent acts of vandalism that the state has foreseen and precluded. Maybe it’s the latrine smell, which reminds me of Girl Scout camp and mandatory sports. Or maybe, as the partner of a transperson, I’ve begun to develop a sixth sense for locations where gender policing is likely to take place.

Whatever the reason, I could tell that Katy was not going to use the crowded bathrooms at Ha´ena State Park.

Later, I learned that Ha´ena is also referred to as the “end of the road” in Kauai. We were about as far as we could possibly be from our hotel, on an island where the average speed limit is 35 miles per hour. Katy got in the car with a grim look on her face.

As we passed through tiny towns, I could see Katy scanning for something. Each time we passed another unsuitable option, she grew a little bit quieter and grimmer. Waylon was in the back seat, loudly recounting one-liners from all the cartoons he had watched the day before. Katy gritted her teeth and turned up the radio.

“For god’s sake,” I wanted to cry, “just pull over and go behind a tree!” But I knew it was no use. My modest, pee-shy partner would never, ever be able to pee in the open.

Finally, just as I began to fear irreparable damage to Katy’s bladder, she spotted what she was looking for: a rundown gas station with single stall bathrooms that were accessible from the parking lot. She pulled the car over so fast it made my heart race, slammed it into park and jumped out without bothering to close the door.

Our perfect day was saved.

For the last night of our trip, we decided to splurge on the poolside buffet. In addition to his Greek mythology phase, Waylon was also going through a sushi phase. He’d been starring longingly all week at hotel posters touting an amazing variety of delicious-looking maki.

We all dressed up for the grand occasion. Even Waylon was wearing one of the preppy outfits that his gay grandpa likes to buy him at TJ Maxx. In his polo shirt and khaki shorts, he looked just like one of the waiters.

As soon as we had placed our orders, Waylon got a stricken look on his face.

“I have to go pee,” he said. I could tell it was urgent.

“I kind of need to go too,” Katy admitted.

“Let’s go together!” Waylon said.

Katy looked around at the other diners. Drunken honeymooners seemed completely oblivious to her plight. For the past seven days, every single stranger we’d met had read Katy as male. “Waylon,” she said, “if we go in the men’s room together, you can’t call me ‘Mommy’ all the time.”

“I know! I’ll call you Zeus!”

For the next five minutes, Waylon proceeded to say “Zeus” as often as he usually says “Mommy.”

“Come on, Zeus,” he said, shepherding her into the men’s bathroom like an old pro. “You take the stall, Zeus,” he added as he graciously headed to the urinal.

It was kind of hard to readjust to regular life after our glamorous vacation in Kauai, but I was glad to settle into our regular bedtime routine again. Katy and I usually spend a few minutes lying down with Waylon before he goes to sleep. It’s a time for us to talk about whatever’s on our minds, and I had a question that I needed to ask.

“Waylon, what did you think about using the men’s room with Mommy?”


“I mean, how did it feel to call her another name besides Mommy?” I asked, trying to dig a little deeper.

“It was okay.” he said, elliptically. “But I wouldn’t want to do it all of the time!”

Photo from yukihiro m.’s flickrstream. Shared under the terms of a Creative Commons license.

A Road Trip, Told as a Series of Pit Stops

It’s the kind of truck stop where a voice on the loudspeaker calls out “Customer 47, your shower is ready.”  In the back, plywood covers a large hole in the wall, a monument to some past collision. In the front, porcelain bald eagles are arrayed next to bright yellow boxes of energy “vitamins.”

When I was a straight, white college student, I used to appreciate places like this as kitsch. That was before I traveled the U.S. with my ex–a gender non-conforming man of color, a non-citizen. Now I sense the undercurrent of violence. I can taste the ambient terror.

My six-year-old son, Waylon, has to pee. I take him with me to the women’s bathroom, then begrudgingly allow him to choose a candy treat. “Those are two for one,” drawls the white woman behind the counter. I just want to get out of this place, but Waylon’s already made a beeline back to the candy aisle.

Just then, Katy walks up. “Do you have your phone on you?”

“You want to make a phone call right now?” I ask, incredulously. I have cash in hand. My eyes are fixed to the spot where I’m waiting for Waylon to reappear with a second pack of Skittles.

“No,” she says, sounding only slightly exasperated. “I need to do the phone trick.”

Duh. I’ve been focused on my own freaked out feelings and shepherding Waylon out of this place. I’ve forgotten to think about how Katy is going to pee.

“The phone trick” is something Katy came up with over our last summer road trip. It’s a survival strategy for places where an ambiguously gendered body is likely to run into trouble in public restrooms.

It’s simple. She holds the phone to her ear as she enters, pretending to be engrossed in conversation. She speaks in a high voice, so that people who might be confused by her appearance can assign a gender category that allows her to use the women’s restroom. She never puts the phone down or stops talking, leaving no opening for strangers to engage her.

A few minutes later, I’m sitting in the front seat with my eyes on the door of the truck stop. When Katy finally emerges, she slides into the driver’s seat and hands me back my phone. “How did it work?” I ask, relieved that we’re all safely in the car.

“I needed it,” she says. “It worked.”

We’re not the most vulnerable to violence in a truck stop in a place like Van Horn, Texas. I’m well aware that our travels are protected by the buffer of our race and class and citizenship privilege. No economic dislocation launched this voyage. We’re on vacation. We chose to come to West Texas. We’re driving a Prius with a Would Jesus Discriminate? bumper sticker. From far away, all people can read is “Jesus.”

Katy slows down when she sees a white car in the distance, but speeds up again when she sees the green stripe that signifies border patrol, not state trooper.

I’m remembering what it was like to go through checkpoints with my ex, how he tensed up miles ahead of time. The agent leaned into the window and said “U.S. citizens?” out of the corner of his mouth. My ex showed his driver’s license and maybe his permanent resident card. He used his deepest, dudeliest voice while the agent surveyed our belongings in the back of the truck.

Fort Davis, Texas
Katy gets pulled over for speeding. The officer makes her get out of the car before he’ll approach. I watch in the mirror. Even though she’s got driver’s license and insurance papers ready, I’m afraid. We’re in the middle of the nowhere. What if the trooper doesn’t take kindly to someone whose presentation doesn’t match her gender marker? What will he think of the two of us traveling with a child?

Waylon is watching cartoons on the iPod, oblivious to all around him. Later, when we’re safely on the road again, Katy teases him: “You didn’t even bat an eye when Mommy got pulled over by that cop!”

“You mean when you were talking to that cowboy?” he says, completely unalarmed.

He’s too complacent about cowboys, I decide. I’ve just been re-reading Borderlands/La Frontera, and I try to tell a six-year-old version of Anzaldua’s history: how the Cochise people moved southward, how the Aztecs dominated other tribes and the Spanish exploited those divisions, how the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo robbed people of their property. We end up in a conversation about different ways of understanding humans’ relationship to land.

“I don’t think anyone can own the earth!” Waylon says, outraged. I have to smile, because–as an only child in an owning-class family, he can’t even share toys very well. Still, I’m glad that borders don’t seem natural or inevitable to him.

After all this talk about how the west was stolen, Waylon has another question: “But how do we tell them that we’re not the bad kind of white people?”

I pause. I’m trying to parse the “them” and to imagine what kind of encounter he’s imagining. We talk about the people we know who variously identify as Native American, Hispanic, Chicano/a, or Mexican. I’m trying to think of how to teach him to be just without being self-righteous. How do you inculcate reflexivity? Six-year-olds have a fairly dualistic worldview. Either you’re good or you’re bad, just like the cartoon characters he watches on the iPod.

“Maybe the answer is just not to act like a know-it-all,” I say. Waylon shakes his head eagerly. He hates know-it-alls. They are the bane of his kindergarten social landscape.

Marfa, Texas
We’re staying for the night in Marfa, the hipster capitol of west Texas. With its big sky and classic county courthouse, Marfa looks like a movie set of a western railroad town. Some of the scenes from Giant were shot in our hotel. Now the 1920s storefronts are homes for galleries and trendy restaurants, thanks to the magnetism of the nearby Chinati Foundation.

They’re used to weird white people here. bathroomguy.jpgWe don’t even stand out next to the noisy German art collectors and East Coast ArtForum types. At breakfast, we become enamored of a seventy-something woman with round, black-rimmed glasses and a helmet of silver hair. She’s a dead ringer for Edith Head. Katy waits in the vestibule outside the bathroom, hoping to capture a surreptitious iPhone picture of our crush, but ends up accidentally snapping some random dude exiting the restrooms.

Balmorhea, Texas
We make a day trip to San Solomon Springs, a natural spring-fed pool in the middle of the desert. It’s Saturday, and the place is full of middle and working class families, brown and white. There are thickets of picnic tables, and people are barbecuing, hanging out, horsing around. Everyone from middle-aged bikers to tiny kids line up to jump off the high dive, which was constructed–like the rest of the pool–in the 1930s. There are no lifeguards.

While I’m swimming with the fishes in the deep end, Waylon has to pee again. Katy escorts him to the entrance of the men’s restroom. Using the men’s room on his own is relatively new, so she attempts to give him a refresher about what to do if anyone approaches him. “I’ll just kick ’em in the balls,” he says, slipping out of her grasp and lighting out for the urinals.

After our swim, we stop at a roadside general store to stock up on chips, soda, and ice cream bars for the drive back to Marfa. As I slide into the car, I tell Katy that there are two single-stall bathrooms at the back of the store, with a gender-neutral common area for washing up. “It’s probably your best bet for miles around for a trouble-free pee,” I say. She jumps back out of the car. It’s been hours since we left our hotel this morning, and I wonder how long she’s had to go.

Las Cruces, New Mexico
We decide to spend an afternoon at the movies. Halfway through the film, I have to pee. I emerge from the dark theater, still in a cinematic dream state, and suddenly I’m confronted by a sign that says, “Restrooms for Humans Only.” Perhaps because I’ve been studying too much Traditional Values Coalition propaganda, it takes me some time to figure out that this isn’t intended as anti-trans intimidation. Because we’re in the southwest, it takes me even longer to ascertain that the cartoon alien on the sign isn’t part of some kind of anti-immigrant campaign.

I stand in front of the sign for a long minute. I realize it’s an ad for a sci-fi movie. I proceed to the bathroom, feeling oddly suspect.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we find the only gender-neutral “family” restroom on our 1000-mile road trip. That, and the spectacular caverns, make it well worth the drive.

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