Like many queer Northamptonites, I regularly pay my dues to the dance floors at Diva's. When it's time to do my private business, it warms my heart to see signs informing the club's multi-gendered clientele that both bathrooms are open to everyone despite what the door may say.
The line being longer in the bathroom formerly known as the "ladies'" one night, I went to the other one. Unfortunately, the main topic of conversation in this line was, "Look how many women are in the boys' room!" Despite the differently gendered people all around, gendered comments flew freely, undermining the welcoming effort of the signs.
Sure, I would expect this kind of potty talk in the mall, but a GLBT nightclub? Time to talk about gender.
Whether you're a gender spectrum novice or professional, accept my disclaimer that this column barely touches the complicated personal and academic world of gender. At their most basic, "sex" and "gender" are two different things. "Sex" refers to physical sex organs while "gender" is a blurrier category encompassing one's outward and/or inward expression of masculinity, femininity and everything in between. When the term is understood in this way, we can see that someone can, for example, have a female body (i.e. a vagina) while having a male gender. This can also explain why, though you may read someone as "male" or "female," they may actually use personal pronouns (i.e. "he" or "she") that contradict what you assume. (For more on gender and pronouns, check out Kate Sosin's blog The New Gender at chicagonow.com.)
"Transgender" usually refers to one's transition from one gender to another, while "transsexual" indicates physical sex change. However, "transitioning" no longer means moving from one "side" to the other, as people self-identify as a vast array of genders between "male" and "female," including "genderqueer" and more. This, combined with a fluid spectrum of sexualities between "straight" and "gay," makes for a complicated community generally encompassed by the umbrella term "queer," an historically derogatory word reclaimed by gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans people.
The modern "genderation" has proven that there are more than two genders. However, bathrooms demand that a choice be made, making them highly contentious spaces for those who don't quite resemble the door's stick figure. No matter your identity, if you don't "look the part," you may have experienced the anxiety and violence that can come with public restrooms.
Making bathrooms accessible to all requires a painfully gradual societal change. Making the bathroom a little more accessible to yourself involves some handy tools. For male-bodied folk in the "ladies'" room, the technicalities of sit-and-pee are less complicated. For the female-bodied stand-and-pee, things can get a little... messy.
A guy named DJ and the Mango make things a bit easier. The Mango is a soft pack designed for all-day wear with an exclusive "receptacle tube" allowing you to look anatomically like and pee like everyone else at the urinal (ftm-stp.com). For DJ's comparable product, the "Pissin', Packin' Packer," head to djknowsdicks.com, a site by and for transmen that includes instructions on how to make your own non-peeing soft pack from condoms, hair gel and nylons.
Sounds great! But what's a "soft pack?" Like dildos, soft packs look as close to "real" penises as artificial material can look, but as they are soft, they are not intended for penetration. They are made for "packing," which is when someone of any gender, sexuality or physical body puts a soft pack (or other object) down their pants as a means of (usually masculine) gender expression or just to see and feel that extra bulge. Follow DJ's instructions to make your own or check out transguys.com's Packer Showdown, an extensive comparison of the industry's soft packs-for-purchase that includes helpful videos and links.
Not that kind of packer? Pee accessory-free with Safe2Pee.org, a website that maps out gender-neutral public restrooms in your location, boasting 20 listings in Northampton alone. For more on gender and bathroom accessibility, read Peeing in Peace at transgenderlawcenter.org.