My company moved offices about a month ago. At the old office, we had an open space, which was getting very crowded. Then we got acquired by a huge corporation, and our lease ran out. Off to cozy up to the corporate headquarters, where I get my very own cube and officially join the ranks of the corporate drones.
At the old office, I was blessed with two single stall bathrooms, which were designated gender neutral (they were obviously not designed as gender neutral, since one had a urinal, and the other had the ‘feminine hygene products’ disposal, but luckily they had been stripped of their signs). So when I had to pee, I just got up and went.
As we got word of the impending move, more than cubes and desks and Aeron chairs I had one thing on my mind: bathrooms. I nervously waited to find out what the situation would be like at the new office, and when I finally got a peek of the floor plans, my fears were confirmed: only two gendered bathrooms on the floor.
The gears in my mind began to turn as I struggled to come up with a plan. I could email HR – which in this new conglomerate means “logging a ticket” to empty space – and ask about the availability of a gender neutral bathroom in proximity of my office. So I waited, letting the anxiety build up while at the same time trying to brush it off as no big deal. Then I got the reply: there were no gender neutral bathrooms in the entire building, except one in the Lobby next to the security desk. “Well that’s that” I thought, as I tried to rationalize the inconvenience.
Days before, I carefully laid out the plans I had made in anticipation of the move. I would ask for access to this bathroom in a far away place anyway, because at least I’d have a fallback. Unfortunately, the virtual HR person informed me that this bathroom in the lobby was no longer available (there were new shops in the lobby) and there was one available on the 41st floor (for which I have to go down to the lobby and take a different elevator up) but the security manager wanted an “end date” to when I wouldn’t require access to this bathroom. Sounds complicated? Now I had no fallback. But at least I still had the rest of my plans, which I had calmly thought out and worked through. I was prepared. I was ready.
Then the day of the big move came. It was a Friday, and I stepped into the new beehive, found my spot on the honeycomb, and thought I was going to die. Actually I think a part of me did die. But we’re not here to expound upon the soul-crushing effect the cubes had on me. It was more than that. I had to pee (as I always do, almost every hour) and my stomach plummeted as my heart fluttered.
“Just use the men’s room as planned, no big deal. Besides, it’s closer, so you have a good excuse.” My inner dialogue is so nonchalant. Why is it so important for me to use the men’s room? Because, why should I be forced to use the women’s? I have a right to choose, and I choose to be contraire. Oh, and not compromise my identity for fear of making others uncomfortable.
Yet little did I realize how uncomfortable I would be. Not to mention that these are horrible bathrooms in the first place – there are only two stalls in a floor of maybe 80 (most of which are men), the space between the stalls is like 5 inches wide so you can literally see through them, they are always full, and they smell terrible. All the guys I’ve talked to find them awkward and unnerving as well, so it’s not just me, in that sense. But it was just me totally freaking out on that first day on Friday, most likely undergoing an hours-long panic attack.
Well, this was certainly unexpected. I mean, I had notions of there being a potential issue, some awkwardness, some conscious thinking about bathrooms on my part, at least at first. But I was not expecting it to be an issue. But it was. It became an issue. Without my consent, without my anticipation, and without my understanding. I was confronted with a very visceral, emotional, uncontrollable reaction to something I had thought was already accounted for with logic and rationality.
At this point I can explain why or what triggered this particular reaction, and how come bathrooms are actually still an issue for me. But that’s not the point. The point is, it’s an issue for me, and that’s that. It deserves respect, and time, and acknowledgement.
It has since been a whole month, and I still struggle with the bathrooms, though not as much. Sometimes I use the men’s room on my floor, though I avoid it. The second week I had discovered that the 14th floor was empty, but this gloriousness was short-lived. Most of the time I go down a floor (though inconveniently there are no stairs), because it’s simply cleaner and it’s less likely to be crowded, and there’s less of an awkward run-in with a male coworker (of which almost all of them are). Sometimes I use the women’s room, because I just really have to go, and it’s clean, usually empty, and want to avoid the hassle of taking the elevator. Other times I go as far down as the cafeteria bathrooms, because I don’t want to be bothered with being anxious and worried, though clearly this move has already been prompted by relative anxiety and worry. Yet every single time, I pause. And think. And make a conscious choice.
Sometimes we can’t really find a solution, we just learn to deal with it. So while my conscience slowly rots under the fluorescent lighting, my bladder suffers more.