PUBLIC HARASSMENT: I CAME OUT LATE IN LIFE…
I came out late in life, and by late, in my mid 20’s. At this stage of my life, I was working in the public sector. Appearance-wise, I had the token short hair and dressed more “guy’ish” I guess, the one way to describe me is butch – though I find the term insulting, it’s the best way to describe my style. I prefer, stylish, hip, but I digress.
I was going to the women’s bathroom, when a woman in her mid to late ’50s, said something that stopped me in my tracks. “This is the women’s bathroom” I looked at her, the door handle in my hand still, and replied, “Yes, I know…” We maintained our gaze on one another, as she again repeated, “This is for women, women’s bathroom.” I looked at her with the urgency to use the bathroom and responded, “Yes, I know, I am a woman.” and dashed for the nearest stall.
As I was inside, I noticed the woman hadn’t left. I finished my business and as I stood on the other side of the stall, I was mentally prepping myself for what I felt was going to be another awkward exchange of pleasantries.
I opened the door, and she stood by the paper towel dispenser. I walked to the sink and washed my hands. In my head, I was singing the “row your boat” song, as that is what I remember as a kid being told was the appropriate amount of hand washing time. As I did this, I could see in the reflection of the mirror the woman eyeing me, gazing me up and down like I was some “thing”. The song had finished in my head and I shook my hands. I turned to the towel dispenser which she was blocking and softly said “excuse me”. She squinted her eyes at me and left the washroom.
I stood there, hands still dripping and shock. Did this really just happen? Did I just experience this? It felt like I stood there forever, but as I dried my hands and played the events over, I could not believe what had just happened. I could not believe that as someone who works in government, the public sector, someone who works and presents on initiatives such as Positive Space, inclusion, and diversity in the workplace – this was something I experienced. I was now one of the people who I was speaking and advocating for.
Very quickly did I realize that just because we think we work somewhere that promotes diversity and inclusion, just because people smile and follow the mandates – in practice, the things we want to see happen, aren’t happening.
I advocate for the LGBTQ community, I have taught and spoken to over 500 people, but despite my “experience”, I was left speechless. I was left feeling like more work has to be done – because while I may be comfortable in my skin, I may embrace myself wholeheartedly, there are those who are not yet out in the open. There are those who, this experience would have left them scarred and afraid.
Did I dread going to the bathroom after this? Yes.
Did I take this experience and use it to educate others? Yes – because these are the real-life stories that we don’t hear about. These are the stories that need to be heard so people realize that we have so much still to do when it comes to promoting acceptance, respect, and tolerance.