#32: The All-Gender Bathroom, by Paul Florez

When I was twelve years old a girl by the name of Jane pulled me into the girl’s bathroom for my first kiss. In an alternate universe, this defying act would’ve made us the coolest kids at our small catholic school and we would’ve been remembered as a Bonnie-and-Clyde duo. However, Jane and I weren’t like the other boys and girls who listened to pop music and dressed in Tommy Hilfiger. Our band of choice was Marilyn Manson and our trapper keepers were adorned with Sailor Moon stickers imported from Japan. We were different.

Looking back, Jane may have been a Bonnie in her own right (she wore guitar string bracelets and wrote in gel pen), but I was certainly no Clyde because if we were in said alternate universe, I would’ve wanted to have been kissing Butch Cassidy or even the Fonz (I developed a nasty Henry Winkler fetish when Happy Days began airing on Nick at Nite back in the mid-90s).

It was during that first kiss I discovered two things. One, I was absolutely, unapologetically homosexual. I was incapable of planting a wet one on Jane like a real a man. Picture this: an awkward twelve year old boy with lopsided glasses and pleated pants above his bellybutton, arms wrapped around his girlfriend’s neck while lifting his leg up.

The second discovery was that the girl’s bathroom was a hidden paradise. True, some of the tiles were tinted yellow by girls who hadn’t yet mastered the art of aiming, but the stalls didn’t reek of unflushed number twos and smelled of freshly sprayed Lysol. A clean bathroom means everything to a gay boy trapped in the closet. And there were also mirrors. That’s right. The girls had fucking mirrors in their restroom—something which was completely unheard of and foreign to the boy’s facilities. I began using tongue on Jane because I never wanted to leave.

You see, the boy’s bathroom was barbaric. It wasn’t a place to secretly re-gel your hair after PE or clean your dirty spectacles. You were called a fag if you accidently looked to the side while you were peeing, and if you weren’t careful, an upperclassman would give you an atomic wedgie at a moments notice. It was a place synonymous to hell.

Many, many years after the kiss I found myself dreaming of the girl’s bathroom while I was working on Wall Street. During those long workdays, I never thought about the financial crisis or how my role as a temp served the greater American economy. Instead I fantasized about writing an expose on the curious bathroom habits of heterosexual males and the isolation a gay man feels whilst urinating among such filthy creatures.

“Bless you,” a financial analyst said in the bathroom.

“That wasn’t a sneeze,” another analyst replied. “It was a fart. A real wet one. You better evacuate before the smell hits you.”

If I had to blame the economic downfall of our country on one thing, it would have been the taco truck parked directly across the Charging Bull.

It seemed I was forever destined to feel exiled each time I used a public bathroom. That is until I began my MFA program over at The New School and I was welcomed into a haven known as the all gender bathroom.

In my head an all-gender bathroom meant there wouldn’t be strange and curious noises reverberating from a bathroom stall. It also meant I wouldn’t have to feel shame for styling my hair or doing a double take in front of the mirror. I could now take my time to apply under eye concealer, and perhaps give a little strut, and there would be absolutely no judgment.

Miraculously, my first week on campus I didn’t have to use the restroom, but I waited in joyful hope for my overactive bladder to act petulant. And that’s exactly what happened the beginning of my second week. Sometime between my third cup of coffee from O Cafe and my Novel workshop, I had to really pee but I held it so I could go out of my way to use the nearest all gender bathroom in the main building.

There was only one other person in the bathroom when I entered. It was a girl with long dark hair similar to that of Jane’s and she was applying make up. I found a sort of poetic justice with the entire situation. I was finally urinating where I was always meant to. I had it all planned out. Once I was done peeing, I’d go up to Faux Jane and tell her how much I loved her eye shadow. I didn’t even know what color she was wearing. I just wanted her to know I too was fabulous and she can be comfortable with me in the bathroom.

I even began thinking that for my literary seminar I should write a short story about gay men picking up girl besties while peeing. It would have a humorous spin on it, of course, and be a topic no one has ever thought about.

Though I won’t lie, it took me awhile to begin voiding into the toilet bowl. I had psyche myself up, I admit, but also I had never just openly peed in front of a female stranger before. It felt like I was violating a social taboo. Finally, however, I was able to go.

“Oh my God, you’re fucking disgusting,” Jane’s doppelgänger screamed upon hearing me pee.

I heard the zippery sound of her makeup bag closing shut and her ankle boots pounding the gray tile, growing louder and louder as she walked towards me.

“You’re so fucking rude and misogynistic,” she yelled, punching the stall’s door. “Get the fuck out of here.”

I was certain I didn’t accidently walk into a girl’s bathroom because I Instagrammed the bathroom sign of both male and female before I entered.

A sense of courage washed over me. This wasn’t junior high. This was my graduate program. I was not about to spend two years being teased again in an all gender bathroom where I had the right to apply concealer and pee standing up.

I quickly opened the stall and chased after the girl.

“What did you say?” I shouted.

But it was too late. The girl had put her ear buds in. Regardless I still chased her down the hall.

“I’m going to write an essay about this,” I threatened. “That’s an all-gender bathroom, and I’m not misogynistic. I’m gay. There’s nothing misogynistic about gay.”

I then realized I was standing in the middle of the lobby yelling at a girl with my pants unbuckled. An underclassman with hot pink hair circled around me.

“You shouldn’t scream at girls,” he said. “It’s pretty douchey.”

A few months ago I had drinks with Jane and her girlfriend in Brooklyn. She asked about my grad program and if I was writing about anything interesting. I told her that I had forgone doing a contemporary piece on post-gender politics for an analysis of Proust’s use of memory in Swann’s Way, which I told her was a safer and less contentious topic. We joked about how we were both gay in junior high but didn’t know and wished we could have just been two best friends using the bathroom together. I wanted to tell her about my experience in the all-gender but decided not to ruin our buzz.

“Men and women in a bathroom? Only in a world where Hillary is president,” I joked.

Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice MagazineQueerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @TheTinBot.