ON BATHROOMS AND BALLFIELDS
I expected more from my Google search on the acoustics of peeing. If height and pressure affect sound then could I change the sound emitted? I wasn't about to buy fancy prosthetic funnels, or turn my shoes around in the stall. My squatting workouts served my legs well. The actual quandary about which bathroom I should choose was only an issue while I transitioned socially, when people I knew were close by. I never grasped the "bathroom in groups" concept anyway.
My fear of public restrooms stems from childhood. Though it's difficult to discern how much of the phobia dealt with gender, and how much dealt with untreated gastric issues. I didn't want to draw attention to myself; to be surrounded by people who would judge what my body did, and the noises it produced.
Trepidation has followed me since private kindergarten where all the children lined up for the bathroom at the same time. Teacher made us hold hands for the twenty-five foot marathon from the classroom. And I'd be in line with the girls. I was five when I started purposeful and calculated dehydration so I could time a safe bathroom trip. That childhood game of holding my bladder, and playing chicken with my colon became gladiatorial training for my transness.
Perhaps severe lactose intolerance firmly established my resistance, potentially making me a further outcast amongst the stalls. I was already a social outlaw as a tomboy. My masculinity wasn't harming anyone else, but to olfactorily destroy a girls' bathroom, that's the talk of legends—or at least that's what I was desperately trying to avoid. Girls could twist any trait or talent into a weapon against you and I didn't want to supply further ammunition. My stomach would churn after meals, speaking my fears and disgust loud enough to be heard.
Bathrooms splash my childhood with sanitized pink walls and elevated dysphoria. The spiral of self-hate continued through my fifth grade sex ed. class. I found out girls got periods and cursed how unfair it was that boys wouldn't suffer the same fate of fertility. Cursed and then feared. You're not a real woman until you bleed. I spent countless hours saying empty prayers to dodge the ovarian bullets. It cost money to stem the bleeding that couldn't be stopped and I'm not going to remember a quarter for a hellish vending machine as I relentlessly hemorrhage. What's so caustic during puberty that again, like bathrooms, we had to be separated? Shouldn't we be learning about what happens to each other? I felt like I was prepared for only half of life's toughest exam. I didn't know about puberty blockers. I wasn't aware I could have avoided an evolutionary torture.
My third year in college my roommates Mel, Liz, and I went to the on-campus Lodge to get ice cream for a campus event. I needed to "give up" which was code for poop 'cause I was too embarrassed to say "poop" in public. After they convinced me I'd be hard-pressed to find a quieter facility, I got Liz to guard the outer door while Mel went to get the ice cream. This was the first time I was going to use a public restroom, for better or worse, in months. I had just closed the stall door, pulled my headphones from my pocket, and placed them over my head. The music would help ease me. My pants were at half-mast around my knees and I was approaching the crouching tiger position while a wonderful instrumental from The Boondock Saints soundtrack played.
I hadn't even made seat-to-cheek contact when, like a dramatic black and white shootout scene, Mel barged past Liz and burst through the outer door to tell me the ice cream was being held at the dining hall on the other side of campus. But I couldn't hear a word she said. In the same second that I whipped my headphones off we made eye contact through the crack of the stall door. I froze and felt my eyelids recede into two dry sockets. My adrenaline spiked in the worst pantsless scenario of fight or flight. Fists had grown where my hands once were. With the shit scared back into me I thumbed my belt loops and hoisted my pants. My hands remained balled up, embarrassed and dismayed that I couldn't complete my mission. There'd be no relief, no exposure therapy.
On a trip to Connecticut I made the distinct error of hydrating at work. I was a rookie research assistant leaving for a 2-hour drive during Friday afternoon without using the toilet, still in my button-down and slacks. The sun was not quite in my eyes before realizing my bladder would be tested. Kayley's wasn't much further but I began looking for relief with each passing highway exit sign.
I can't recall if it was Taylor Swift, or some punk anthem I listened to religiously in middle school, but I cranked the music for distraction. I needed to find some religion then, in the deadlocked traffic. My thoughts were akin to: Thou shalt not pee thy pantaloons. I had only a half filled bottle in the car, no tissues. I reasoned I could let a little out of the tank and just change my pants when I got to Kayley's house- she's heard weirder stories from me. The sweating started at my temples, and my palms were losing grip on the wheel but my left foot was the steady bass. If I used the right foot I would have launched my Subaru into someone's back bumper many moons ago.
I crawled to an exit praying there would be any commercial establishment nearby. After the third massive cul-de-sac I was convinced I was going to pee my pants, in my car, at 22 years old. I had saturated both my binder and shirt. Twitching at a traffic light I spotted a ball field across the street, certain there would be a fly infested porta potty calling as my salvation.
I drifted into the gravel parking lot and sprinted from my car, reasoning as air rushed to cool my face, I was fully willing to risk becoming a registered sex offender if I could just pee. There were no bathrooms, and I had no idea where I was. Just an empty ball field surrounded on three sides with the suburban traffic. The fourth edge was a calm pathway along a lazy river but I could not stop long enough to enjoy the scenic view.
After two laps I ran from the path to the bramble covered outfield. I found a tree that gave the most visual coverage and braced against it. I cracked my slack's button open like a Heineken, and hovered over a few thorny branches. It wasn't just my jaundiced eyes; everything was gold in the slowly descending light, even the spiked twigs and the dried field grass. All was gold. And I swear I skipped a stage of enlightenment while I felt the bark scratch into my back, pissing on a tree, by an empty little league field somewhere in Connecticut.
Ryan Socolow is a 2014 graduate of Endicott College in Beverly, MA where he studied sociology. In his few short years on the planet Ryan has: played college lacrosse, lived in a radical anarchist community house, held a grown man's severed thumb, and developed a distrust of mustard. Ryan currently works as a professional writing tutor. He is the proud puppy-uncle to Juniper and Odie. The best advice he's ever received is to cut your nails at least one day before necessary. Ryan has seen every episode of The Facts of Life and is powered by naps and lean proteins.