I think all trans persons experience difficulty with navigating bathroom issues, particularly before they have surgery and get their walking papers. I know some trans-folks do not get any surgery and a few jurisdictions allow trans-folks to use the bathroom that coincides with their gender identity/presentation regardless of whether they have a surgery letter from their doctor. But getting your documents where they should be definitely helps.
After I transitioned in 2001, well before my surgery in late 2006, I too suffered with public bathroom anxiety. Early on, I was not confident in my ability to “pass” and hesitated every time I had to use a public bathroom. I did know that being androgynous was not the way to get accepted in the bathroom, so I always did my best to appear feminine and confident. Until 2004, I was mostly at school where no one seemed to care or notice me. I used the women’s bathroom with no problems that I was aware of. If someone was uncomfortable, that fact was never routed to me.
But when I began work at the United States Sports Academy in early 2004, things changed for the worse. Although I actually started to work there in the fall of 2003 as an intern, I only worked half-days and rarely, if ever, visited the bathrooms. Before I accepted a full-time job with the Sports Academy, I made sure all the higher-ups knew I was transgender. I even sat down face-to-face with the no-nonsense president, Dr. Rosandich and told him I was trans and I explained what that meant. His response was: “OK. I understand you flew fighters in the Air Force and are now getting your doctorate. Welcome aboard.”
My honeymoon there lasted about two weeks. I was called into the Vice President’s office one day and very politely told that someone had filed a complaint that a “man wearing women’s clothes” was seen going into the women’s bathroom; that person threatened to contact the police if the school’s administration did not do something to stop that. The administration checked with their attorney who researched the options and reported back that the City of Daphne, as well as the state of Alabama, had laws restricting males from using the women’s bathrooms. The VP asked if I had documentation of a legal gender change and I, of course, had to tell him no. So he informed me that until I had such documentation, I could no longer use the women’s bathrooms at the Sports Academy. He further said he did not feel I should use the male bathrooms either. He then suggested I go to the bathroom before work or after work as there was no safe place for me to use public bathrooms in Daphne.
I was shocked and left his office wondering if I would either have to quit or learn to hold my water for extended periods of time. But my direct boss, the Dean of Academics, helped me by instructing the janitors to place a sign on a bathroom in a closed-off section of the building indicating that it was a “unisex bathroom.” The sign was literally a hand-written paper taped over the permanent sign. Although this unisex bathroom was literally on a different floor of the building and at least a 10-minute trip to get there (one had to get the janitors to open a locked door)I accepted this help. Eventually the Dean was able to persuade the VP to give me a key to the door to that wing; I was the only person anywhere near that bathroom.
A few months went by and I worked as hard as I could at my job trying to convince the powers at be that I was worth the “trouble.” In April of that first year, I was called unexpectedly into the President’s office. I expected the worse and steeled myself for more bad news. But I was pleasantly surprised to find my Dean in the office with the President. Dr. Rosandich told me I had been doing excellent work and he had decided I could do more for the Academy as an Assistant Dean for Academics. That was very welcome news, of course, but he ended the meeting with “As soon as you get that all-important surgery, we can do away with this bathroom business.”
One small step.