As a gay man, moving to Palm Springs seemed like an easy choice. The vast array of businesses, bars and activities curated for my community attracted me to the area. But as a transgender gay male—someone who was born female, but identifies as male, and is sexually attracted to men—I have been learning a harsh reality about the acknowledgment and acceptance of my existence in these spaces.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Tool Shed, a bar that promotes itself as welcoming and inclusive. It’s loved by many, and it’s usually busy on a Sunday afternoon—but as a transgender male, I quickly realized my experience in this bar was not going to be the same as the experiences of the cisgender men who frequent it. My first hint came from overhearing a conversation surrounding disgust and confusion around individuals who identify as nonbinary. Unfortunately, I’m pretty used to overhearing these types of conversations in these spaces, so I ignored it.
Then I had to pee.
Peeing at a gay bar is the ultimate test of just how “inclusive” a place truly is. The bathrooms are sometimes completely unaccommodating for individuals who must sit to urinate, as was the case at the Tool Shed. The bathroom’s only toilet is located with no privacy in the middle of urinals, behind a bathroom door that does not lock—so my husband had to stand outside the door, telling people to not come in … where he was subjected to rude comments. The only other option I had was to pee in front of everyone, outing myself and putting me in potential danger. When I tried to ask staff members if they had other options, I was met with hostility.
I wish I could say that this was a unique situation, but it’s not. I’ve been here since June, and I’d previously encountered other bars not meant for my body, such as the Barracks and Eagle 501. I really love the vibes of these bars, but in order to go, I must decide that it won’t be comfortable for me to use the bathroom.
Nobody should have to worry about maintaining their dignity while using the restroom, especially when they’re going out to socialize and have a good time. But as a transgender man who occupies cisgender gay spaces, it’s always something I think about.
Safety is a huge concern for the transgender community; simply existing causes us fear. In 2021, almost 80 transgender and nonbinary individuals were murdered because of their identity. Many of them were killed by individuals they met at bars and clubs. When we report hate crimes, we are often ignored; I’ve heard stories of police coming to arrest individuals because they were using the “wrong” restroom—in other words, not the one that matched their sex assigned at birth. At almost every conference or gathering of transgender individuals, there are mentions of bathroom safety tips and handouts of safe bathroom guides.
Some transgender gay men don’t have penises, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t entitled to pee in peace. I’m not naïve to the reasoning behind getting rid of locks and stalls in gay spaces, but the body types of some gay men are different, and it’s about time the Coachella Valley “gay” establishments change.
I have heard managers at some establishments ask the “point” around changing their bathrooms for such a small community—but let me tell you, the trans community is not that small. In fact, if you made your bathrooms easier to utilize, you’d be surprised just how many of us would come out and socialize. There are a few places we feel comfortable going to, like Chill Bar and Oscar’s. But I have to ask: If changing the way you set up your bathroom only affects one person, isn’t that enough?
I’m not asking for a lot. In fact, all I’m asking for is access to a basic human right. A simple lock on the door or a toilet with privacy wouldn’t take that much work. I’d be happy to help—if only you’d ask.
Jacob Rostovsky is a licensed psychotherapist and the CEO and founder of Queer Works, a nonprofit organization working to provide free therapy to the LGBTQ+ community in California. Openly transgender since he was 13, Jacob uses his personal experience and professional background as a mental-health clinician to educate and facilitate conversations around topics facing his community. To learn more, visit www.queerworks.org.
I’m a straight, married old woman. I have a transgender cousin born male now female. Our family accepts her 100% and make her feel comfortable in every way. However when she goes to Puerto Rico she stays close to family making sure when visiting public places she won’t need to use a bathroom. It’s unfair, ignorant and more.
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