This past summer, our family vacationed in Hawaii. We spent a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, picnicking and thinking about where my wife, Katy, could use the restroom.
In our regular life in Austin, this is less of a problem. In Texas, Katy gets read as male about 50% of the time and as female about 50% of the time. Her Gender Attribution Average (GAA) is actually pretty close to her internal gender identity, which is cool - unless she needs to pee. Still, in her day-to-day routine, Katy is usually able to avoid unfamiliar public restrooms.
In Hawaii, however, Katy's GAA was 100% male. This is not usually a problem either. When she's in a highly gender-conforming context, it's often easier for Katy to use the men's restroom, because she experiences much less rubbernecking and gender policing.
The problem lay in the fact that we were on vacation with our 8-year-old son.
For the longest time, Katy and I were like the stereotypes of the overprotective lesbian parents. I took Waylon with me in the women's restroom until...let's just say recently.
Thus, the beginning of our vacation found me pacing anxiously outside a men's room at LAX, possibly looking like some kind of creepy bathroom peeper, while I waited for Waylon. I was worried that this would turn out to be one of those labyrinthine airport bathrooms with multiple exits and that my baby would wander out into the wrong corridor and be swept onto the busy streets of Los Angeles.
It seemed like hour later, although I suppose it was only five minutes, when Waylon emerged, looking disturbed. "What happened?" I cried, expecting the worst.
He crinkled his nose. "It just smells like a bunch of URINE in there!"
Clearly we needed to try a littler harder to help our son adapt to the restrooms of his gender tribe.
Our hotel in Kauai was located on a breathtaking beach in a rocky cove. In the mornings, when mist hovered over the water, it made me think of Homer's "rosy-fingered dawn." Waylon was going through a Greek mythology phase - not a casual "I enjoyed The Lightning Thief" kind of thing, but more of an "I'm crying because I realized that I'm reading an abridged version of The Odyssey" kind of thing.
He'd discovered a quiz that could determine which Olympian god a person most resembled, and he'd pegged Katy as Zeus and me as Athena. I was flattered that my son considered me to be the goddess of wisdom, but I was also uncomfortably aware that I was gay married to my own mythological father.
Still, the strangeness of our mythological May/December union paled in comparison to our queer presence at a swanky beachside resort. Katy's cousin had generously given us a weeklong stay at her timeshare, which turned out to be Honeymoon Central. There were honeymooners in the hot tub, newlyweds at the bar, and humongous wedding parties posing for group photos next to the koi pond.
Perhaps it was the overwhelming heterosexuality of all those honeymooners that predisposed people to read Katy as male. Whatever the cause, Katy's Gender Attribution Average seemed impervious to the fact that Waylon called her "Mommy" every few seconds.
On our first full day in Hawaii, Katy and I lounged around the hotel's enormous, flower-shaped pool while Waylon demonstrated 500 variations on the basic cannonball. "Hey, Mommy, Mommy, watch this! Did you see that one Mommy? Watch! Mommy, how big was my splash? Mommy!"
A polo-clad waiter appeared to check on Katy's drink.
"Can I get you another beer, sir?"
"Mommy, Mommy, look at this!"
Katy had the deer-in-the-headlights look that means she's afraid someone will revise their gender attribution in the middle of an interaction. It's not that she cares so much how they read her; she just dreads the rollercoaster of confusion, embarrassment, and hostility that sometimes ensues. I decided to try to help her out.
"What is it, Waylon?" I asked, lowering my sunglasses.
"Not you! I'm talking to Mommy!"
Despite the fact that Waylon had blown Katy's cover, the waiter continued to address Katy as "sir" for the remainder of our stay.
The highlight of our trip was a day spent snorkeling at a secluded hike-in beach on the north side of the island. At first Waylon was hesitant to swim out to the reef, so Katy wrapped her arm around him, and he clung to her like a happy submarine sidecar. As we approached the reef together, the sun burst through the morning clouds, illuminating brightly colored fish in all kinds of fantastic sizes and shapes.
By the time we hiked back to our car, afternoon rain clouds were beginning to gather, and Katy really needed to pee.
I think that there's something particularly ominous about state park bathrooms. Maybe it's the polished metal "mirrors," which hint at violent acts of vandalism that the state has foreseen and precluded. Maybe it's the latrine smell, which reminds me of Girl Scout camp and mandatory sports. Or maybe, as the partner of a transperson, I've begun to develop a sixth sense for locations where gender policing is likely to take place.
Whatever the reason, I could tell that Katy was not going to use the crowded bathrooms at Ha´ena State Park.
Later, I learned that Ha´ena is also referred to as the "end of the road" in Kauai. We were about as far as we could possibly be from our hotel, on an island where the average speed limit is 35 miles per hour. Katy got in the car with a grim look on her face.
As we passed through tiny towns, I could see Katy scanning for something. Each time we passed another unsuitable option, she grew a little bit quieter and grimmer. Waylon was in the back seat, loudly recounting one-liners from all the cartoons he had watched the day before. Katy gritted her teeth and turned up the radio.
"For god's sake," I wanted to cry, "just pull over and go behind a tree!" But I knew it was no use. My modest, pee-shy partner would never, ever be able to pee in the open.
Finally, just as I began to fear irreparable damage to Katy's bladder, she spotted what she was looking for: a rundown gas station with single stall bathrooms that were accessible from the parking lot. She pulled the car over so fast it made my heart race, slammed it into park and jumped out without bothering to close the door.
Our perfect day was saved.
For the last night of our trip, we decided to splurge on the poolside buffet. In addition to his Greek mythology phase, Waylon was also going through a sushi phase. He'd been starring longingly all week at hotel posters touting an amazing variety of delicious-looking maki.
We all dressed up for the grand occasion. Even Waylon was wearing one of the preppy outfits that his gay grandpa likes to buy him at TJ Maxx. In his polo shirt and khaki shorts, he looked just like one of the waiters.
As soon as we had placed our orders, Waylon got a stricken look on his face.
"I have to go pee," he said. I could tell it was urgent.
"I kind of need to go too," Katy admitted.
"Let's go together!" Waylon said.
Katy looked around at the other diners. Drunken honeymooners seemed completely oblivious to her plight. For the past seven days, every single stranger we'd met had read Katy as male. "Waylon," she said, "if we go in the men's room together, you can't call me 'Mommy' all the time."
"I know! I'll call you Zeus!"
For the next five minutes, Waylon proceeded to say "Zeus" as often as he usually says "Mommy."
"Come on, Zeus," he said, shepherding her into the men's bathroom like an old pro. "You take the stall, Zeus," he added as he graciously headed to the urinal.
It was kind of hard to readjust to regular life after our glamorous vacation in Kauai, but I was glad to settle into our regular bedtime routine again. Katy and I usually spend a few minutes lying down with Waylon before he goes to sleep. It's a time for us to talk about whatever's on our minds, and I had a question that I needed to ask.
"Waylon, what did you think about using the men's room with Mommy?"
"I mean, how did it feel to call her another name besides Mommy?" I asked, trying to dig a little deeper.
"It was okay." he said, elliptically. "But I wouldn't want to do it all of the time!"
Photo from yukihiro m.'s flickrstream. Shared under the terms of a Creative Commons license.