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I'm a transgender woman, and I'm getting to the point in my transition where I'm starting to use the women's restroom. However, given the recent climate around transgender people using the appropriate restroom, I am feeling concerned about being challenged or harassed for doing so. In an attempt to try and get ahead of that, I would like to have some strategies for responding prepared.

Specifically, I'm looking for responses to the following two situations:

  • Non-threatening but direct challenges - i.e. "The men's room is over there." or "Are you in the right restroom?"
  • More direct aggression - i.e., threatening to call security or the police, being physically aggressive

My strategies for avoiding problems so far have been to

  • Wait for the restroom to be empty before leaving or entering, which isn't a good long term solution, and is also hard to do without feeling even creepier.
  • Just leave ASAP, sometimes without like washing my hands or fixing my makeup, which ranges from gross to disheartening.

I have not yet had a direct encounter, mostly just surprised looks or glaring. Which, definitely does not feel good, but I can deal with it. But I would like to have a strategy beforehand, so I know how to respond if it ever does happen.

My goals for any response, in order of importance, would be to

  1. Keep myself safe

  2. Still use the restroom

  3. Avoid getting authorities involved (employees, security, or police)

Assume that any option involving using another restroom is unavailable, and I can't wait.

Some relevant details:

  • I have been medically transitioning for a while, and between the hormones and my general presentation, I look feminine, but I don't particularly pass as a cis woman.
  • My ID has my gender listed as female. There's no such thing as a legal gender, but in as far as there is, I am legally a woman.
  • Where I live, there are no laws explicitly banning transgender people from using the restroom appropriate to their gender, but also no laws explicitly protecting us. It's kind of a gray area. This is the big reason I wouldn't want to get police or other authority figures involved, as it feels the outcome could easily be not in my favour.
  • could you get special permission to use the disability restroom? I mean where its appropriate to ask, such as at a workplace or leisure outlet. My own (female) partner would be very uncomfortable with a "not born female" person using the ladies room as she would the view that a born male person would still be much stronger than her and could over-power her in a way that another born-female probably could not.(its not a comment on the transgender person themselves, or in anyway denigrating them as a valid person, its just about safety) – bigbadmouse Mar 19 at 14:01
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    I can promise you, I am not stronger than any other woman. After like a month without T, all of my muscles had atrophied. And, like, surely she's not going into every bathroom situation under the assumption that the people in there are going to attack her... – Tesset Mar 19 at 14:35
  • i didnt mean offence, just describing what goes through the head of my partner who's had a lot of years of thnking in a female way. She has had a bad time in the past and fear of attack is a real thing, and for some people, a very constant PTSD thing.I think as men we sometimes forget what its like to be physically weaker. – bigbadmouse Mar 20 at 8:40
  • I'm not a man. Trans women are women. The offensive thing here is the implication that trans women are more dangerous than other women, which is a transphobic talking point leveled against us by bigots. We're not more dangerous, I promise. Please think about why you feel that way, and why you felt the need to level that charge at me, a stranger. – Tesset Mar 20 at 15:13
  • In any case, this conversation isn't seeking clarification on the question, so it doesn't belong in the comments. If you feel the need to continue it, feel free to tag me in chat. – Tesset Mar 20 at 15:14
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+200

My advice is to remember that we prime others for how to react to us to some degree. What I mean is that the greatest thing you can do to reduce the chances of this happening at all by simply acting like you belong, which isn't about passing or not.

The science on this is extensive and dense, but a good place to start would be Cialdini's 6 Principles of Influence.

Many of these principles can be utilized in creative ways but specifically in this case the principle of Authority. Caildini discusses research showing that humans often take social short-cuts subconsciously that have a big influence of behavior. Directly, this can, for example, mean that if you say "I'm amazing!" it will be less convincing to a stranger than someone else saying "she's amazing!". This can be applied less directly for the same effect for example by speaking first to someone who looks like they might stop you and say:

Excuse me, the security guard told me the (women's/men's) bathroom was this way?

This principle can also be applied in non-verbal ways, hence "walk in confidently" will help across the board. For a more extensive look at the non-ethical applications of this principle I recommend reading up on the WWII era Milgram Shock Experiment where in short, simply based on wearing a lab coat and being perceived as an authority (both visually i.e. uniform and in attitude, i.e. confidence), phycologists were able to simply order subjects to take actions they thought would lead to an innocent person's death (without threatening the subject with anything similar, just based on the principle of authority.) This is the same principle "pick up artists" use to manipulate and control behavior.

If you head for the bathroom like you belong there rather than nervously sneaking in you cut your chances of negative interaction significantly. Look confident that you are doing exactly what you should be doing, and others will be more likely to go along with it (even if you are nervous).


If this fails, did they actually attempt to stop you in some way? Move to block you or stand in a doorway? This is someone who is signaling they are willing to escalate and you should probably just leave.

The most readable (non-technical) article I could find on this is here (trigger warning for this link it discussed and has video of violence), but you can certainly dig deeper in you don't mind getting into neuroscience. Basically, we subconsciously take on a "fight" body position that is fairly instinctual if we feel threatened, a common reaction to trans people by some that often can lead to confrontation or violence. They aren't "afraid" of you in the way that's typically interpreted, but someone who is going to react strongly enough to you that they may take further actions beyond what they've already done is usually signaled by subconscious or conscious body movements.

Never put yourself at risk to try to make a point!


If they didn't? A half-hearted comment under their breath as you walk in? Light-hearted humor that signals you aren't concerned about their concern like (without turning around or stopping):

Do you mind if we talk about this after I pee real quick?

A really good (info VS length) link for de-escalation is actually here on this police website, and no the irony of that is not lost on me. De-escalation can also be interpreted by the Authority principle of Caildini both non-verbally and directly as in:

Do I need to get a security guard?

Whether you think that the security guard would have your back or not, the implication that you are confident an authority figure on your side will give an aggressive person a reason to accept de-escalation (even if it may not be true).

Some of this is also based on my personal experience (using humor especially works for me) as a trans woman and also as an activist who interacts with the public regularly in difficult situations.

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