I was in Austin, Texas, and asked the department store cashier if she could tell me where the washroom was. The look she returned was one of confusion.

“Oh, I mean bathroom,” I said, not realizing at the time (it was 1995) that “washroom” is more of a Canadian term. The various names have always struck me as a little strange: restroom vs. bathroom vs. washroom. I’m not there to take a bath, and I consider evacuation to be work, not rest. Washing up afterwards is good.

Anyway …

I’ve written disgusting stories about running and just barely making it to the bathroom. I’ve also written even more repulsive stories about not making it. I’ll try to keep the gore in this one to a minimum, because this time around I actually have a point to make.

As regular readers know, I have a finicky digestive system when it comes to running. I can handle just about any activity with a full stomach except for running. Sometimes it’s fine, and other times it is … not fine.

It was a couple of years ago and I was running through Nose Hill Park in Calgary. At the north end, where my car was parked, there is a bathroom. I knew from experience that the men’s bathroom had one urinal, and only one stall with a toilet.

I was about a mile from the bathroom when it hit. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I’d obviously misjudged my fueling strategy and the contents from small intestine on down began a chemical reaction that transformed it into smelly, explosive brown lava.

I began the familiar spastic waddling run towards the bathroom known as “run-clench-pray.” And I made it, but the one stall was occupied. Dammit.

So I waited. I waited for almost two minutes. I kept my mind off the impending fecal disaster by creating a mental voodoo doll of the stall occupant and shoving hypodermics full of flesh-eating bacteria into its poo hole.

Hopping from foot to foot, I came to the realization I could wait no longer.

After a lifetime of mental programming of which was the proper one, I was terrified to enter the women’s bathroom. Alas, being “scared shitless” is merely a metaphor. Were it literal, I’d have no story to tell.

My colon compelled me to muster enough courage to cross the threshold. Just as I began to walk in, a woman came out. “That one’s taken,” I stammered pointing at the men’s room across the way, “and this is an emergency!”

“Be my guest,” she said, holding the door and gesturing that I should feel free to use the women’s bathroom.

And did I ever use it.

That little tale was before all this legal bullshit about using the bathroom on your birth certificate that you may have heard of. But quite recently the exact same scenario unfolded in the exact same spot.

I was running with my friend Peter. Usually I run in the mornings on just a bit of food, which helps avoid these issues, but he wasn’t available until later in the day, so I’d had lunch. Most times that’s okay but sometimes it’s not okay and then you’re 8K in and you have to say, “I’ll meet you in the parking lot” to your friend as you dash off in the direction of the bathroom before the Exxon Valdez runs aground in your underpants.

I was a hundred yards away and praying the one stall was free when I saw a guy walking into the bathroom. I was doing a combination of praying and cursing that he be better be there to do a standup job, but when I got in I found that he was doing that kind of business that allows you to check Facebook at the same time.


I didn’t take time to inflict ancient curses on his mortal soul, but instead, being that there was a precedent, headed straight for the women’s bathroom like I had once before.

It has two stalls and one was taken. I had to walk in front of the occupied stall and moved quickly in the hope that I’d not be recognized as a man from between the cracks. Although my sphincter was doing the decidedly unhappy dance in anticipation of being able to let go, I was conscious of my size-12 footwear and hairy legs. I endeavored to place my feet in such a way so it would not be obvious to the woman in the stall next to me that it was a big and undepilated man who sat next to her.

Finally, I let go with a river of excrement that cleansed me from sternum to sacrum. I courtesy flushed twice.

After I was done I waited, because I could hear that the woman next to me was finishing up and I did not want to encounter her outside the stalls. It gave me a moment to think about how uncomfortable a position I was in, but that I truly had no choice. I don’t think the other park users wanted to see me ducking behind a bush.

I waited until she was gone, and then dashed out of the bathroom and back into the men’s to wash up. I didn’t want to be caught because, again, it was uncomfortable for me to be in the wrong bathroom. And I’m a big guy, it’s not like I have anything to fear other than embarrassment. I’m not going to be assaulted.

Now imagine if every time you went to use a public bathroom there was that fear and embarrassment of being in the wrong place.

I cannot pretend to know what it is like to be transgender. I am very happy with my body and it has never once felt wrong to me. So I decided to do a bit of Googling to gain better understanding.

I started struggling when puberty hit, around age 12. I watched as my body turned what felt to me grotesquely masculine, and my mind began to feel as though it was in a fog of testosterone. My brain was like a Camry someone had tried to fuel with diesel — it wasn’t meant to run on testosterone. I wished I could be like the other girls in my class … I sank into a depression that lasted for years. – Parker, writing in Bustle

I was identifying as a ‘male’ because that is what I look like bodily. In fact, that’s what’s in my birth certificate (sex: ‘male’). But despite of being aware that I am anatomically a boy, my mind still won’t accept it. It feels uncomfortable … I want to die because I am suffering on a daily basis. The suffering is psychological and it affects every area of my life. – Radz, writing in Quora

If you want to know what it’s like being trans just imagine yourself exactly as you are but everyone else sees you as someone else and if you correct them they may kill you. tumblr post via Mic.

The whole time I tried to be feminine, I felt like I was an actor in a play. I felt most at ease when I was in male clothes and when my hair was short and when people called me ‘sir.’ It was like for the first time in my life, people actually saw me. – Dan, writing in Quora

I would say that most of us experience both pain and joy … Despite that very real pain, many of us also experience great joy related to our transition … For me, even realizing that I was trans was a relief. Finally, I had an answer that made sense of so many experiences, thoughts and feelings I had throughout my life … Each step in my transition might have been a struggle, but each step also felt like progress. Each step I take, I am reminded just how right transition is for me. – Katie, writing in Quora

Katie’s story is worth a second look. She discusses how right it feels to transition, and then asshole lawmakers in places like North Carolina say, “Nope!” And it’s not just state legislators, but employers who can be dicks about who does and does not have a dick. In this story from Tennessee, a trans woman’s boss made her use the men’s room because he feared a lawsuit.

There was a lot of turnover at this job, so every two weeks a fresh batch of employees seemed to come in. This meant that every two weeks new men would come into the bathroom, assume they’d accidentally entered the women’s room when they saw me there, and then glare at me when they figured it out. Some insisted that I was in the wrong place — until they realized what I was, and got really angry. It got so bad that I stopped going to the bathroom at work altogether, and I developed urinary tract infections. So then I stopped drinking water before and during work. – Meredith, writing in the New York Times

Recently Rolling Stone reported that 70% of trans people experience things such as nasty looks, disparaging remarks and even physical attacks when using public bathrooms. It’s also worth noting that in 2015 more trans people were killed than ever before. All this is happening even though there are zero reported cases of trans people having attacked others in bathrooms. Some proclaim to be worried about “perverts” who are “pretending” to be women just to gain access to the ladies’ room so they can assault young girls. Again, it’s a non-issue, but it’s interesting that they never showed concern for the young boys who share bathrooms with men all the time.

Trans people using the bathroom that feels right for them was manufactured into an issue because … I don’t know … Jesus? Is it the religious right that’s pushing the transphobic agenda? Whatever the cause, it’s bullshit. People just want to use the bathroom for its intended purpose, and they want to use the one of the gender they identify with. We should be more worried about hand washing and if there is toilet paper.

My tales of the runner’s trots compelling me to use the wrong bathroom are of little moment. I shared them to relay how uncomfortable it was for me to have to use a bathroom where I felt I didn’t belong. I cannot imagine it being legislated, or a work requirement, that I had to use the wrong bathroom every time I went out in public.

If you’re still worried if the person in the stall next to you has a dick, and think we need to be legislating that, then I’m afraid you’re a dick.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.