Bebe in the ladies’ room

Published by rudy Date posted on March 16, 2009

This is a story told by someone who shall remain anonymous to protect both him and the institution he heads.

Recently, he said, a most “unusual” problem was presented to him: What to do about gay male students who insisted on using the ladies’ room? The gay students complained that they faced harassment whenever they used the men’s room, and so they had taken to using the ladies’ room. At this point, my source says he decided to conduct an informal poll among both boy and girl students.

While some female students complained about the presence of males in “their” restroom, the majority of girls polled said they didn’t really mind sharing their facilities with gay men. What many complained about instead was the presence of tomboys, with some girls saying they felt “harassed” when they had to share the restroom with them. At which point, says my source, he decided to throw up his hands in surrender, the intricacies of sexual and gender politics proving too burdensome.

I remembered the story while reading the extensive interview with Bebe Gandanghari, the latest incarnation of actor Rustom Padilla who is mostly remembered for his tearful confession in an episode of “Pinoy Big Brother” that he is gay. Declaring that “Rustom is dead,” Bebe arrived from the United States and immediately became a media sensation, provoking curiosity and interest as much by her full-hearted embrace of her womanly nature as by her feminine getups.

One of the more sensational parts of Bebe’s interview was her revelation that she uses the ladies’ room, saying “it would have been more scandalous for Bebe to use the men’s room.”

When she enters the ladies room, said Bebe, people treat her “like a lady,” and some even let her go first. “Mas gentleman pa sila (They’re even more gentlemanly),” she commented.

* * *

I suppose this was Bebe taking a dig at the “gentlemen” she encountered, in or out of the men’s room, since her public declaration of her sexuality and her transformation into a woman — at least in external appearance.

She was much too polite to say why she preferred to use the ladies’ room, but we can surmise that her experience is not too far from that of the gay male students who found themselves targets of male attention and maybe even ire each time they answered the call of nature in the men’s room.

But when I told the story about the school administrator’s dilemma to “straight” male friends, they protested that in fact it is they who feel harassed, or at least uncomfortable, when an obviously gay man enters the men’s room. “We try to get out as soon as we can,” they said.

As for us women, I can only go by my own personal preferences. And I can tell you that I would be extremely uncomfortable sharing the ladies’ room with someone who was not, uhmm, anatomically similar to me. As for tomboys, well, that’s what stalls are for.

Still, that leaves Bebe and others who fall between the hard and fast boxes of “male” and “female” in a real pickle. If they were unwanted or felt uncomfortable in “comfort rooms” designated male or female, then where are they to relieve themselves?

Another male friend has a solution. “Build a new set of restrooms,” he told the school head. “Mark them ‘male,’ ‘female’ and ‘it’s complicated.’”

* * *

Complicated, indeed are the intertwined issues of sex, sexuality, gender and gender relations.

I once listened to a psychologist who conducts research on sex and gender issues and was awed as she described more than 40 categories of sexual preference and identity. They are not the same things, after all. A man may behave in an effeminate way (or at least effeminate as defined by the rest of society) but actually be heterosexual in orientation. Another man may appear “manly” and even “macho” but may be lusting after other men. The same applies to women. And let’s not get into the case of individuals who swing both ways.

What we need to remember, though, is that we are not judged solely by what we are biologically — male or female — although even sex runs a gamut of categories, as hermaphrodites can attest. We are all also judged by what roles, expectations, behaviors and images are expected of us as men or women, or as gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, or as transgenders (persons who have undergone or are on their way to undergoing sex reassignment surgery and treatment).

The dilemma of what restroom to use, and how to behave while in it, lies just on the surface of the entire multilayered structure of gender. It is far from simple and certainly not given to black-and-white classification. Nor to forceful exhortations about women’s “natural calling for marriage and motherhood,” as if women who dare venture beyond the boundaries of these callings are somehow aberrant, if not sick.

* * *

Still, while we’re figuring out the sociopolitical implications of gender and sorting out our own personal feelings, we can start behaving more civilly toward each other.

If the men using the men’s room stopped twitching with unease, or fought the tendency to pick on the gays who shared the room with them, then there would be no need for gays to trespass into the ladies’ room. Besides, which violence, whether against gays or other boys, should not be tolerated in any civilized setting, especially schools?

Bebe Gandanghari may find it “scandalous,” in her present incarnation, to use the men’s room, but if men would only grow up and understand her situation, then maybe she might feel more comfortable using a urinal, given her present anatomical status. But if Bebe were to enter while I was in the ladies’ room, I would probably be cool about it, as long as I could keep the stall door locked.–Rina Jimenez-David,Philippine Daily Inquirer

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