Specifically, I wrote a thing for The Toast, which you should all be reading in general because it is wonderful. You should read my piece at least five times each so the editors ask me to write more things for them.
I happened to catch an interesting story on NPR yesterday about new research on the benefits of sleep. The super non-sciencey version is that our brains (like other animals’ brains) actually flush out toxins while we sleep, which has implications for research on Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses. I didn’t know this before yesterday, but apparently dementia disorders are overwhelmingly associated with sleep disorders.
My interest in the story is twofold. First, I’ve struggled with insomnia for pretty much as long as I can remember. I basically thought this was just an unfortunate side effect of being me, but as it turns out, it’s actually a very common symptom of bipolar disorder, and one that is delightfully (for the most part) treatable with the right combination of medication.
Secondly, my grandmother had Alzheimer’s. Her deterioration was deeply painful for my mother and her siblings, and a fear of developing dementia is now something my mother and I share. Like the risk of developing bipolar disorder (which is pretty huge if one parent has it), the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases considerably if the disease also runs in your family. The initial articles I found about potential links between bipolar and Alzheimer’s made my brain hurt (on account of not being so sciencey) but I would be curious to see if research on two conditions so strongly linked to sleep disorders could both be aided by this new discovery on sleep and the brain.
So I’m a big sports fan, which isn’t something I’ve written about all that much, although I was once really excited about starting a feminist sports blog. (That is still a thing that would be awesome to do. I’m even still sitting on the WordPress name. I am just awful at organization.) I think part of the reason I don’t write much about my love for sports is that it can be tough to be a female sports fan, especially if you’re also a fan of women’s athletics. Mainstream sports media dudes are, by and large, dudes, and their treatment of women’s sports (and women in sports journalism) runs the gamut from total ignorance to dismissal to super gross sexism.
But that’s not actually what I want to talk about in this post. Instead, let’s think about fandom, and taunting, and young Wil Myers.
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At least once a week someone asks me what my initials stand for. My stock answer is “My first and middle name,” which usually gets a chuckle, but almost never deters the questioner. When they realize I’m not going to tell them, a lot of people just start guessing. Curiosity is persistent, it seems.
Last night we heard what sounded like an explosion. I still can’t find any news reports about it–plenty of emergency vehicles materialized in the neighborhood, but no one seemed to be able to find the source of the noise. One neighbor, a combat veteran, said he’d seen some kids run into the bushes and assumed someone had been shot. Another guy claimed to have seen a flash and was sure a transformer had blown.
The last time I called 911 was five years ago, when a man was shot and killed several doors down from the apartment where I lived. In the aftermath it felt like everyone in the neighborhood was standing around on our porches and balconies, watching police and EMS come and go, some of us answering questions from a Herald reporter walking up and down the block. We’d heard gunshots? Were we sure? The answer is that once you’ve heard gunshots in person, you don’t really mistake them for anything else.
When I was growing up, the most sinister noises I could hear at night were probably just the odd possum or raccoon trying to root through our trash. I was afraid of wildfires and coyotes. I still instinctively flinch when I see a dog off leash. One dog on his own might run at your livestock, but two together could make a sport of it.
Then I moved to Boston.
In my freshman year of college, my dorm sat directly atop the subway route. Mass Ave ran just past my window. I could feel the whole building shake when the train slowly rumbled below and I couldn’t seem to block out the red and blue when flashing lights passed on the street at night. Our proctor assured us that we’d get used to the sounds of the city and I didn’t believe her until a few weeks later I realized I’d been reading in bed all night and hadn’t even noticed all those sights and sounds.
I’ve never really felt unsafe in this city. Just the other night I walked home–nearly a mile–well after midnight. I was maybe a little spooked when the lights at two intersections suddenly went dead, but I didn’t feel unsafe. I’m privileged enough to know that if I call the cops they’ll probably come pretty quickly (particularly since there’s a good chance plenty of my neighbors will call them, too) and that they’ll believe my answers if they ask me questions. But for the past couple of years I’ve found myself compulsively (irrationally) checking behind the shower curtain when I get home, just to make sure no one’s lurking there. I check my apartment door once, twice, three times before I go to bed.
There is no point to this post. I heard a loud noise last night and I still don’t know what it was. I don’t like that feeling.
I know I’ve written about this before, but I have a thing about public bathrooms. It’s not a phobia, it’s not an irrational fear, it’s a reasonable (I think) reaction to years of problems in public bathrooms. I’ve spent my entire adult life knowing that every time I step into a multiple occupancy women’s restroom, I run the risk of any number of outcomes that have happened to me time and time again: a woman enters, sees me, exits, and re-enters sheepishly. Someone tells me, “This is the ladies room.” A woman does a double-take. A woman laughs at me. Someone calls security on me. A woman stares me down like I’m wearing a t-shirt that says I’m here to molest your daughters.
I’ve had trans* women tell me I have more problems in bathrooms than they ever have.
A place that should be so simple, so basic, so available to me whether I just need to pee or check my hair or change my tampon has turned into a place I loathe. I will go out of my way to patronize bars and restaurants with gender-neutral (or just single-occupancy) bathrooms, but there are a lot of other things I do hoping to avoid all my favorite worst case scenarios. So, in no particular order,
Things I Do in Public Bathrooms (That You Probably Don’t Even Notice)
1. Send in an advance scout.
When I’m in a new bar or restaurant, I’ll often wait until another woman in my party visits the little girls room so that I can get a little recon. Is it multiple stall? Single stall? Gender-neutral? (Be still, my heart!) One of my favorite new bathroom configurations is at Publican in Chicago. Stalls are labeled M or W but they’re all single stalls and everyone uses the same big fountain sink, so nobody’s weirded out by washing their hands next to someone they think is a dude.
2. Bring an escort.
Especially in big, multi-stall situations (think airport or movie theater) I’m prone to going in with reinforcements. I’ve never really bought into the omg we have to go to the bathroom togetherrrrr! mentality, but I feel a lot safer walking into a bathroom, casually chatting with someone who is quite obviously a woman (or at least more obviously a woman than I am). I figure other women are going to know that a lady isn’t just going to waltz into a bathroom with her dude friend, so I must be safe.
3. Emphasize the goods.
I’m not the breastiest (and I know that apparently women use other cues, like haircut and wardrobe, when they’re deciding who does and doesn’t belong in a public bathroom) but I do have a pair of boobs, and I tend to try to accentuate them when I’m walking into a restroom. My whole posture changes, I’ll pretend to adjust my bra strap, or I’ll reposition the strap(s) of a bag to accentuate the boobs.
Aside from wearing things to draw attention to certain parts of my anatomy, I’ll also momentarily ditch my baseball cap or throw a canvas bag on my shoulder. I’ve also been known to gesticulate with a tampon.
5. Get outta dodge.
The point at which I’m most likely to have a bad run-in is when I’m washing my hands. Most public bathrooms are laid out so that you walk in and immediately see the sink(s), or else come upon them from around a corner. Surprise! So I have a tendency to rush the whole hand-washing procedure–sometimes ditching it completely if I think it’ll get me out of a bathroom without running into another woman. Sadly, the very things that mark most women as la di da, just a lady here, like checking your hair or your outfit in the mirror, are the things that take too much time–I just don’t risk it.
Here’s the thing I don’t get. I’ve spent over a decade getting called out by strangers (some women, some not) for being in the “wrong” bathroom, but I have never–not once–found myself in a bathroom with someone whose appearance was so objectionable that I felt the need to say something. I’ve never felt unsafe in a public bathroom because I thought there was a dude in there with me–just tormented by other women.