My son is six and a half years old. He’s been potty trained with nary an accident since exactly his third birthday.
Last week, in his first grade classroom, he peed his pants. He sat in his urine until the dismissal bell rang. His pants were soaked and cold when he got out of school. He was uncomfortable and he smelled. He didn’t want anybody to know. It was his secret.
He started crying in the car.
“I’m so ashamed of myself,” he said over and over again. Tears rolled down his face, even though he willed them not to. He couldn’t hold them back.
Come to find out, my son — with his long auburn hair, pink and purple fitted clothes, feminine backpack and wrist full of rainbow-colored loom bracelets – is terrified to use the boys’ bathroom at school.
On his first visit to the boys’ bathroom, he headed straight for the safety of the stall. Boys started peeking through the cracks in the stall to see if he was going pee or poop. Pooping at school is an embarrassment. He avoided the bathroom for as long as he could. The next time he had to go, he, again, walked straight to the stall. He locked the door behind him. He lifted the toilet seat lid and unzipped his pants. He could hear them talking. He could hear them looking. He turned around. Boys were peeking through cracks again. This time they were trying to see his genitals. They wanted to know if my son has a penis or a vagina.
My son refuses to go into the boys’ bathroom again. He has stopped drinking his juice boxes at lunch. He refuses to drink anything at breakfast. He’ll do anything to not have to use the boys’ bathroom at school. He’ll do anything to avoid having strangers look at his private parts while taking bets as to what they’ll see when they get to see something.
I’m sure you can understand why my son is not comfortable using the boys’ restroom at school. He wouldn’t be comfortable using the girls’ restroom either. Because he identifies as male, the girls’ bathroom doesn’t feel like the place for him.
He wants to use the boys’ bathroom, it’s just that he wants to feel safe once he crosses the threshold into a domain that is loud, messy and run by the boys who dominate the playground. It’s a world where adults are not allowed and one where being different or weak makes you a target.
We have a “female campus,” which means that our principal and vice principal are female. I’m told that it’s against the law for them to enter the boys’ restroom. It’s the only place on campus where the kids have free reign. They know that adults can’t enter. It’s like Lord of the Flies in there. An island of urine, screams, voyeurism and soaking wet paper towels thrown onto the ceiling and hanging down like dirty icicles. It’s aggressive; my son is not.
My son has been given the option to use the nurse’s bathroom in the school’s front office. To a first grader at one of the largest elementary school campuses in Orange County, the nurse’s office feels like it’s miles away. When he does use that restroom, the other kids ask him why. He feels weird no matter where he pees.
So, instead, he holds his bladder from 7:40 am. To 2:30 p.m., except for on days like the other day, when he could hold it no longer.
After getting emotional and feeling blue about raising a boy who only likes pink, I contacted the school. I wiped my own tears and set out to fight his battles, clear his path and ensure that my son would be safe and comfortable at school. I feel like I’m the only mother who has to fight for her son’s rights to toilet in privacy, without others trying to get a good look at what’s between his legs.
“Of course you should talk to the school,” my brother said. “But, you need to teach him to stand up for himself if he doesn’t like what’s happening to him.”
I had been operating in crisis mode. I had been so focused on handling the problem for him, that I was forgetting to teach him how to handle it on his own.
“Stop looking at my privates.”
“You’re being rude.”
“If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell.”
“How would you like it if someone was watching you go to the bathroom?”
“Don’t be gross.”
“What you’re doing is not okay.”
It doesn’t feel like enough. It’s not enough. But at least now, my son knows what to say to try to defend and protect himself.
I talked to my mom about it. Weeks ago she left her bible study in tears. A fellow church-going Christian claimed to have insider information and knew that my son was using the girls’ bathroom at school. There would be hell to pay when “everybody else” found out about it.
My son isn’t using the boys’ bathroom, he’s not using the girls’ bathroom, he’s hardly using a bathroom at all. I worry every day. Going to the bathroom should be the easiest part of the school day.
But, for my son, it’s not.