North Carolina! Her undulating emerald highlands encircled by the tumbledown doublewides of inbred Scottish settlers, crowned with the overstated summer homes of affluent snowbirds! North Carolina! Her Confederate apologists and her disdainful food-truck hipsters! North Carolina! Her wildcrafting Boca retirees and her bible-thumping prigs! North Carolina! Her Christian bookstores and her kumquat lambic microbreweries! North Carolina! Her rich history of other people’s toil!
Although I was not born in the Tar Heel State, I was raised here. I went to high school and dropped out of college here. And although I have traveled, and I have lived in other states and other countries, I have called North Carolina home for almost twenty-seven years.
I spent a lot of that time in the bathroom.
Mostly in private, but I’ve had occasion to visit a fair few public restrooms as well.
From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Piedmont to the Outer Banks, the pride of The Old North State has always been her public restrooms—the American Standard urinals with their fragrant pink para-dichlorobenzene cakes redolent of sports bars, military field latrines, and Parisian pissoirs! The foldaway diaper-changing stations! The mechanized air-fresheners! The automatic paper-towel and soap dispensers! So tiley! So flickering fluorescent bulby! A heady atmosphere of disinfectant chemicals, fecundating effluvium, and seething microbes!
Who wouldn’t want to defend them?
But the muddled leaders of the conservative majority of North Carolina and their misguided adherents equate sexual variance with sexual deviance. They believe that gender identification is a choice, not an irreversible aspect of identity. They worry that transgender people are perverts, or worse—potential child molesters. They worry that permitting transgender people to use the bathroom specific to their sexual identity might open a Pandora’s Box of straight white republican bogeymen—strobe-light Molly-fueled EDM orgies! Unwelcome arms draped over prepubescent shoulders! Surreptitiously tweaked nipples! Lustful tongues jabbed though glory holes! Menacing strap-ons! Studded leather chaps and lash-striped buttocks!
So in an effort to keep the Old North Shitters safe from perversion, they’ve passed legislation that forces everyone to use the bathroom that corresponds to their genitalia.
I can no longer sit by and watch as the wrong people are vilified. The time has come to stand and be heard.
My own dark restroom activities must finally be revealed.
1.) In sixth grade, a boy named Jimmy McClendon was out to get me. My family had recently moved to Asheville from up north, and Jimmy McClendon hated carpetbaggers. I used to slither through the hallways between classes to avoid him, liquefying and oozing around doorjambs, rarefying into vapor and traveling through the ventilation system, etc.
I would hide in a bathroom stall waiting for the late bell to ring. Sometimes boys would try to muscle the door open, or peer in through the crack at me, but I felt safe and protected. I would get to class late, but unharmed.
Unfortunately, McClendon caught on, and he was waiting for me one day outside the stall, cracking his knuckles.
“Beaner!” he shouted—I’d been too afraid to correct him after the first time he called me Beaner—“Beaner! I’m gonna kick your ass, Yankee faggot!”
Jimmy was a gangly rawboned kid, a head taller than me, and tough. I had grown up without a dad, so I had never really learned how to fight, and I was a coward. But that afternoon—maybe because I was tired of sneaking around, maybe because Coward of the County had been playing on a radio somewhere, I don’t know—I stood up to him.
“Leave me alone, goddamn it!” I shouted.
Jimmy took me by the collar, hauled me up on my toes, got so close I could see the zit-pocks on his cheek like shrapnel scars as he breathed country ham into my face saying, “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, boy. I’m a Christian and I don’t let people take the Lord’s name in vain!”
Which was my first encounter with religious hypocrisy.
Then he pounded my head against the silver button of the hand dryer, turning it on and off with my occipital bone until the late bell rang.
2.) In high school, once again in the boy’s room, but this time tagging the stall while huffing suede cleaner (a popular style of shoe at the time, Dusty Bucks—red crepe souls and tan suede uppers—came with a spray-can of cleaner that really gave embalming fluid a run for the money,) perusing the graffiti, I discovered—amidst crude etchings of dicks and turds—this moving verse:
Ima Fuck Donna
Feeling charitable, I corrected it, crossing out Ima and replacing it with: I am going to fuck Donna. I pointed out that Ima was grammatically incorrect, and I went skipping off all pigtails and lollipops.
Although I didn’t know Donna, or the tagger who was either fucking her—or perhaps only intended to fuck her, who could possibly know?—I felt that I had performed a valuable service. As Socrates said, it is only ignorance that leads people to choose evil.
The next day, back in the stall, I discovered, inked under the bit that I had written the day before, in thick, hateful Sharpie:
Wrong English Fags Don’t Fuck.
Which was devastating, and—at least for the next couple of years—true.
It bothered the shit out of me, too, being a Wrong English Fag, because all the ignorant boys seemed to be getting laid left and right in the shadows of the bleachers, in the rutting orgy that was, for some, high school.
(I now know that correct usage doesn’t get you laid. Singing and dancing—that’s what gets you laid.)
3.) During the Great North American Blizzard of 1996, while I was stranded for several days in the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Charlotte, I masturbated out of boredom to an L.L. Bean catalogue.
I was on my way home from California for a visit, and in those days I often took the Greyhound, even though it took four days to get across the country, because I was always broke. You could go all the way from the Bay Area to Asheville for a hundred bucks. But this time the snows came in brutal and blinding, obliterating the asphalt, and my bus was marooned in Charlotte.
For the first day I just hung around the terminal, dissecting mephitic cheeseburgers and chain-smoking Drum hand-rolls. Watching episodes of Nash Bridges on greasy plastic chairs with coin-operated black-and-white TVs bolted to them as the snows swirled hoodoos outside the smudged curtain wall. It was during this Nash Bridges marathon that I glanced over and noticed the catalogue on the next chair over.
All those Kelly green golf shirts and pleated khakis, my God! Perky pima cotton tees! Shapely Double L© cable knit sweaters! The filaments from which dreams are spun! The nominally diverse models with their perfect white teeth smiling midst the cattails by navy blue waters on some rugged New England shoreline . . .
I checked to see no one was looking, scooped up the catalogue, and stuffed it into my jacket.
Five minutes later, in one of the terminal restroom stalls, hunched over an ad for bras with built-in travel wallets, I found sweet release.
4.) In a rest stop outside of Hickory I was menaced by a bat.
Returning to Asheville from the coast in the middle of the night I started to feel queasy, so I stopped at one of those little roadside shacks where truckers with distended guts and lobes full of bathtub crank squeeze out filth in an agony of long-haul hemorrhoids while casually paging through Open Beaver Monthly.
The lone attendant resembled serial killer Ed Gein, a filterless Pall Mall dangling from the corner of his mouth, giving me a dead-eyed stare as he smeared dirty mop water around and around the same filthy circle of green tile by a plastic-covered wall display filled with faded purplish stills of laurel thickets, butter churns, and the cage-bound lions of the Asheboro Zoo.
The restroom was like one of those crime scenes from the movie Se7en—all flickering greenish light and dripping faucets, struggling moths. I picked a stall, locked the door, and was going about my business when I heard a whirring sound, like a battery-powered fan, whirr-whirr-whirr.
A shadow passed over my head.
Suppressing a shriek I ducked down, scanning the space above the stall as the shadow whizzed past again.
“Hey!” I yelled.
Hey. It felt like an ineffectual thing to yell.
I heard the door creak open and a gravelly voice, “What’s the problem?”
“There’s something in here.”
He repositioned the mucus in his throat.
I heard the spray of an aerosol can and my nostrils began to burn as the air was slowly replaced by insecticide fumes. There was a series of moist thuds.
When I came out of the stall he was sweeping the bat into a dust pan.
“What did you kill it for?”
He turned his dead lamps on me.
“Can I help you with something?”
I can only assume that later, in a secret bunker under his back yard, he skinned the bat, fashioning it into a velvety merkin and a set of bloodstained pasties.
5.) It goes without saying that I’ve had all sorts of intestinal problems, too. The negative humors I have contributed to my environment need not be recounted here. The evil percolations of Slim Jims, pickled eggs, Mountain Dew, combined with low standards of cleanliness, undercooked ingredients, lurking viruses—all contributed to the Bosch hellscape that was my colon.
My suffering was usually exacerbated by leafing through Chick tracts about the inescapable hot-prong agonies of Hell.
Chick tracts, if you are unfamiliar with them, are the little crudely-drawn religious scare-tactic booklets that toilet ministers leave in gas stations and rest stops for the salvation of commuter’s souls. They typically involve a naïve little boy named Timmy making bad decisions when faced with moral dilemmas.
Dungeons and Dragons leads to witchcraft. Should Timmy play the game? Evolution is a satanic lie that does away with morals. Should Timmy believe in it? Halloween is a pagan holiday of bonfires and cat sacrifices. Should Timmy celebrate it? The homosexual lifestyle is a byproduct of demonic influence that begins with eyebrows on fleek and ends with wicked revelers at gay pride parades crushing Christian protesters under fabulous floats. Should Timmy choose this as a way of life?
Not surprisingly, Timmy always ends up burning in hell.
There is never any chance of redemption in Chick tracts. The publishers believe that the prospect of sizzling for eternity is enough to scare the wandering soul back onto the true path. The same sort of scare-tactics used to keep oppressed little kids from using the “wrong” bathroom.
But enough anecdote, enough speculation. I could go on. I could tell you stories about rock concerts missed snorting coke cut with laxatives, awkward liaisons with nearsighted girls, the please-let-me-die stabs of the Norwalk virus.
But I digress.
You’ll never guess what never happened to me in a public restroom in North Carolina.
I never once came across anyone that I would consider a pervert, besides me.
Crazy religious fanatics, sure. Bat murdering Ed Gein lookalikes, always.
Certainly no transgender child molesters. No strobe-light Molly-fueled EDM orgies, either. No unwelcome arms draped over prepubescent shoulders, no surreptitiously tweaked nipples, no lustful tongues jabbed though glory holes, no studded leather chaps or lash-striped buttocks.
No closeted Boy Scout troop leaders. No Catholic priests.
Nobody sprinting after me with strap-on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to tell you hayseeds how to run the state. But if anyone should be kept out of the public restrooms of North Carolina, it’s me.