Tar-Heeled by Karen Richard

Hello everyone! We have a special treat for you today. Author Karen Richard is here again to share a short story with us. Yeah, she is all kinds of cool!


When I heard about the bathroom law in North Carolina and contemplated the paranoia, hatred, fear and ignorance that went into making that law a reality; I did what I like to do when confronted with an untenable situation. I wrote a short story about it. Here is my take on this law. And I have a book of short stories out this year that contains some politics, some humor and a whole lot of me. You can get it on Amazon (here) or anywhere you like to buy your books. Check it out if you are so inclined but in any event, enjoy my free story and hit me up in the comments with your thoughts.

Tar-Heeled
By Karen Richard

I am a large butch woman and I have spent my life striding through this world like I own it. These days, however, I can’t even make myself leave my house. My hair is short and spiked because that’s what I find easiest to deal with. I like a no fuss style so that my morning routine is streamlined. I have never been the kind of girl who wears make-up. I just never cared to fuss that much getting ready, shower, deodorant, gel in the hair, jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers. I can get ready for any day in about fifteen minutes. I might spend a little more time picking out clothes for a special occasion but on the average I am up and out the door in less than a half an hour each day.

In the past I didn’t walk, I strode through life. My step was long and I moved with a strong purpose. I took up the space that my body needed to navigate the day. That is not to say that I splayed my legs on public transportation to make sure no one could use the seat next to me but I did not try to make myself small and unobtrusive to avoid any confrontation. I took the space I needed.

I am a large woman with an ample chest but I wore loose and comfortable clothing. Men’s clothes are less constraining so I wore extra-large t-shirts and a sports bra that compressed my chest. That allowed me to walk at any speed without the discomfort of my breasts bouncing. I was not trying to be a man or pass as a man but just be comfortable and true to myself. Men’s pants have pockets, real pockets that can hold the stuff I need to carry with me, money, credit cards, id, and keys. I didn’t carry a purse. I had a wallet in my right back pocket. Women’s pants don’t have pockets that are large enough to hold my stuff. They have small waists and didn’t fit me properly. I wore shoes that didn’t hurt my feet or make it hard to walk (or to run away should that be necessary). Men’s shoes fit my wide feet better.

I got called sir a lot. I didn’t mind, not really. It’s not that I wanted to be a man, I loved being a woman but I think most people who called me sir were just reacting to my presentation, my short hair, my somewhat deep voice, and the way I occupied the space I was in. When I was younger I used to get offended but that took too much energy. Sometimes I corrected people, sometimes I pitched my voice higher, and sometimes I ignored it. I would rather be called sir than a lot of other names I had been called in my life.

I dressed for myself. I wore comfortable shoes that allow me to move freely and easily. This comfort helped me keep my place in the world that I strode through. I didn’t stride fearlessly though. I had been attacked for my looks, both verbally and physically. I have had things thrown at me by passing cars while the word dyke floated through the air. I had been beat up for daring to be myself in public, for having the temerity to dress for comfort and act for myself. I had felt the steel tip of a boot crack my rib while a male voice threatened to fuck the dyke out of me but I was so ugly that he couldn’t bring himself to do it. The sickening crunch, the stabbing pain, the inability to draw a breath deep enough to yell for help, the bone deep fear of a profound violation so unfathomable it shattered my self-image. These encounters left me scarred. Sometimes scared and always more aware. I know where people are in relation to me and I always identify the closest exit and the safest and most well-lit route to where I need to be. These things didn’t change how I interacted with the world but made me pay more attention to who inhabited it with me.

I have mentally girded my loins to enter a public bathroom when I had no other choice. I would rather wait than deal with the fall-out. Whenever I couldn’t wait I tried to find a family restroom because they are not gender specific and afforded me more privacy. Barring that I looked for one that was out of the way and hopefully less used. When I had to enter a public restroom I would thrust my chest out, lead with the boobs so to speak. The hope was that any one I encountered would have noticed my breasts first and catalogued me as female before they saw the short hair and clothes and thought male. It didn’t always work. More than once I stood at a sink washing my hands when a woman entered, saw me, turned red, backed out, re-entered, looked at me and either left again or said something like “This is the ladies room.” Or even worse when someone saw me and started yelling at me to get out. Once I even had a woman run out yelling for security.

Did I mention that I lived in North Carolina? Yeah, it’s gotten worse, living here. The new law required people to use the bathroom of the gender on their birth certificate. I was born a woman but sometimes that was not enough. Last week I was in the Charlotte Airport. I should have skipped the coffee that morning because coffee always makes me have to pee. I got to the airport extra early because Monday mornings were always a nightmare at security. I was waiting to board the plane when the first announcement of an hour delay came over the loudspeaker. I already had to go but was trying to wait until I got on the plane where there are no gender specific bathrooms. But once second delay was announced I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to use the women’s room closest to my gate just in case the departure time got moved up. I made my mental preparations and entered.

I got into a stall safely and took care of my business. I guess my mistake was stopping to wash my hands. I kept hand sanitizer in my backpack and I could have just used that. But since I had entered the bathroom without confrontation I felt safe. I had taken care of my biological needs and was complacent, I guess. As I stood there washing my hands I heard a shrill scream and someone yelled, “There’s a man in here.” I looked around and saw people pointing at me. I grabbed a paper towel and dried my hands off as I quickly walked toward the door. I was intercepted by one of the newly appointed gender patrol officers. He was standing outside the door and pushed me up against the wall as I exited. He had his hand on the back of my neck as he shoved my face into the bricks.

“You are under arrest for violation of the North Carolina Bathroom Code.”

My arms were pulled behind me and my wrists cuffed. I was led away to the office despite my protests that I was in the proper bathroom. Once we reached the office I was recuffed to the chair in the holding cell and read my Miranda rights.

“Alright, sir, why were you in the women’s bathroom?”

“Look, I am not a man. I was in the proper restroom. Let me get my id and show you.”

“A state issued id is not sufficient to refute a charge of improper restroom usage sir. Too many states allow people to pick their gender. Here in North Carolina you have to use the bathroom of your birth gender so you have to have a birth certificate for proof.”

I shifted in the metal chair. “I don’t have a copy of my birth certificate with me.”

“Uh huh, or it doesn’t support your claimed gender. Look, if you really are the gender you claim to be only a birth certificate can prove it to the satisfaction of the law. If you want to be released today and given a court date to produce your birth certificate to have the charges dismissed, you will have to consent to a physical examination.”

“Who would be conducting this exam?” I asked.

“Well, we would have two officers in the room for our protection against allegations of abuse.”

“And the gender of those officers?”

“Obviously the gender you present, so male”

“And if I do not consent to the search?”

“You will be arrested and transported to the county jail. They do a complete physical at intake and your gender would be confirmed there with or without permission.”

I looked at the clock on the wall above the door. Even with the delay I was close to missing my flight. “So either I consent to be felt up by two men here or you take me to county jail and it happens there?”

The arresting officer slid a piece of paper across the table. It was a consent form but also contained a waiver that basically said if I consent to a search by the officers, regardless of the outcome I was waiving my right to sue for any kind of assault or press any charges for sexual assault. So, if they did this and released me I might still have caught my flight but at what cost?

I had to get my flight for work so I signed the consent form. What happened after that was worse in a lot of ways than the beating I had at the hands of the gay-basher. At least as I healed from those physical and emotional scars, I could tell myself that it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t me that was responsible for that assault. The fault and the blame were clearly on the shoulders of my attacker. But in this case I did hold some of the responsibility. After all I consented, I signed the paper. I had no idea the extent those two men would go to in order to be able to confirm my gender identity. And I couldn’t help but blame myself, I had consented after all. I think it was only when I began to cry as they violated me that the guards actually believed my claims of being female. By that time I was in no position to continue my business trip. I went home and have been unable to force myself to leave my house, to re-enter the world that I used to move through so confidently.

This is not the way a democracy is supposed to work. A late night bill, rushed through, depriving citizens of their rights, shouldn’t be allowed. Nor should a sexual assault be the price of freedom. As soon as I can leave my house I am leaving North Carolina. My only hope is where ever I move will provide me safety.

 


Karen Richard is a labor contract negotiator by day and author by night. She has held numerous jobs in her life from cook to mail carrier. She lives in the northeastern United States with her wife and their cats. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School although she won’t say what year. As a hint, it was the last year that the Fighting Irish won a national championship in football. She stands firm in the belief that, like the Phoenix, the Irish will rise from the ashes and reign as National Champions again! She has taken and passed the bar in Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin, marking the only three times in her life she passed a bar without stopping in for a drink. Her first book is a collection of short stories is available here: Women of the Year.

 

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13 thoughts on “Tar-Heeled by Karen Richard

  1. I can only say “wow, what a story!”. It makes my blood boil and I’m very lucky that this cannot happen in The Netherlands. At least not yet. Nothing is certain with all the negative changes around us. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  2. This is a powerful look at the consequences of bathroom bills. “Toilet Terror” is a fabricated scare tactic to divert the masses from the real issues. My friend has short hair, is thin, and is 6’1″. I have never thought of her as anything but a woman, but she has been accosted in women’s restrooms. Excellent story.

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    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree that toilet terror is a knee jerk fear mongering tactic. And just because this law is aimed at transgendered people doesn’t mean that anyone who is not transgendered is safe.

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    1. A cautionary story to be sure! I meant the story to be thought provoking and to remind all of us that discrimination against any group impacts every group. Thanks for talking the time to read and comment!

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