Itsy Bitsy SpidersPosted: January 5, 2012
I pushed open the swinging bathroom door and made my way inside. The bar was a mile south on University Ave from my house and hosted a weekly talent competition for local artists. $75 for the judges’ favorite meant that a compelling sing-your-heart-out number and a smile would make rent, which was only a few days away, far more manageable. I’d already had two beers, and was supposed to sing in fifteen minutes, so I wanted to pee before going on stage. The bathroom was black: tile, countertops, stalls. I made my way to the urinals and, since no one else was in there, felt like I’d manage fine—even though there weren’t dividers between the wall-mounted toilets.
I unzipped, and began.
It must be some sick joke that designers play on poor, nerve-wracked people like me, the let’s-put-the-urinals-as-close-together-as-possible-and-see-what-happens game. Ten seconds in, I heard the door creak behind me and started to breathe heavily. When I felt a strange shoulder against mine, I immediately stopped, which burned.
“Converse, eh?” the stranger said, nodding toward my blue shoes. I heard him confidently, fearlessly peeing. I zipped up my pants, knowing my efforts were irreversibly frustrated, and made my way to the sink, leaving the second beer unaddressed in my bladder.
I often wonder what it’s like to have romantic comedy fears: small spaces, last place, itsy bitsy spiders. For whatever reason, I’ve been blessed by the good, comical Lord with a healthy fear of public restrooms. Sometimes, when my bowels come a knockin’ at inopportune moments—in malls, in movie theaters, on road trips—and I’m forced to make a nasty deposit outside the comfort of my home, I plug my ears while I’m sitting in the stall and imperceptibly hum songs to myself to pretend like I’m alone. Otherwise, I’d be there for hours. It’s so bad, in fact, that one of my friends in college, upon discovering my dirty little phobia, christened me with a new title: Bashful Rectum.
Weird, I know.
You can imagine, then, the fear that struck when I walked onto my hall freshman year of college to discover that our showers were communal: one big-ass room with six suspended spigots. No dividers, no curtains, no safety. I remember being afraid that one day, while shampooing my hair or scrubbing my chest or washing my face, I’d uncontrollably get an erection and, like my scarlet letter, the guys on my hall would know about my other teensy weensy worry—that whole I-might-be-gay thing. I thought my body would betray me, would shout what I didn’t have to courage to name myself and I would stand painfully and poignantly naked. I remember being in my room, wrapped in my green towel, and staring in the mirror before I went in for the first time. I was seventeen.
“You’re going to be fine.” I whispered to myself. “You like girls. Nothing’s going to happen.” By the end of the year, the monologue was so rehearsed that it prompted itself each time I grabbed the towel from my door and made my way down the hall.
Much of college proved difficult for this very reason: when you live in a community where your sexuality is demonized and unrepresented, when the showers aren’t sectioned off because “it’s not like any gay students go here or anything,” you find yourself doing a hell of a lot of whispering. The scariest things, it turns out, aren’t the showers or the bathrooms. The scariest things are the moments when the whispering stops working, when, deny as you try, you can’t ignore who you are any longer and you realize—profoundly—that you no longer fit in a world you love so deeply.
As it happens, fear is stronger than lust, and I always remained safely flaccid while the water splashed across my skin.