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Jim Mullen: What’s behind door Number 3?

I was driving through a small town not long ago, the kind that only has three or four stores on the main drag — a jumble shop, a grocery, a diner and a gas station — with a few houses on both sides. A sign over one faded storefront read, “Worms, Bait, Computers.”

They may be on to something. You can’t get worms and bait at the Apple Store.

I remember being surprised when I first moved from the big city to a small town and saw a sign in the local laundromat that read, “Please, no horse blankets in the washing machines.” That hadn’t been a big issue in Manhattan.



I remember a restaurant that we used to go to many, many years ago in Manhattan. It was a small place, maybe 20 tables thisclosetogether, with a very personable bartender and a clever menu. The place started to get a reputation outside the neighborhood. We didn’t realize how well-known it had become until one night, Rex Harrison and Claudette Colbert, who were appearing in a Broadway show together, walked in. The place went dead quiet as the starstruck diners gawked at the cinema legends.

Just then, a loud voice from the bar rang out in mock horror with a plummy English accent, “Oh my God! Theater people!” With the exquisitely pronounced “thee-a-tuh,” it got a big laugh, plus a bow and a curtsy from the two stars.




The national “who’s using which bathroom” issue has reminded me of that restaurant — specifically, its restrooms. There were two. On the door of one was a painting of a lobster, and on the other, a crab.

If those two crustaceans have some gender significance, I am unaware of it, and most of the other patrons were, too.

Every now and then, we’d see a man or a woman get up from their table, head for the restrooms and, seeing the lobster on the door, walk over to the next door and eyeball the crab. They would then walk back to their table, mission unaccomplished. They would wait until someone else went in one door or the other to figure out where they should go. Sure enough, sooner or later a man would use the lobster door and the confused patron would now know what to do. Unless another man used the crab door at the same time.

It didn’t take long to figure out that it didn’t matter; each room was its own private space. But it was a cheap laugh to watch others’ social discomfort.

But it makes me wonder why there is such a big fuss about transgender bathrooms. Most public bathrooms have stalls in them, which provide privacy except from the most aggressive Peeping Toms. I don’t know who’s in the next stall, and really, how would I know? How would you know?

So this whole brouhaha must be about something else, and I think it’s bragging rights. Let’s say someone on TV says they’re a woman trapped in a man’s body (or vice versa), and they tell you about all the hormones and surgeries and psychotherapy they’ve gone through. When a man trapped in a man’s body hears all this, he thinks, “Hey, what about all my stents? What about my drinking problem? What about my struggles?”

Men love to talk about their problems, and they’re not much interested in hearing that someone else has suffered more than they have. If transgender people said things like, “Transitioning was a piece of cake; anyone could do it,” then men might lose interest in trying to one-up them and police their bathroom attendance.

As a man trapped in a man’s body, I can’t tell you what a struggle it is. My facial hair doesn’t grow in the right spot for today’s beard trends, and it comes out in racoon colors. Everything I wear makes me look fat. But it’s not my clothes’ fault, it’s my fat that makes me look fat. I can’t catch anything that’s thrown to me — a ball, a coin, a knife. I have to pretend that I’m not scared of motorcycles.

On the plus side, no one cares where I go to the bathroom.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.


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