I walk into the male offender restroom as I feel the men walking by the neighboring pods and hallways staring at me through the windows. I am wearing my faded canary yellow shirt and orange sleep shorts that fall below the knee as I am walking in black flip flops smacking on the moldy floor. My peach beach towel, a soap dish with Tone soap, a flimsy orange Bob Barker security razor, and a fresh 2-ply cheap toilet paper roll are in my hands as I place my shower hygiene on a wood bench.
To arrive to the toilet with a plastic two feet high privacy curtain I must pass directly within elbow’s reach of a man pissing his coffee in a wide three-foot urinal and another at the toilet next to my private and safe place. The men display their obvious distrust of a queer trespassing into their personal private space while I rush to my safe place just to urinate. I have no other option unless I wish to “respect” the men and wait for each and every male who wishes to relieve themselves.
After relieving myself while carrying as much of my feminine dignity as possible, I step into a shower bay with five shower heads. Mold, mildew, hair, and other elements remain on the walls and floor of the shower. Other men walking into the restroom glance up and steal a look over the merely shoulder-high wall (shoulder high for a short person) as I undress and take my shower under the alternating pressure of hot water. Not only can I see the restroom, but also part of the pod, and the office where the “ever-vigilant” correctional officers sit.
I finish my shower with only dim lighting because it counts time. But because of the dry cells, all the residents come in and out while I stand naked in my skin on the other side of a 5’ privacy wall. Once back in my room I am changing into feminine clothes which reveal my upper naked body only a few feet away from a cisheteronormative male. I wonder, what is the cost of privacy?
Painting by Gwynne Duncan