The curtain raised on peeing with girls

I was at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge last week and I found myself in a gender-neutral restroom, which I have used many, many times.

Men and women peeing in the same room. Stalls and urinals.

It was a little surprising the first time I entered this restroom and encountered women, but two years later, it’s absolutely, positively no big deal.

Except sometimes I get to learn something that I didn’t know.

Last week, I was using a urinal while two women occupied stalls to the right, talking to each other through the partitions. They talked for about a minute, engaged in a lively discussion, before one of the women said, “Okay, we need to stop talking for a second and just pee.”

And they did.

I found this amusing. Does this happen all the time, or was I experiencing a one-off moment?

It’s not unusual for two men to talk while using urinals, but we are presumably peeing while speaking. I’ve never felt the need to pause before speaking. Sometimes I'm even shouting across a crowded restroom in Gillette Stadium, asking my friend to meet me in a certain location once we’re finished.

So maybe this was an unusual and amusing moment, or maybe not. With more men and women occupying the same restroom space, mysteries will be revealed. The curtain will be pulled back.

Either way, it wasn’t a big deal, and it’s still not a big deal to me. Memorable and amusing but nothing more.

I know others disagree. Given that the Vice President doesn’t allow himself to have dinner with a woman unless his wife is present, I suspect that peeing in the same room as a woman might cause him heart failure.

But I also suspect that for Mike Pence and others opposed to these gender neutral restrooms, their historical lens is shortsighted.

Less than a lifetime ago, there were places in this country where the notion that African Americans and whites could sit alongside each other at lunch counters or on public transportation prompted outrage and violence. Not too long ago (and still in some places today), an African American man would be taking his life in his hands if he dared to date a white woman.

The Supreme Court decision allowing for interracial marriage was decided just 50 years ago. This means that the marriage that produced President Obama would have been illegal in many American states at the time of his birth.

What seems ridiculous or impossible or uncomfortable today will be commonplace tomorrow. As human beings, we tend to view the world through the limited lens of the present, and happily, progress often happens faster than we think.

Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would see an African American President, legalized same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or gender neutral restrooms in my lifetime, I would have said no.

Thankfully I would’ve been wrong.

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I went to the bathroom alongside a bunch of ladies, and something surprising happened.

I competed last night at a Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon in Cambridge, MA. 

The Oberon has two restrooms. When I started performing there in 2013, these restrooms were identified by placards as "Men" and "Women."

About a year ago, the "Men" and "Women" placards were replaced with placards that read "All Gender." Since then, I had only found myself in the restroom with a woman once, and it was alongside several other men. Though the placards had changed, people for the most part continued to segregate themselves according to sex.

Last night, however, I found myself in the restroom at one point with one other man and three women, and when that man exited the restroom ahead of me, I was the only man in the restroom with these women. I almost didn't notice, but as I stood at the sink washing my hands alongside two of the women, it occurred to me that I was using a public restroom with a majority of women for the first time in my life.

Also, none of us cared a bit.

At the end of the night, I returned to the restroom and found myself alone with one other woman. As we approached the sink together, we began talking. I had won the StorySLAM, and she had recognized me from my previous victories and wanted to know how I managed to win so often. As we washed our hands, I gave her a few storytelling tips, and she told me about her battles with stage fright and her desire to tell a story someday. 

I was back on the street, walking to my car, when I realized that I had just engaged in my first conversation with a woman in a public restroom, and I couldn't get over these two facts:

  1. It was no big deal at all. 
  2. So many dumbass jerk faces (I'm looking at you, North Carolina) think it's a very big deal.

If your opposed to allowing people to use the restroom of their choice, it's time to put on your big boy or big girl pants and grow up. Sooner than you think, "all gender" or "gender neutral" restrooms will be the norm, and people will wonder why gender segregation was once required in order for people to sit on toilets and wash their hands. 

After last night, I'm wondering it myself.

I won a Moth StorySLAM, and that wasn’t the best part of the night. Seriously.

I won a Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon Theater in Cambridge on Tuesday night. I managed to win from first position, which isn’t easy.

I’ve won 13 Moth StorySLAMs in the last three years, but I’ve never won after having to go first. Few storytellers do. I was excited. Thrilled, even, But winning was not the best part of the night for me.

Given my extreme competitive nature, this is really saying something. 

Three of my friends joined me at The Oberon on Tuesday night, and two of them, Plato and Tom, put their names in the hat and were fortunate enough to take the stage and tell a story.

They performed brilliantly. They told great stories. Their stories were so good, in fact, that Plato finished in second place, just a few tenths of a point behind me, and Tom finished in third, a few tenths of a point behind Plato.

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I was impressed with their performances. A little proud, even.

Both Plato and Tom began their storytelling careers at Speak Up after Elysha and I asked them to tell a story. Tom told a hilarious story about meeting his wife for the first time, and Plato has told a number of stories for us, including one at our very first show.

Last night was the first time they took the stage for The Moth. I suspect that it won’t be the last.

Plato and Tom are not my only friends who have taken the stage to tell a story. Since I began introducing my friends to storytelling (shortly after I began doing it myself), many of them have performed at Speak Up, and a handful have told stories at a Moth event.

I’ve also watched people who complete my storytelling workshop go on to tell stories at Speak Up and even compete in Moth StorySLAMs. Many of them assured me that they were taking my workshop for reasons other than performing and swore that they would never take the stage. Despite their initial protestations, a large number of them have gone on to tell stories for Speak Up, and a few have even ventured into New York and Boston and competed in Moth events as well.

People who never dreamed of standing on a stage and performing have become seasoned storytellers who can’t wait to tell their next story.

Introducing friends to something new, assisting them in honing their skills, and then watching them perform and compete is more rewarding than I would have ever expected. That’s how I felt on Tuesday night, watching Plato and Tom perform on stage.

In many ways, I was also returning favors.

Eight years ago, Tom bought a set of golf clubs for $10 at a garage sale, dropped them into my car on a snowy, December afternoon, and thereby launched my golfing career. Golf has become one of the greatest loves of my life. I’m still a terrible player, but I would play every day if I could. I’ve even written a memoir about the game. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Tom changed my life when he dropped those golf clubs into my car that day.

Back in 1999, Plato decided to take a chance on an inexperienced teacher, fresh out of college and rough around the edges, who many administrators viewed as a wild card. He hired me when others would not and thereby launched my teaching career. I have been teaching in that school ever since.

Our school was the place where my occasionally unorthodox teaching methods were embraced and my creativity was rewarded. I was permitted to become the teacher I am today thanks in large part to Plato’s leadership and guidance. It was also the place where I met my wife, Tom, and many of the closest friends.

My life would be very different had Plato not taken a chance on me that day.

Introducing them to storytelling and watching them compete for the first time was a small way of repaying them for all that they have done. It was a joy. It’s well documented that after the first person in a family graduated from college, others in the family, who never dreamed of attending college, will follow. Once the ice is broken and the impossible is made possible, people are willing to give it a try.

My success with storytelling has served a similar role for many of my friends. Once I started taking the stage, others have followed. It has been so much fun to watch.

Watching Tom and Plato perform so well on Tuesday night was truly reward enough. The fact that I won the slam was great, but honestly, it was icing on the cake.

Delicious icing. Satisfying icing. Well deserved icing. But still, not nearly as rewarding as watching Tom and Plato standing behind that microphone, under those bright lights, telling their story.