There was the name change. The lost friendships. And the friends who kept using the wrong pronoun. Cayden McDonald, who came out in a Facebook post as transgender in April 2012, would gently remind them that he is a “he” now.
But of all the awkward adjustments and ambiguity that surround the 18-year-old’s transition, one of the most delicate has been which restroom to use.
The way the Woodbridge teen sees it, it is ridiculous to demand that he use the women’s bathroom. “I walk in, and a woman sees me, and they’re going to be hella confused,” McDonald said.
But he is also still uncomfortable in the men’s room. Despite the courage he shows in living as an openly trans teenager, the furtive glances, averted eyes and judgmental looks still sting.
“I just want people to pee where they want to pee — it’s not that big of a deal,” said McDonald, a senior at Prince William’s Gar-Field Senior High School. “We just want to pee in peace.”
Although it is an issue he faces many times a day, McDonald has been surprised to see questions about where he and other transgender people answer nature’s call driving a national debate over equal rights, gender identity and access to public facilities.
Last month, a federal appeals court in Virginia ruled in favor of a transgender teen, Gavin Grimm, who sought to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ordered a lower court to reconsider Grimm’s request for an injunction that would allow him to use the boys’ restroom at his school.
That decision came weeks after lawmakers in North Carolina approved a measure that restricted access to restrooms in schools and other government buildings. Under the terms of the law, known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, trans men and women must use restrooms that reflect the gender listed on their birth certificates.
The North Carolina measure has been condemned by trans rights activists and others. It even raised the ire of some in the entertainment community — Bruce Springsteen announced he would not perform in the state until the law is struck down.
On one hand, McDonald thinks it is absurd that people are fixated on the bathroom habits of others. But he also understands that this could be an important milestone for trans rights. To him, not letting him use the bathroom of his choice is “dehumanizing.”
McDonald’s journey to living as an openly trans teen began in his early teens, after he watched a series of YouTube videos of people coming out. He saw a video of a teen coming out as transgender — and a lightbulb went off.
“I was like, ‘This is what I’ve been feeling for so long.’ ” he said. “I didn’t know there were things you could do about it. So I was like, ‘I like this, this is how I feel, I’m gonna tell people,’ and I did.”
In a two-paragraph post on Facebook, McDonald, who then was 14 going on 15, came out for the first time to friends and family.
He admits that his online announcement — which went something like, “This is who I am, you’re going to deal with it or don’t talk to me” — may have been unnecessarily harsh. But at the time, it seemed that social-media moment was just what he needed; it gave him the courage to tell everyone who he was inside and why he would be giving away that rainbow-colored dress he wore to two homecomings when he was trying so hard to be girly.
His mother didn’t see the Facebook post. She learned about it from her sister, who called to tell her about the Web-based coming out.
“I was surprised,” said McDonald’s mother, Inga Vinroot, 44. “It was just different.”
Vinroot and her son began attending a transgender support group in Fairfax County, and about a year later, she co-founded a group for gay, lesbian and transgender teens and adults and their families in Prince William County. She said the whole process was “very opening and enlightening” for her.
“When it’s your child and they come out, and they come out in this manner — it’s not like, ‘Okay, my child is gay and okay, they’re not going to marry who I thought they were going to marry,’ or that sort of thing. But [then] they come out and now they’re truly like a whole different identity.”
There were periods of anger and denial. Bargaining and questioning: “What did I do as a parent?” she would ask herself. “Is it because I got divorced?”
She doesn’t remember the moment things changed for her. But one day she woke up and said to herself: “It’s just a part of my kid. Now he’s he, and now he’s Cayden.”
McDonald picked the name Cayden from a list of baby names online and made it legally his as a birthday present. (He no longer tells anyone what his birth name was.) And this year During spring break, there was surgery so he would not have to bind his chest anymore. McDonald gives himself weekly testosterone injections, which his mom — who works in health care — sometimes helps with.
A tattoo on his shoulder signifies his new identity: a bird sitting in a tree, the bird mid-flight with its wings fully extended.
During this time of transition, McDonald asked that past photos be packed away. There are no baby pictures in the living room or any of him as a toddler — just one snapshot of a teenage McDonald after he came out. Even for this article, he was comfortable using his name but did not want an image of his face.
But his sensitivity over old photos was not what made Vinroot nervous — it was seeing her son go into a men’s bathroom for the first time. They were at a restaurant in Manassas and he stood up from the table.
“I remember looking back at the bathrooms as he walked over, and he’s going into the men’s room and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to give it about 92 seconds, and if he doesn’t come out, I’m going in,’ ” she said.
“I think everybody has the right to go into a space where they feel safe,” Vinroot said. “I wouldn’t feel safe going into a men’s room — I would feel uncomfortable, I would feel out of place, I would feel insecure. So I would use the one that would be more comfortable, and I just sort of reverse that to imagine how does my child feel.”
The Prince William County school system, like many districts in the Washignton area, does not have a specific bathroom policy in place for transgender students. D.C. Public Schools, which does, allows students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.
McDonald’sGar-Field’s principal, Cherif Sadki, said his philosophy is to build a “school around students’ needs.” In McDonald’s case, the solution was to allow him to use the single-stall bathrooms in the main office, which can be locked from the inside.
That arrangement works for McDonald. And, he said, he was never told by school officials that he couldn’t use the boys’ bathroom, so sometimes, if he does not have a chance to walk to the main office, he’ll pop in — but not before making a quick check to ensure that it is empty.
McDonald said he hopes one day all this talk about bathrooms will be out of the news, and transgender people will go where they are comfortable.
“I hope that it will be in history books one day,” he said.