What should have been a fun visit to the mall turned into a harrowing brush with bigotry for 24-year-old Shon Yves, a photographer and stylist in Norfolk, Virginia.
Yves, who uses male pronouns, said his gender is something he is "still working out," but that he uses restrooms designated for men unless a family restroom is available. During a trip to the MacArthur Center Saturday, Yves said he was using the men's restroom when a man accosted him.
"I thought this was the men's room," the man said, according to Yves. "Sure wish this was North Carolina," he added, referencing the state's anti-LGBTQ law, House Bill 2.
With only one way in and out of the bathroom, Yves felt trapped.
"There's always that feeling of fear, of not being safe," Yves told Mic in a follow-up interview. "You never know who exactly is walking through that door. There's only one exit and that person is now between you and the exit. You're just always prepared for something to happen or some kind of violence to occur."
Yves shared his experience on Twitter.
Though he wore jeans, Yves said he prefers dress pants or skirts, usually floral or animal prints. But he said that he tried to "tone it down" on his trip to the mall because he was with a friend. Yves intended his outfit — jeans and a plaid button down — to be more socially acceptable.
"[My friend] is a lot more gender conforming, so he's not really used to that spectacle kind of thing," Yves said. "When I'm with certain people, it kinda feels like I'm creating an unsafe environment for them, too, if I present a certain way when I'm with them."
When Yves wears what he wants, he said he opens himself up to scrutiny.
"As my presentation has gotten more, I guess, traditionally feminine, I notice that the intensity of, like, the homophobia I've gotten has increased," he said. "People are whispering to each other, children often ask what my gender is. I've been followed around, you know, harassed. They're things that I kinda expect now."
This time, nothing happened. But Yves knows from experience that this is not always the case. He shared that he has been beaten up in men's restrooms before and that he got a suspension in high school for using a girl's bathroom.
Bathrooms have long been a source of anxiety for Yves.
Bathrooms also happen to be the current battleground for transgender rights throughout the United States. In late March, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 into law, also known as HB2 or the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, which required those in North Carolina to use the restroom that matched their assigned gender at birth, not their gender identity.
There are no reported incidences of a transgender person harassing another patron in the restroom. Yves's story highlights that it's often transgender and gender-nonconforming people who need to be protected in public bathrooms — not the other way around.
To deal with stigma against gender-nonconforming people, Yves said there needs to be a "complete overhaul" of how we treat discrimination. In particular, he said we need to hold those who discriminate accountable.
"In North Carolina, I'm seeing businesses boycott, but I don't see direct — 'This person did something transphobic or homophobic and this person is being held accountable for it in this way,'" he said.
Yves wonders if the man in the bathroom would have been held accountable had he decided to harass Yves physically.
"In courts of law, gay panic and trans panic defenses happen and they work," he said. "If something happens to me in this restroom, could he have claimed gay panic or trans panic and gotten off?"