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Urine, Scents and Bathrooms
Max Wolf Valerio

It's a good thing men and women have separate restrooms. A restroom is a temple of sexual codification, of unrefined, unselfconscious masculine and feminine motivations, obsessions and expression. Each sex's respective restroom has its own particular atmosphere, clearly distinct from the other's except for the common human function of pissing and shitting. Here's where the truth comes out. Guys piss in an exuberant arc, miss the bowl and scribble graffiti about hardons and wet pussy without fear of women's prurient detection and subsequent censorship. They can let themselves go. Women socialize without male leers or derision. The so-called "male gaze" is nullified within the mirrored confines of the "ladies room". It's a memory, an echoing yet distant yelp. Inside the women's room is a sense of security, a safety that women crave and serenely enjoy. There aren't as many mirrors in men's rooms. And the ones that are there are not as generous in size and are often smudged or cracked. In the women's restroom the mirrors are central to the atmosphere and function of the area. They invite the luxury of looking, preening, the discourse of style and vanity. Part of the general cultural encoding that discourages male vanity, while encouraging a cult of feminine vanity. Before, in my female life, I was more likely to discuss a problem with a co-worker in the restroom, complain about the boss, brush my hair and gaze without hesitation into my reflection in the mirror. I seldom wore makeup after the age of eighteen, but I always paid a great deal of attention to my hair (still do). Women powder their cheeks, check their lipstick, strike a pose in the mirror. Side and front. They don't seem to be in such a rush. Guys, I've found out, seem harried in comparison. I realized it wasn't the norm to make a lot of eye contact and that generally, there wasn't a lot of conversation to be had. Every now and then I'll walk in and see some guy checking himself out in the mirror, looking proudly at his V-shaped torso, brushing back his hair, but it's an unusual sight. The atmosphere in the men's room is utilitarian, less social or lounge-like. There's a nervous homophobia in the air, a nearly palpable tension that precludes more than a minimum amount of socializing.

Guys only seem to relax on the pot itself. That's where they really unwind, reading, jerking off, taking their sweet time, with their pants down below their knees. And men take so long in the stalls, really now, dudes, it's true! What the hell is going on in there, I've often wondered? Is he dead from an overdose or heart attack? Or, more likely, I've come to suspect, hasn't he come yet?

Striding into the men's room my first few weeks on testosterone, I was in for a rude awakening. As I open the door, a rush of urine smells hits me in the face like a sledgehammer, "I can't go in there!" I think, mildly panicking. But, with sheer force of will I hold my breath and step inside. Oh god, is it going to be this bad for the rest of my life? Will I be condemned to a lifetime of going inside men's bathrooms and smelling this ? How can they stand it? And the place is a mess! Piss on the seat (why even bother to raise it- I guess, if its only dudes coming in) and wadded up paper all over the floor. Doors ripped off the stalls. Cigarette butts. A crude drawing of a penis near the mirror, with tiny droplets coming out of the head. "COME HERE SATURDAY NIGHT, GET HARD, GET SUCKED." "TOM LOVES BIG DICKS UP HIS ASS HOLE" "I LIKE TO SUCK OFF STRAIGHT MARRIED MEN, ESPECIALLY THOZE WITH BIG FEET AND TIGHT BUNS- CALL 445-9999 ASK FOR JR.", and one of my favorites, "EVEN FRIEDA KAHLO GAVE BLOW JOBS". A drawing of a large busted woman, with tits pointing off like missiles into expanding space, a woman with breasts so large they drag on the ground. I examine these signatures of fetishistic lust; amused, repulsed, fascinated. Sure is different from the women's room. I mean, yeah, there's sometimes stuff like "Arnold is a great fuck" or "Kurt's dick is huge", but more often it's a long political dialogue concerning battered women, lesbianism or recovery 12 step. Someone might scribble in a few lines about their multiple personality disorder or childhood sexual abuse. At least in San Francisco it's this way. And of course, almost everywhere there's the ubiquitous romance graffiti, like "MARILYN LOVES PAUL" or "LANITA AND SAM 4-EVER - TRUE LOVE, NEVER TO PART, 4-EVER MORE". "JANET & YOLANDA" - Love love love! Lots of big hearts with arrows drawn through them instead of penises or big, pointy breast drawings. I've never seen, "COME HERE FRIDAY NIGHT GET WET, GET LICKED", not even in the most swinging dyke bar. Life will be different from here on out, I can tell.

Men's pee smells. Face it guys, it's true. Many of you may not be aware of this odious reality, the specter of male urine. Now, lots of guys get embarrassed when I tell them this, especially if a woman is present. Others are simply shocked, "NO, you've got to be kidding! NO way!" As though I've insulted a precious elixir. On the other hand, well, I guess it would be embarrassing. Always is embarrassing to be told that one stinks. Especially if one is totally unaware of the fact, clueless. Wandering around leaving the seat up, not realizing you leave a spray like a Tom cat. Guys have no idea that their piss actually harbors a strong, unmistakable odor! Like a horse in a stall. Or maybe a wild animal secretion.

Now, here's why. It's the testosterone in our pee. After being on male hormones for a month or so, my pee also began to give off that pungent odor. It also foamed more. Now, here's the clincher. Testosterone dampens the olfactory sense, so that's why guys are clueless about their stench. Men can't smell their own urine! In fact, as I learned in time, compared to women, men can't smell much of anything! This may be one of the great female secrets of all eternity, the smell of men's pee. The embarrassing little thing women know about men that they don't know about themselves. Yet, it's such an obscure, shrouded fact, that women are unaware they even have this privileged information about men's bodies. Women are unaware that they are able to smell something about men that men themselves can't! They just assume that guys can smell it too. Perhaps this is just one of the many differences in perception between men and women that contributes to women's general perception of men as "clueless".

However, I'm not to be condemned to an existence of holding my breath and nose each time I have to use a public men's room. Or, I suppose, since my own urine has taken on that raunchy scent, holding my breath and pinching my nostrils shut in my own bathroom at home every day for the rest of my life. One day, after being on testosterone a couple of months, I can't smell the wild stuff any more. Zilch. I have nearly forgotten what it smells like now. Maybe a tendril-like waft curls into my brain's olfactory receptors from time to time, maybe not. I can't be sure. Now, I'm clueless like all the other guys, stinking up the world and not even being aware of it.

My first experience pissing at a urinal is nerve-wracking. A transsexual man had discovered a way to pee standing up without recourse to surgery. It sounds simple enough. Take a coffee can lid and shape it into a funnel, place it under the urethra and there you go, stand and pee. I've got a yellow one in my pocket, I clinch it in my sweaty palm, take a deep breath and walk up to the urinal.. Nervous and alert for onlookers. What if someone strolls in and sees that the object in my hands is not a penis but a small funnel? Oh well, maybe they'll think I'm just sticking it in something new and unusual for the fun of it. I won't be the first or last. Perhaps, there's a lining of warm raw liver inside the plastic funnel. In any case, I'm sure to avoid detection since the urinal is off to the side, not easily visible to anyone who walks in. So I do it. Peeing standing up isn't an easy task. I have to aim. A little to the right, no maybe the left- I hit the sides of the bowl and splash. For the first time in my life, I can see my urine arcing in the air, a long warm stream. It seems to take longer than when I sat. The experience has been transformed into a task which requires concentration, some small degree of artfulness. I have to visualize, aim, control my bladder as I direct the urine to its target area. It isn't as relaxing, as passive, as simple. Peeing became more visual, more complex, possibly more fun. I can imagine having contests, developing my acuity of aim, creating a lexicon of urination based on an individual's ability to control and direct the contents of his bladder. It will be easier to vandalize public property. To leave a marking like a Tom Cat on a special, coveted site.




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