We Just Need to Pee

My scariest moment left me unscathed. I survived. Nothing happened. I was lucky. Nex Benedict was not.

A candlelight vigil held at As You Are Bar, a safe place for the LGBTQIA+ community, in Washington, D.C., on Feb, 22, 2024, for Nex Benedict. (Astrid Riecken / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

I’ve had bathroom anxiety since I was a kid. I always felt that using the women’s restroom was always the safest bet—until I began hormone replacement therapy in my late 20s.

One day in a small town in New Mexico, my fear became a reality. For years, I had gotten away with keeping my head down, doing my business, and exiting as quickly as possible, never lingering. I had gotten looks. I had been asked many times, “Are you a boy?” by confused little girls. I had women enter behind me, stop suddenly, and check the marker on the door to make sure they were, in fact, in the women’s room. But I never had violent verbal or physical threats. For that, I felt lucky.

I knew one day my luck would run out. I remember feeling the stubble on my face that day, knowing I should shave to minimize my masculine presentation. I remember, despite this, feeling at home in my masculinity, presenting left of the androgynous center but not quite male-passing—home for my transmasculine, nonbinary identity.

I remember the tightness in my chest as I quickly used the women’s facilities. I remember the looks and whispers from the scattered booths in the restaurant. I remember pushing through the doors and sighing with relief thinking, I made it. And then I remember the moment when a sharp male voice came from behind me, asking, “Excuse me—are you a guy or a girl?” I remember thinking how ironic it was to pose such a rude question under the guise of Southern politeness.

“What does it matter to you?” I said over my shoulder, catching a glimpse of the man in his late 50s and assessing the potential threat.

I continued my stride as he shouted back, “Because you used the women’s. Are you a guy or girl?” I could tell from the volume and direction of his voice that the man had begun to follow me into the parking lot. My heartbeat quickened, my stride continued at the same pace so as to not alert him to my growing fear.

“It’s none of your business,” I said as I spotted my car and moved between the rows, taking the shortest path. He continued shouting after me, now only two cars away as I reached my car door. I managed to get in, start my engine and pull out of the spot before he could reach me. I remember his face, angry and entitled as I circled out of the spot. I remember seeing him in my rearview mirror, watching me as I pulled out of the parking lot, fearing that he could have taken my license plate.

My scariest moment left me unscathed. I survived. Nothing happened. I was lucky. Nex Benedict was not.

Nex, an openly nonbinary 16-year-old from Oklahoma, died after being beaten in their school bathroom by three girls. Nex’s mother, Sue Benedict, told The Independent that Nex had been bullied because of their gender identity. The bullying had intensified at the beginning of the 2023 school year—months after Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed an anti-trans bathroom bill into law requiring public school students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their sex assigned at birth.

The bill was not the first of its kind. In 2023, across the country, 87 anti-trans bills ranging from education, sports and healthcare were enacted. There are currently 496 bills introduced across the country with 37 introduced at the federal level, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker. The Oklahoman is currently tracking over 50 bills being considered during the current state legislative session.

Both Stitt and state superintendent of public instruction Ryan Walters have come under fire for their “documented history of baseless legislation and harmful rhetoric against vulnerable students like Nex Benedict,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

Walters told ABC News, “To make sure that all individuals are safe in a school, we want every student to be protected, we want every student to be successful”—yet, his own policies get in the way of doing just that. He has consistently expressed transphobic views, even stating that transgender students are a threat in schools in a video produced by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

An open letter signed by over 350 LGBTQIA+, civil rights groups and notable public figures like Demi Lovato and Jonathan Van Ness, urged for the immediate removal of Walters for his anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and policies. The letter read in part:

“We are outraged that a climate of hate and bigotry has been not only allowed to thrive, but encouraged by the person who is responsible for education in the state of Oklahoma. State officials must be held accountable for bringing the politics of hate into Oklahoma’s schools and making our most vulnerable youth pay the price.”

Other LGBTQIA+ groups have reiterated their cries for more information and accountability of officials. This comes at the heels of a summary toxicology report released Wednesday by the state medical examiner regarding the nature of Nex’s death. The one-page summary states the probable cause of Nex’s death was a result of the combination of diphenhydramine and fluoxetine, commonly known as Benadryl and Prozac, pointing to suicide. The full autopsy report is expected to be made public on March 27.

In a statement from executive director of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, Nicole McAfee said the report “offers, for a second time, only limited insight into a decision about possible cause of death for Nex Benedict.”

“[W]e have said from the beginning that whether Nex died as a result of the physical or emotional harm [they were] subjected to, our elected officials, our appointed State Board of Education, Owasso High School, and all of us failed Nex in allowing for policies and rhetoric that created a regularly hostile environment for a kid just trying to live as [their] authentic self,” McAfee said.

Oklahoma state Representative Mauree Turner, the first openly nonbinary U.S. state legislator took to Instagram saying, “Whether or not it was a suicide or homicide, the state of Oklahoma absolutely is responsible for the death of Nex Benedict.”

According to the Trevor Project, 61 percent of trans and nonbinary students report being bullied at school—putting them three times greater odds of attempting suicide. These students face consistently higher rates of bullying, threats and injuries from a weapon, and missed school due to safety concerns reported by LGBTQIA+ youth.

In response, the CDC issued guidance that said that “when schools implement LGBTQIA+ supportive policies and practices,” it benefits all students, including their heterosexual counterparts. This includes less emotional stress, less violence and harassment, and fewer suicidal behaviors.

According to a recent analysis of FBI data by The Washington Post, concludes in states with restrictive laws, “the number of hate crimes on K-12 campuses has more than quadrupled.” This rise of hate crimes correlates with the rise of anti-trans legislation.

Despite the ongoing attack on gender nonconforming youth, a recent survey of more than 90,000 transgender people in the U.S.—the largest of its kind—reported that 94 percent of respondents felt “a lot more” or “a little more satisfied” with their life since transitioning, proving the dire need for protecting trans and nonbinary youth.

Nex’s mom Sue Benedict described Nex as a straight-A student who enjoyed drawing, reading, playing video games and their cat Zeus. “Nex had a light in them that was so big, they had so many dreams. I want their light to keep shining for everyone. That light was so big and bright and beautiful, and I want everyone to remember Nex that way,” she told The Independent.

Stories of the many vigils held across the country for Nex speak to the care for our community. The story of Nex’s classmates walking out in protest of the school’s bullying policies speaks to the bravery of this next generation joining the ranks marching to the front line. We continue on.

I hope my trans and gender-nonconforming siblings find community in the chaos. You are seen, you are loved, you are worth fighting for. There will come a day when we all can pee in peace.

Rest in power, Nex Benedict.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or contemplating suicide, call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386, use the online chat, or text 678-678.

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Jesse Blaire (they/them) is a LGBTQ+advocate, writer, and protector of the next generation.