What is it with Restrooms?

Let’s talk about restrooms. More specifically, let’s talk about public restrooms. I suppose this is a bit of my other blog flowing over into this one, but I think it’s worth discussing, especially with people who might not usually think about it.

I have two questions in particular. First of all, why do people freak out so much about who goes into which restroom? And secondly, what is up with locked, single-stall/single-occupancy, gendered restrooms?

People can be so ridiculous about policing gender-specific public restrooms. It’s a super common scare tactic for people to yell about “guys in dresses” invading women’s restrooms whenever anything trans-related is brought up. For example, ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) would basically make it illegal to fire someone for being gay or trans (by including sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of things for which people can’t be fired). Because it’s (finally!) including gender identity, a lot of really awful uber-right wing and fundamentalist Christian groups (Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Call to Decision’s The Prayer in Jesus Name Project, and Cybercast News Service–which erroneously and ridiculously claims to be unbiased–are some of the first that show up in a quick Google search) call it the “bathroom bill” and claim that it will force people to allow men in women’s restrooms and changing rooms (the horror!). Their writing is really horrid, transphobic, hateful stuff. It’s also flat-out wrong, and it caters to the lowest common denominator by using cheap scare tactics that I refuse to spread by repeating here.

What’s the big deal about bathrooms? Allowing transmen into the men’s restroom, or transwomen into the women’s restrooms — regardless of whether they are transitioning or where they are in their transitions — isn’t going to destroy the world. Allowing people into the restrooms that they feel are best for them isn’t going to destroy the world. It’s not going to make public restrooms less safe. What’s the big deal?

Which brings me to my next question: Seriously, people, what is idea behind single-stall restrooms that are labeled “women” and “men”? They lock. They are intended for one person at a time. Who the heck cares about the gender of the person using them? If you’re really concerned about different biological functions, put a urinal and a little trash receptacle in each of them, like the unisex restrooms at my former public library used to do. Problem solved.

Why in the world are single-stall restrooms gendered? I simply do not get it. It just befuddles me. If anyone has an idea, please, let me know. But let’s break it down: who does it help? Well, I suppose it helps society maintain it’s strictly regulated gender binary (I never said the help was a positive thing). More importantly, who does it harm? Well, obviously it harms trans people and gender-nonconforming people because it puts them at risk of harassment and even violence if others take exception to which gendered restroom they choose. People have actually been arrested for trying to use the restroom. It also harms a lot of trans and genderqueer people who do not identify within the gender binary by forcing them into the gender binary once more and thus causing a great deal of stress and anxiety. It even harms non-trans (cisgender), gender-conforming women. We’ve all been there, right, when there are two little, gender-specific, single-stall restrooms, and the men’s room is free, and there’s a line of half a dozen for the women’s room. Ridiculous!

So, what to do? At the very, very least quit it with the gender-specific single-stall restrooms! Even with public restrooms that aren’t single-stall, it’s not as if it’s unheard of to not have them be gender-specific. Back home at Bryn Mawr, we’d call inclusive restrooms “everyone welcome.” Within (knowledgable) LGBTQ circles, the term typically used is “gender-neutral.” Out in the rest of the world, they’re usually called “unisex.” It’s the same idea, though — they are restrooms. For people. End of story.

From the Sylvia Rivera Law Project:

Toilet Training – “The video addresses the persistent discrimination, harassment, and violence that people who transgress gender norms face in gender segregated bathrooms.”

Talking Points about Gender-Segregated Facilities

Sample Letter for Non-Gendered Bathroom Organizing (1)

Sample Letter for Non-Gendered Bathroom Organizing (2)

Gender Neutral Bathroom Survey (results)

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4 responses to “What is it with Restrooms?

  1. First of all, I read your blog! yea!

    Secondly, I agree with what you’re saying. I can’t count the number of times i’ve used the ‘men’s’ bathroom in erdman because someone was in the ‘women’s’ bathroom (or even when they weren’t). My question is: what do women (or men) think is so terrifying about what men (or women) do in the bathroom that causes a need for the separation to begin with? food for thought.

    • First of all, yay for reading my blog! Thank you!

      Secondly (ha, I just noticed that I used the same language as you), in response to your questions: I have no freakin’ clue (thus the blog post). I know you meant that as a general question, but I figure it’s worth answering.

      I mean, I suppose I can understand, sorta, with multi-stall restrooms that have urinals — people either don’t really want to see that, or they don’t want others to see them doing that. But if we just had restrooms, would those really be necessary?

      Are there typically so many people using the “men’s room” that having stalls in the corresponding space (instead of stalls and urinals) wouldn’t be enough, and they’d have to wait in line? Oh, wait, people using the “women’s room” have to wait all the time, so that’s not really a decent argument.

      Let’s see, so, if the existence of urinals might cause problems, is it the need for urinals that keeps the restrooms separated? Well, it’s not as though there are people who physically can’t do their business unless they use a urinal (to my knowledge, anyway) — after all, how often do you see urinals in private residences?

      A lot of people talk about “safety” as a big reason for policing who’s allowed to use which restroom. Well, safety is important. Absolutely. (Insert here my rant about how trans and gender-nonconforming people deserve safety as well.) But honestly, if people were really, seriously, concerned about (I presume) women’s safety in public restrooms, they’d do more than just freak out about transpeople using restrooms. Dean Spade talks about this in the documentary Toilet Training — the second videoclip at the link I posted (the one called Toilet Training) covers that.

      Right, and now I’m fresh out of ideas as to why people are so desperate for separate restrooms for “women” and “men” and keeping those boundaries so strictly enforced. Anyone else have ideas? Or responses? — I’m okay with people disagreeing with me.

  2. Sorry, no disagreement here. I simply use whichever single-room restroom is open, personally. No one has ever complained to me about it.

  3. Pingback: Using Restrooms In (Relative) Safety | Beyond Bryn Mawr

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