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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Sweet Spot: To Pee or Not to Pee

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 12:10 PM


Public restrooms are everywhere, seemingly unimportant, and yet they are the site of a small, yet vital, war. No one seems to think twice when going into the local cafe's bathroom about the fact that the stalls aren't gendered. But put those same folks in front of a bathroom marked "men" or "women" and strange things begin to happen.

I am not talking about those large multi-stalled bathrooms or, as in the case of a gay club in London, the piss trough. No, I am talking about single occupancy bathrooms, those repositories of our most private moments, be they graffiti covered or flower festooned.

Nature's Call - these floral and seashell shaped urinals are the artwork of a San Francisco-based artist, Clark Sorenson. Courtesy of Consumer Instinct

It seems everywhere I go these days and find myself in a line, I have to ask this question, "Have you checked the other bathroom?" Why? Because nine times out of ten, the person in front of me has been waiting for their own gendered option and has not even considered turning the other knob. It is a charming, somewhat abashed moment between strangers when they do try the door and find out it is open and ready for use. I usually get a "Thank you" and an embarrassed smile upon the discovery. It's a simple mistake. We are soooo programmed after all.


But this is not what always happens. When the person is male, he will usually offer the restroom to me. Chivalry is not dead after all. If the person is a female, she will just as often decline to go into the men's room, opting instead to wait patiently. I find this baffling. I could care less which bathroom I use. When I need to go, any bit of porcelain will do. I once used the men's room in the Queens subway station, all doorless stalls, and vastly disturbed the man who was next to me. I was sorry for that, but the women's room was closed for renovations. If anyone has ever been to that particular subway station they won't be surprised at my suspicion that the women's room has most likely been "under renovation" since 1976. The men's room, however, was filthy. It stank and I don't even want to know what was smeared on the walls. Honestly, my hands were cleaner than the toilet paper. But hey, when nature calls ... 


Which brings me to the first big reason why this gendered difference, despite being really unnecessary, remains -- cleanliness. Many a female, and male too, will state categorically that men's restrooms are just dirtier. All that spraying about and lack of scented soap. So the theory goes -- men are slobs and woman are just, well, daintier. Has anyone gone into the ladies' room at City College recently? What a pack of intellectually striving, well-meaning animals. Appalling. Truly. If I were into gender generalization, I could argue that men and women using both bathrooms might even out the cleanliness score. I could. I won't because I happen to know quite a few very fastidious males who do, in fact, carry their own scented soap.

Cleanliness is a big issue for many, but even more important is the issue of harassment. A number of states have passed laws making it illegal for a man to enter a women's restroom, as it might lead to violence. My very pregnant friend, a regular men's room user, told me of a co-worker who is afraid that a man might lie in wait in a unisex bathroom to rape her. She and I both smirked at this.

What is not funny, however, is the violence that is directed towards transgendered people largely as a result of gendered bathrooms. Last year, Chrissy Lee Polis was brutally attacked for using the women's room at a McDonalds in Maryland.

  • Chrissy Lee Polis
Chrissy Lee Polis
Baltimore passed anti-discrimination legislation in February to protect people like Polis. Similar legislation is up for a vote currently in Florida, but it has fired up quite a bit of hateful resistance. The argument is that if transgendered people are allowed to use the restroom of their choice, then cis women (those possessing vaginas at birth) would be subjected to sexual harassment. I am not making light of violence against women, but there is almost no evidence that this is a real issue.

Most cases involving inappropriate acts by males in a women's restroom involve hidden cameras, not assault. Half of the violence reported happened to boys in men's restrooms. None of that is groovy, but for the sake of truth, women are far more likely to be attacked on the street than in a public restroom, and even those instances are less statistically significant than the violence perpetrated by those known to the victim.

Suspiciously, this argument for gendered bathrooms as protection for women emerged right as the transgendered community began to challenge the idea of labeled bathrooms.

  • We can be proud. California has already passed anti-discrimination bathroom choice legislation
We can be proud. California has already passed anti-discrimination bathroom choice legislation

Interesting, very interesting. Are these resistant chicks worried that someone is stealing their victim thunder? I can only wonder. What I do know though is that harassment and violence are very real concerns for those who don't fit gender norms -- in or out of the bathroom.

My favorite restaurant as a kid, a ramshackle boat house on stilts that served fresh clam chowder, labelled their restrooms "buoys" and "gulls." That charmed me then. It still does. Obviously it would be far better to just call a bathroom a 'bathroom' but for those still very attached to differentiation, let's get creative. Any suggestions?

For those interested in supporting anti-discrimination against transgender people can find more information, visit Gender Advocates

The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

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Ginger Murray


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