If you have been keeping up with the news lately, you have seen a lot of talk about bathrooms; in particular, exactly which bathrooms transgender individuals can and cannot use. North Carolina passed a law, “House Bill 2,” commonly called the bathroom law that, among other things, makes it illegal for a person to use a bathroom that does not match the gender listed on the person’s birth certificate. President Obama declared that this law violates constitutionally protected rights of transgender individuals and has said the federal government will sue the state over the law. President Obama took the conversation even further and issued a directive on the subject, declaring that public schools across the country must allow students to use the restroom that matches the gender the students identify with or the schools may suffer drastic funding cuts from the federal government. The conversation surrounding this very issue has been going on for sometime, it just now seems to be being a major topic across many, many levels.
Which bathroom should people that do not identify as a male or female or who’s gender identity does not match what they were born with use in the world of binary “Male” or “Female” bathrooms? That is the question.
But I really don’t think that should be the question.
Let’s take a look at the world that we came from and get to the world we are in. Bathrooms being separated was a concept introduced in a time when the ideas of “gender spectrum” or “transgender” were probably barely even whispers in common conversation. Many people, including the medical world, even saw these notions as mental disorders rather than things that simply are – both ideas have been in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, essentially the book doctors use to catalogue and share knowledge on mental diseases and disorders. Practically no one predicted that there would come a time when a separation of male/female, boys/girls, man/woman would not be second nature.
Here we are, though, when those things are not quite second nature, and the question is, “Which bathroom should these people be using?” This question has gotten us where, exactly – gender neutral bathrooms (which are themselves awkward and raise questions), uncomfortable people everywhere, forced outtings of transgender people, and laws that the federal government says violate civil rights.
That does not seem like a productive place to be.
How about this for a question: “Does out bathroom system really make sense anymore given the world we now live in? I believe the answer to this question is a resounding “No” and that it is time to make the bathrooms fit the world and not the other way around.
Here is what I propose: Restrooms really do not have to be that different. Sinks are basically in the same place with all the same amenities. Instead of stalls where you can see the person’s feet that is in the stall, stalls are fully enclosed spaces with barriers going from floor to ceiling with fully locking doors. And the big change – restrooms are just restrooms and they are no longer divided by male and female. People simply walk in, go to an open stall, use the restroom in privacy, walk out, wash their hands (hopefully), and carry on the day. Heck, there can even be a stand-alone bathroom for anyone who does not feel comfortable being in the same space as anyone else. Essentially, two restrooms with multiple stalls that are all enclosed and a single private bathroom – remarkably similar to what we already have in most places (Male, Female, stand-alone unisex bathroom).
This would certainly alleviate any bathroom issues regarding who can and cannot use certain restrooms. It may even help solve other problems, such as when two people of different genders need to go into a bathroom together, such as with a parent and a child or a parent and an elderly family member.
I guess the question, then, is would this system keep in place all of the things that divided restrooms do?
Actually, a different question to help answer that one: What does the division really do? I always imagine the answer to this question coming from the father of a daughter who is speaking about how he does not want his little girl being exposed to guys’ genitals in the restroom; I suppose that would be a valid concern if bathrooms really were places where guys just walked around with their junk hanging out but they’re not. Another answer I imagine from the same father is that he does not want boys being able to look in on his little girl using the restroom; this would not be a concern assuming the stalls really are set up as I described above.
Another rationale for what the division does is that it simply keeps men and women apart from each other while they do the disgusting act of using the restroom; I hope that our civilized society of today would be willing to cope with the act of using the restroom as simply a part of life rather than a taboo subject.
Finally, I guess keeping the genders separated creates a safe air because we believe that crimes will be committed if all people are allowed to use the restroom in the same space; I personally look at this idea in the same light that we typically think about burglars: locks keep honest people out and the dishonest people will find a way. By this, I mean I do not think that the rules of “men not being allowed in the women’s restroom” and vise-versa have ever stopped a criminal from committing a bathroom crime if the criminal was determined; further, I do not think that allowing men and women to be in a bathroom together will suddenly empower would-be criminals who were simply deterred by the bathroom separation rules (because I do not think that criminals were ever deterred by these rules in the first place).
So to answer the first question regarding if my proposed system would keep in place all of the things that divided restrooms do, I guess the answer is that it keeps in place all of the things that actually serve a purpose in the world today. One big change would be that urinals would be non-conducive to this system and that would probably go away – this would make me, personally, terribly sad, but it is a sacrifice I would be willing to make.
I recognize that this idea does not fully apply to all cases where restrooms are present, in particular locker rooms, but I am just trying to address public restrooms right now, not solve every issue facing this facet of humanity and the law.
The idea of all people, regardless of how they identify, using the restroom in the same space may seem like a radical idea. However, I just don’t think it is. I think we are at a point in our society where it is just not a huge deal if a female farts in the stall next to a male who is urinating who is next to the transgender individual who is changing. With floor to ceiling walls enclosing all of the stalls, no one would really know any differently.
I say it is time we start changing the world to fit who we are as a society rather than trying to cram who we are as a society into a world that was not created to fit our present world. And I don’t think this stops at bathrooms. I think we need to start rethinking much of how our society runs and start trying to build new systems that coincide with who we are rather than continuing to rely on systems that were built for a society that no longer exists. We are square pegs and instead of jamming ourselves into round holes (and every other shape), let’s just make new, square holes.