*This is a general post about the politics of using bathrooms. I am not addressing the Transgender Bathroom Laws here– that deserves its own post.*
I haven’t been comfortable in a public, multi-stall restroom since 2011, which was the last time I went to Union Hall in Brooklyn, which has gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms for everyone. Other than that, the only time I am really relaxed about using the bathroom in public is when I can use a single-person, gender neutral facility (like Starbucks).
Before transitioning, I used women’s restrooms. Because I was very male-presenting, my presence was often met with shock (like when women would enter the restroom, see me washing my hands, and would immediately leave because they thought they’d walked into the men’s room. LOL.), sometimes with outright hostility.
I had a 60+ year old woman walk up to me while I was in line in the ladies’ room at LAX and say “Excuse me, are you in the right place?” I was particularly grumpy and I replied “Lady, I would have to be the biggest idiot to be standing here in line with a bunch of women if I didn’t belong in here. Do you want to see my vagina?” THE LOOK ON HER FACE WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.
As upsetting as my ladies’ room experiences were, the thought of going into the men’s room was scarier because of the prospect of physical violence. Needless to say, when I began transitioning, I was really excited when I started “passing” well enough to use the men’s room.
It turns out, men’s rooms come with their own challenges. First, there are new rules to learn.
1. Never make eye contact (you know, because of the gayness of eye contact in a place where you go to relieve yourself).
2. Do not speak to anyone else in the restroom, even if you know them. Must wait until you exit.
3. Be as disgusting as possible. (Okay, this isn’t a rule, per se, but you’d think so if you saw what I’m talking about.)
Second, there are many different configurations of men’s rooms and you have to think on your feet. Will there even be stalls? If so, will they have a door? Or will the toilets be working? How do you gracefully exit a bathroom once you walk in and realize there is nowhere for you to actually pee? I went into a single-person, designated men’s room at a grungy bar in Hollywood on Friday. It had a toilet (yay!) but the toilet was DUCT TAPED SHUT. I ended up having to squat backwards over the urinal. What would I have done if there wasn’t a door I could close and lock?
OH MY GOD MEN’S BATHROOMS THOUGH. Seriously, guys. Seriously. What is it about having a designated “man zone” that means that you can completely disregard all sense of sanitation and decency? The book The Lord of the Flies comes to mind when I consider the forces at play in a typical men’s public restroom.
The baffling thing is that I have used the bathroom in men’s homes, and they are NEVER as gross as a public men’s room. What gives? I wonder if the state of public men’s restrooms is a greater commentary on our culture? Do men feel so put-upon by women in their lives generally that they actively rebel against all the forces that would tell them “Throw your paper towel in the trash can!” or “Don’t leave a giant puddle of pee on the floor!” by conducting themselves like animals that were poorly house-trained?
Or is it a symptom of groupthink? “I would normally pick that paper towel up, but since there is already a pile of them on the floor, I’ll just leave it….” I may never know the answer to this question, but I will continue to ask it until someone gives me an answer that isn’t “It’s because men are just gross.” We, as humans, are better than that.