Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Brief Thought on Bathrooms

There's been a lot of debate in the last few years about public bathrooms and the transgendered. I find it fascinating that there's one solution to this issue that would make both sides happy, that'd have real logistical gains even in a world where transgender didn't exist, and that absolutely nobody is talking about.

Every one-person bathroom should be unisex.

Think about it. The only costs associated are a few new signs, so that's not a serious concern. It helps reduce lineups caused by one gender or the other being disproportionately in need of a bathroom at that moment. It gives everyone twice as many choices, which is convenient for all involved. There's no concerns about a dude being in the ladies' room, so the prudish and paranoid will have a lot fewer concerns on that front. And while the current debate about bathroom use is in keeping with what transgendered people want, all the other categories of non-binary gender that people identify as these days won't be helped by a slight rule change about binary bathrooms, whereas this would help them quite a bit more.

It's not a perfect solution, of course, because it only deals with a portion of the issue. But it's an easy to implement, non-controversial solution that would help pretty much everyone at least somewhat. And nobody is talking about it. I pitched the idea to a city councillor of my acquaintance who's highly involved with the LGBT community a couple years back, in the middle of this debate being big in his city at the time, and it was just a total non-starter. The reaction was more or less "Interesting idea, but women with penises exist, and we should let them use the women's bathroom"(and I think that may be verbatim).

I understand why people on the left tend to shy away from half-measures like this - it feels like you're abandoning the rest of the problem, and there are issues of anchoring to contend with(i.e., "We just gave you what you wanted, why are you still whining?"). But I'm stunned that the right hasn't picked this up as a counter-proposal. It gives you progressiveness points, it doesn't offend the religious crowd, and it could well deflate the entire issue if it was done properly. In some parts of the world fighting the culture wars to win may be a vote-winner for the right in the short term, but it seems like something like this is a much better plan overall. I feel like I'm missing something here, because I do not understand this.


  1. You're wrong that no one is talking about it: off the top of my head, the trans advocate Ivan Coyote did a TEDx talk in Vancouver that advocated for single-stall, gender-neutral bathrooms about a year and a half ago.

    It still comes with some challenges, namely that private single-stall bathrooms aren't as common in public places, and to install them everywhere would be expensive.

    But in balance, I think simply putting a unisex sign on the single-stall bathrooms that already exist is generally a good, uncontroversial idea. Sadly, uncontroversial ideas don't get press. It's obvious enough that nobody feels very strongly about it, and people tend to talk loudest about things that they feel strongly about one way or another.

    I think you've pretty well pinned down why the left doesn't push this issue: it would be an excuse to say "problem solved" and walk away from solving the full problem. As for the right, I don't know. I might guess that a lot of more extreme right-wing politicians, especially in the States, wouldn't want to back this because it strays too close to advocating for the "trans lifestyle"—they would prefer if trans people didn't exist at all, or if they were classified as mentally ill and "cured"—but I definitely can't paint the entire right-wing sphere with that brush.

  2. I may be speaking out of ignorance here, having never been in a ladies' room. I always assumed that multi-use ladies' rooms were like men's rooms except for not having uranals, in which case every stall is a single stall, with its own door and lock. (Granted, it's not what you'd call high-security, as there's no ceiling and the door only goes down to knee height. But that's still lots better than the outer door, which has no lock at all.) If some male perv enters a ladies' room, what exactly are they going to see?

    To put it another way, if we make all bathrooms unisex (and take out all the uranals so ladies have no risk of seeing a guy peeing), what tragedies are we enabling that aren't already trivial by virtue of the fact that multi-use ladies' rooms don't have guards or entry locks? I suppose we'd waste some water.

    I'm not being rhetorical here. My conservative tendencies recoil slightly at my own proposal, but I'm having trouble coming up with a serious objection to it. The best I can do, and I have actually heard this, is that men are pigs and ladies' rooms are much cleaner than men's rooms, so why should ladies have to put up with men's slovenly habits. Which may be fair (as I say, I don't know) but it's sort of orthogonal to what people seem to claim are the important issues.