During the DADT
Senate House hearing, one retired Army officer, Sgt. Maj. Brian Jones, commented: "The only way to keep from freezing at night was to get as close as possible for body heat -- which means skin-to-skin.... There can't be any arousal. There can't be that awkward feeling." Because near-death situations are usually so arousing.
Anyway, I saw it in the video in morning, since I usually wake up and work on the web at 5 am, and then I took the metro to my day job at 7. I'm bored to tears usually in the subway because there isn't enough room to even take out a book. I live on the 13, the always saturated metro line, where sometimes is packed so heavily that you can't even squeeze people any more to get on. According to Wikipedia, there are 20,000 per hour per direction on that metro, over 540,000 per day. The maximum capacity is 4 people per square meter on a metro train (which is packed); the average on the 13 is 4.5.
So after listening to a Senator imply that soldiers would rather die than touch a fag, I'm there touching at least half a dozen other people with no idea what their sexuality is. I don't know the gender, sex, race, religion or ethnicity of the people behind me either, for that matter. While it's a health hazard and definitely annoying, the contrast between the Senator's ideal system of protecting personal space and the reality of many people's daily lives couldn't have been starker.
Then reader AndrewW sent in a link to this post by a gender studies professor on the bathroom issue, which is completely related to the military shower issue:
But what is the answer to urinary segregation? Every year I pose that as a final-exam question in my course on gender. The question is posed in the future: "Twenty years from now you are an architect and have to build a large building. What will you do about the bathrooms?" And every year students come up with ingenious designs for how we'll go in the future.
Generally the students imagine circular rooms with a variety of closed stalls: urinal (which biological females can use thanks to those clever plastic urinary devices like the She-Wee), wheelchair accessible toilets, toilets, toilets with baby changing table, etc. In this way, urinary space becomes about what you need to do rather than gender expression.
What's the answer to gender-based urinary segregation? Complete segregation of everyone! Leave it to us Americans to idealize a situation where everyone gets separated into little rooms and no one has to see or interact with anyone else. (I kid because I love.)
So why get rid of the open urinals in this ideal large building's bathroom? They get people in and out faster, take up less space, and don't block conversations in the same way stalls do. Seriously, there is value in people being next to each other, even if someone of another gender might see them.
I've posted before about the French solution to men's locker room cruising: just make all the locker rooms open to everyone, shared shower areas and all. Sure, the idea's genealogy would more properly be traced back to the French's penchant for surveillance, but it couldn't have happened without a certain amount of "we don't care that much about keeping spaces and life aseptic."
Many medium-sized buildings out here, including elementary school bathrooms, will have two or three stalls around a central area with a sink and a urinal right next to it. Lots of public restrooms have the urinal in plain view of the outside when the door's open. I haven't heard any complaints.
What do all these issues have in common? I'm trying to sort it out myself. But intuitively I can't help but feel that Jones's words are part of a deep cultural anxiety in the US, one not necessarily about homophobia but definitely related, that makes us fetishize distance from our fellow humans. We want our lives to be simple and clean, so we throw huge amounts of money into building two of every bathroom in every building, we fantasize about the day when public restrooms will all be individual stalls in which we'll do what we have to do without being bothered by others, and we pass silly regulations in the military that destroy people's lives so that straight soldiers can touch one another in a life-or-death situation without having to worry about the possibility that someone might be sexually attracted to them. (I'm wondering if Jones gets as riled up when it's women who are the subject of actually humiliating behavior from straight men who just think they're expressing their sexual attraction?)
That's the dream of exurbia, I suppose - make sure no one can get close enough to you to bother you. You don't like the noise in the streets, the property values are lower, and maybe all those minorities scare you, so you go out and buy a big box in the middle of nowhere and hope that no one comes knocking on your door, because interacting with others has no value.
Which gets to the heart of the link between these issues - we live in a culture that has difficulty seeing value in anything other than raw security and money. Sure, we may enjoy other things, but they aren't needed. So if we'd feel safer not interacting with others, then interacting with others loses. And if we feel unsafe knowing that gay people might be working with us in close spaces like the military (since even if you don't show it, even thinking something sexual about someone is an attack), then ego-safety for the straight troops outweighs the more abstract needs of LGB people in the military for love, justice, and control over their identity. And every campaign against an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that stresses the bathroom issue is saying "Treating others fairly isn't as important as... THIS SCARY SCENARIO!"
And while I'm packed in the metro like a sardine, I don't really care if someone's getting off on that as long as they don't start grabbing other people. I don't think I would have even thought of that if it weren't for a paranoid retired US Army officer who actually worried about that. Instead, I'm more bored than anything else, but not as bored as I would be if I had to spend the same amount of time driving into work alone.