Alex Blaze

The bathroom issues

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 16, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: bathrooms, cruising for sex, gender identity, LGBT people, nondiscrimination legislation, nudity, public bathrooms, public cruising, sexual orientation, showers, transgender, transsexual

I was talking to my boyfriend the other day about stupid tvc comic.jpgthis and he was telling me how in Parisian public pools, the showers and changing rooms were crazy cruising grounds about a decade ago. Turn around and see a pair of guys going at it in any direction sort of thing. In his words, "C'était le bordel" ("It was a crazy mess/whorehouse" - the word has both meanings in French and it's hard to know which is meant when).

The French lag behind Americans on almost every exercise of dictatorial authority except for surveillance. We've got nothing on them there - they were devising 24-hour schedules for prisoners when we were still just running them out of town. They're experts on the subject.

Anyway, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to simply make the showers and changing rooms one big unisex party. The public sex has almost completely stopped, people don't even get naked for showers, and that was that. At least according to the oral history I've heard here from gay men.

So I'm thinking about this when I read Waymon's post this weekend about the scare-mongering the Religious RIght uses to prevent non-discrimination legislation to protect gender identity. These folks get held up on the bathroom issue because they think it's a winning argument.

But they seem to take the nudity of these spaces for granted, especially when it comes the shower room. No one can possibly take a shower in a swimsuit or install private stalls - it has to be one big, happy, naked shower party for the Religious Right to be satisfied. Public restrooms? If there are urinals where one can cop a glance of the cock one stall over, what's the point of going to the bathroom?

I'm not saying that the entire Religious Right fantasizes about public gay orgies, but I'm trying to think of a reason to keep the binary sexes separated in public showers and bathrooms that doesn't eventually lead to public sex. Men who want to do women harm in the bathroom can just as easily enter a women's room, wearing pretty much anything, no matter what non-discrimination the local government has enacted - that little stick figure on the door doesn't have a laser ray to zap anyone who isn't vaginal enough to enter.

Unisex public bathrooms would just make that space like any other public space - behave yourself in front of everyone or don't go there. There will always be people who want to do harm to others, but there's no proof that gender segregation stops anything.

This is a lot like how pretty much every single-gender space eventually gets homo- and hetero-eroticized (gym showers, team sports, prison, Turkish hammams, Ricky Martin's estate), and I have to wonder if the men who oppose unisex bathrooms on the right aren't just advocating men-only spaces because they'd miss the manly nudity and manly intimacy of yesterday.

To them, I say, get a room. If you're a man who wants to protect the public shower party, then have one in your house and invite all the boys with big cocks that you know. If there are women who want to do the same, well, the same thing applies. And if you're a man who likes to think about women in those situations (the biggest group here), then buy a video.

Because if the hot and heavy single gender bathrooms exclude trans-folk who need to use them, it's just not worth it.

Whoa... have to talk myself down. But, seriously, why do people who want to protect single-sex bathrooms go insane about what's today almost non-existent bathroom sex among men? Are the bothered by the latter because they know that they're one step away from doing it, and they're bothered by the former because they want to keep their options open?

Seriously, women in the bathroom would shut that shit down. I'm not saying that there aren't women who'd want to engage in that sort of thing (I'm sure there are, albeit fewer), but it would change the spirit of public restrooms from an intimate space to just an extension of a lobby, a park, or a platform. Do we really think Larry Craig would have been cruising in a space where both women and men were standing around and chatting?

And people who don't feel comfortable in all women's or all men's spaces would have a place to perform a biologically necessary function.

Everyone should be happy then, right? I mean, except for those people who like public bathroom sex.

(Just to be clear: I don't think that the government should set up sting operations or imprison or humiliate people who engage in public sex. I'm just saying that the ability for everyone to use bathrooms outweighs, and I'm also wondering why the same people seem to get upset by both.)

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Angela Brightfeather | September 16, 2008 12:44 PM


If you have not taken up the art and sport of frencing yet, I suggest you start preparing for the next Olympics as sson as possible.

Your deft stroke and straight to the heart of the matter thrust regarding the bathroom issue was great to read and a very different slant on the subject. Although making light of the subject to some degree, you still were able to point out the absurdity of the situation and the "fears" from those who would sit and squat, only under strick guidance and according to the rules on the door.

But I would also like to pose that the bathroom issue is also a very specific way to educate others.

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in GLBT board meetings and event organizational planning meetings over the years and worked out the minute details necessary to make organizations run and events to be a success. One thing that always seems to be lacking in the planning is "what is the bathroom policy of the place we are holding the meeting or event?" Then at the end of the meeting when I bring that up and everyone is half out of their chair and heading for the door, you hear a unified moan and everyone sits down again, with this look on their face that implies, "shoot, we forgot about that problem", again. Of course that problem always comes after the problem of how can our event or organization be more Trans inclusive?

Now, there is a guide to good bathroom procedures that I believe should be practiced. But being much older than you I still have some hang-ups that are apparent and come with age.

Like, I believe that anyone appearing to be female from the knees down, should sit and not stand in the stall. I also believe that anyone having to lift a dress to use a wall mounted urinal is subject to having their picture taken and put on the internet within the next hour as a joke. So that isn't a great idea either. These rules are generally followed by most all Transgender people and are even announced and part of the literature handed out at gatherings of Trans people like Southern Comfort and other conventions.

My big objection is that GLBT people do not make the bathroom issue important enough to consider, advertise or plan for at all. Therefore they are leaving it in the minds of others to apply rules that they think are more appropriate.

Firstly, consider the bathroom issue up front if you want more Transgender participation. It IS important to Transgender people and they don't want to have to ask the question about what where they can go to the bathroom. It's downright embarrassing.

Secondly, let people know that you have considered the issue by stating in your advertising that suitable bathroom accommodations will be available "for everyone". Just try not to put it on the flyer right after mentioning that soft drinks and snacks will also be available.

Lastly, plan on having Transgender people at the meeting or event and make the place that your having it aware of and in complicity to the needs of everyone. Educate the restaurant owner that they need to understand that if they want your business, they have to consider the needs of everyone, above and beyond the complaints of one religious right mother who "doesn't want her child exposed to people like that." Yes, it happens all the time and is the subject of many articles and news broadcasts against Transgender people using any bathroom facility at all. It actually impedes Transgender people from coming out and participating because they don't want to be caught up in an embarrassing situation of having to explain who they are or where they should go to the bathroom if they are not 100% passable.

While it should not be a problem, it simply is in the USA. But we can all help to educate the public if we think in terms of being inclusive of everyone's needs when planning.

And who, outside of a plumber, would ever think of the bathroom as an educational tool?

That sounds like a good strategy.

When I shared this post with my bf, he was upset by what he saw as me championing an end to public sex, restricting sex to places where people have to pay to be (houses, apartments, private clubs). Personally, I've never done any of that, but I was trying to explain that the problem is bigger than that, and the bathroom issue for trans people is real and restricts their participation in the public sphere.

Again, a situation where the gay issue was the only issue, and the trans issue wasn't even on the radar. But reading through the bathroom debates here on TBP, at least I'm armed to explain that the problem exists, even if no one likes my solution.

Alex, thanks for your fresh take on the bathroom issue. Brilliant!

Let's not call them unisex bathrooms...

Perhaps omnisex? Or maybe, thinking of your boyfriend's story, antisex?

Yes, Alex, the bathroom anxiety issue is just another GOP tempest-in-a-teapot. As for myself, I am quite happy with the direction that public bathrooms in America are going:

Most shopping malls and newer public buildings have three types of bathrooms:

(1) A MEN'S ROOM that can accommodate multiple males at the same time; and

(2) A WOMEN'S ROOM that can accommodate multiple females at the same time (and probably have extra lighting at the mirrors for checking make-up, I am told); and

(3) A "uni-sex" or "one-at-a-time" or "family rest-room" where one person can go in alone; or a mother can change an infant's diaper; or a father can change an infant's diaper; or a parent can go with a young child of the opposite sex who is too young to be left alone outside ... or ...

... two men can go in and have private sex, or ...

... two women, likewise ... or ...

... God forbid, a man and a woman can go in and engage in every abomination imaginable ... or ...

... a trans-person can go in dressed in a man's business suit, and come out dressed in the finest glitter-covered evening gown on her way to the Oscar's ... or ...

... the local "Chicks With Dicks" hooker can go in, pull down her jock-strap and re-tuck herself, and check her Alice Cooper mascara ... or ...

... the local Islamist terrorist can go in with his (her?) satellite phone and call Pakistan ... or ...

... use your imagination, the sky is the limit!

Now, what is this problem again with outlawing discrimination based on gender identity? Don't we already have that third "family" bathroom already? So ... what's the problem? (I mean, other than the sleeper cell calling Pakistan?)

I'm not familiar with American toilets, so correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most of these "uni-sex" and "one-at-a-time" toilets wheelchair-handicap cubicles? That said, I've always found it ironic that members on the queer and trans spectrum are "handicapped" (by forces that be) into using these stalls. Most apropos.

I have been to a mall in years, so I don't know about the bathrooms there. But, yeah, that makes sense.

At my YMCA, there are still a few really really old guys who continue to gripe about having to wear bathing suits when swimming in the pool because the Y is now coed (and has been for many years). They wish it was a men-only club. And, these old coggers are definitely heterosexual. They really do miss the naked male group experience more than they would wish to admit upon analysis of their gripes.

Regarding the single - use toilets. The problem in big cities is that the homeless tie them up for hours doing god knows what extensive ablutions. I think we need to get to the point where one bathroom containing numerous stalls can be used by everyone. And at the same time, we need to get to the point where there are public "facilities" for men (or women) who need to suddenly have sex with each other because that urgency, while not as demanding as a full bladder, is something that will never go away.

Maybe there wouldn't be a problem with homeless people tying up toilets if American cities would actually seek solutions for where they can live, sleep, etc.?

That seems like a whole 'nother problem that people don't want to solve, so instead America builds shelters to handle a fraction of the homeless people and then construct laws to throw the rest in prison.

And as the American economy tanks, that doesn't seem like a solution.

Although speaking of French surveillance and the homeless, in their infinite wisdom here in Paris, they've started making park benches single-seaters. That's right, no more going to the park (in a few of the newer ones) and sitting on a bench with your buddy - they want to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, because someone might experience the horror of being near someone who's sleeping!

But I do like the idea of free public sex venues! Then people could quit their griping about Larry Craig-style sex because it would be in a perfectly acceptable space, although I'd still imagine that there'd be some die-hard fans still in the old venues.

Hi Alex,

Great post, lots of food for thought here. I'm in the architecture field and have been following toilet culture and design for a bit but certainly have not been informed of the unisex bathrooms of the French.

Out of GLBTQ concern, I always propose unisex toilets in my designs but they are often rejected based on efficiency concerns instead of cultural/ social mores. As most people would have noticed by now, most public facilities are sized differently, both contributed by and contributing to different amount of time spent in the toilets. Space alloted to these facilities are usually apportioned by a rough ratio of 5-10% of total floor area, as it should roughly telly to the population of users.

Ordinarily, men's toilets are the same size as women's, but the service rate for each section is vastly different due to urinal availability. In other areas, such as a place with higher concentration of either men or women, toilet size will vary to muster varying requirements.

I have seen various excellent models of unisex toilets (in gay-friendly areas, no less) that keep sex out rather sucessfully. All of which include urinals and private stalls and usually a common basin area. Distance (hence privacy) between the stalls and the urinals are commonly substantial, but this can be easily overcome with some screen features, IMHO.

These toilets, however, seem to not have the same optimum level of efficency rates as separate toilets, due mostly to the fact that despite being combined, they have fewer stalls. The obvious observation then is that we see what seems to be a very, very long queue of people.

Of course, it's not impossible to work on toilet designs to figure out ways to improve the situation, so yeah, it's definitely not impossible to have unisex toilets. Though most of the time it's way faster/ easier for designers to stick to ready templates and efficiency arguments, which I find a real pity.

Anyway, that's just my immediate thoughts when I read this post. By the way, I think the toilet/bathroom debates are definitely a positive thing. I believe it was Kate Clinton who once observed that every civil rights movement inevitably leads to the toilet, that once you've gotten to those debates you know you're making headway!

Thanks for all the great information. I didn't know that this issue was so complicated on an architectural level, but, then again, why wouldn't it be? It's fundamentally a question of building design.

And I love the Kate Clinton quotation - racially segregated bathrooms, male-only bathrooms in institutions of higher learning, and this.

Melanie Davis | September 17, 2008 1:49 AM

When I was still using men's rooms (ugh), I wanted to write a book on the urinal practices of men. What's up with the posing? And no hands?!?!?! Anyway, I think that whatever the configuration, public toilettes are always going to be a problem given the mystique they have here in this country (for all I know, it could be the world over). They are almost sacred spaces of genital wiping and wiggling.

I think you have it right, Alex. And I think it's also the truth that runs deeper into the thought processes and motives of those who oppose access rights to bathrooms.

So how do we get the news out that their message is a load of crap? They get to stand on street corners with their children and hold up slanderous signage without fear of lawsuit, retaliation, or attack. Me, I take my daughter into the women's restroom and change her diaper. That seems to put things into perspective for many people. But what else can we do to blow the bullshit horn on the fearmongers?

Just have to comment on the no hands thing.

I cannot and will not speak for other people but in my case I just didn't want to touch the damn thing.

It really is something that they've gotten over here, at least on some level. But then it's a culture that's more OK with bodily functions - I talk a whole lot more about poop here in France than I do in America. They're really open with that stuff (not saying it's a better way to live, it kinda grosses me out sometimes).

I can't forget one time when someone accidentally pooped in the private stall area of a local bathhouse, and everyone left the area at the same time. I asked one guy I knew what was up, and he couldn't stop laughing to tell me. Everyone thought it was the funniest thing ever!

Poop, slapstick violence, and being mean: The pillars of French comedy for over a millennium.