Anyone who follows the news in America knows about the public bathroom debates that have been springing up all around the country over the past year. North Carolina is the famous one, but Mississippi, Virginia, South Dakota, and Washington state have asked (or are asking) similar questions. Should transgender people be allowed to use the bathrooms that are consistent with their gender identities? Or – the age-old question – do groups of primarily white men know marginalized people they’ve never met better than these people know themselves?
As a cisgender person (meaning my gender identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth), I am not remotely qualified to describe the experience of feeling uncomfortable in the bathroom I’m told I must use. I do not know what it’s like to identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, agender, or any other identity which can complicate the experience of using bathrooms designated specifically for men or women. Still, this series of debates has left me wondering what we gain by assigning gender to bathrooms at all. Why should I care about the gender of the person washing their hands next to me? What does it matter if the person using the toilet before or after me stands up when they pee? I will put the seat down if I have to. If necessary, the person after me can put it back up. It’s not difficult.
There are, however, plenty of other things that I would like to know about a public bathroom before I use it. How many of you have stood outside a bathroom door, knocked, and waited five minutes only to realize that the room had three stalls and you could have waited inside the whole time?
Just me? Okay.
Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of things that people might want to know about a public bathroom before they knock on the door or set foot inside, things that are far more useful than knowing which gender is allowed entry. I admit that some of these may be difficult to depict in easily-recognizable symbols, but we can work out the kinks later.
- This bathroom is accessible.
- This is the only accessible bathroom within a 5-mile radius. Please be considerate and pee somewhere else.
- There’s a changing table in here.
- This bathroom has stalls.
- No stalls here.
- Knock first. Seriously. You’ll thank us later.
- There are urinals in here.
- There are only urinals in here.
- The motion-sensor light will switch off after three minutes. Flail, jump around, or dance to switch it on again.
- Please show respect for the family of roaches that lives in the wall.
- Toilet is broken. Flush at your own risk.
- This bathroom is being cleaned right now.
- Nothing in here has been cleaned since the building was first constructed.
- The attendant standing in front of the sinks will expect a tip after you’ve washed your hands.
- You will be expected to wash your hands before exiting the bathroom.
- Step carefully; we set mouse traps.
- This bathroom needs a code to get in. Buy something, and we’ll tell you what it is.
- We couldn’t be bothered to include a bin for used pads and tampons.
- We did include a pad/tampon dispenser, which was last stocked circa 1982.
- Our toilets have motion sensors. Please do not be alarmed when they flush under you.
- The plunger is under the sink.
- Our toilet is literally a hole in the ground. Good luck!
- People of all genders use bathrooms. It is absolutely none of your business what they look like under their clothes.
What do you think? Did I miss anything?