Politics & Policy

NYC Has a New Bathroom Policy

(Photographerlondon/Dreamstime)
The city council tackles the issue of single-occupancy toilets.

The New York city council has approved a law requiring all single-occupant restrooms in private establishments to be gender neutral — a relatively simple way, according to the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Daniel Dromm, to make transgender and gender-nonconforming people feel welcome.

Dromm also said the measure honors the LGBT people killed in the Orlando massacre. The council approved the law by a 47–2 vote, and it will go into effect on January 1.

The law follows Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s March executive order requiring city agencies to make clear that people are allowed to use city single-sex facilities matching their gender identities.

Mayor DeBlasio has never explained how the city can possibly accommodate his order, given that proponents of the gender-identity doctrine almost uniformly believe that the gender binary doesn’t fully exhibit the range of gender identities, and therefore certain individuals cannot, strictly speaking, use the facility that matches their gender identity, since no such facility exists.

I give the NYC councilmembers credit on their recent measure for tacitly recognizing that gender-neutral facilities are the only way to accommodate gender-nonconforming individuals, who do not find themselves at home in either the male or the female bathrooms. But this legislation also falls into the nonsensical.

Single-occupant bathrooms are often gender neutral to begin with. (This law would merely make this practice standard in NYC.) The reason is quite obviously that only one person can use the bathroom at a time, and so the unease the sexes feel about sharing a bathroom with each other doesn’t apply. I, like most other women I know, have no qualms about using the men’s single-occupant bathroom if the women’s is out of order. And if, for example, a male-to-female transgender person decided to use the women’s single-occupant bathroom, I can’t imagine anyone raising a stink about it.

Single-occupant restrooms that are gender neutral have not been a progressive statement about the nature of gender.

Progressive scholars of gender identity have spilled much ink to distinguish rigorously between gender and biological sex, but when it comes to doing our biological business, they arbitrarily understand the male and female homunculi on restroom-door signs to represent gender, not sex.

Single-occupant restrooms that are gender neutral have not been a progressive statement about the nature of gender — they have existed on the assumption that restrooms need to be sex-segregated only in order to give the sexes privacy. Otherwise, what’s the point? I appreciate sex-segregated restrooms so that I don’t have to see urinals behind me in the mirror when I’m trying to reapply concealer on my blemishes, for starters. They exist to support longstanding cultural mores about privacy and modesty. And they exist to protect women especially from predatory men who would take advantage of women’s vulnerability in restrooms. Agender people, for example, don’t need a designated restroom because restrooms don’t exist to reify one’s subjective experience of one’s gender. Targeting single-occupant restrooms in this legislation was relatively easy, yes, but its lack of practical purpose also underscores the outsized role progressives have ascribed to bathrooms in affirming personal identity.

What’s more, this bill continues the Big Apple’s legacy of heavy-handed government. “While most employers would be fine on a gender-neutral approach to their bathrooms, having the city council add this to dozens of other interventions in the last three years has a cumulative negative impact on the perceived business climate in New York,” Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, told the Wall Street Journal. The NYC government has gone from trying to limit residents’ soda intake to forcing private establishments to buy new signs for some single-occupant restrooms — and to participate indirectly in the construction of a new legal reality around the incoherent doctrine of gender identity.

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