Magazine November 3, 2014, Issue

Privacy Down the Toilet

In bathrooms, binary gender makes its last stand (or sit)

Co-ed bathrooms — let me go on record as hating them.

I hate them at Starbucks, where I will do anything to avoid a trip to the toilet-paper-littered, seat-up (always!), unisex — and thus virtuously PC — hellhole with the unspeakable liquids sprinkled on the floor and the gray slick rimming the drain of the sink. I hate them on airplanes, except that in the air I’m stuck having to use them or have my bladder burst. And you can’t believe what a livestock-class airplane restroom looks like at the tail end of a transoceanic flight.

It’s a girl thing. Women are simply more fastidious than men about the physical circumstances in which we do our business. We highly value cleanliness and privacy. Yes, ladies’ rooms can be — and often are — repellent (urine-sprinkled seats whose previous users apparently hailed from countries where the sit-down toilet is unknown get my vote for most ubiquitously revolting sight). Public restrooms are a classic tragedy of the commons. But at least in a ladies’ room, the pheromones of the slobs who didn’t flush are all female.

Believe me, co-ed bathrooms will soon be universal, thanks to our friends in the LGBT lobby and their mush-headed “allies” among cis-gender liberals. In 2013, progressive-paradise California enacted a law mandating that public-school students be allowed to use the restrooms and locker rooms of the gender they identify with. A group called Privacy for All Students tried to challenge the law with a referendum in this November’s election but was unable to get enough signatures.

In May of this year, Maryland’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, signed into law a measure similar to California’s — except that it applies to all public accommodations used by anyone of any age. Again, opponents of the law failed to gain enough signatures to put a referendum on this November’s ballot. Local entities — cities and counties — in about 15 states have similar nondiscrimination laws for public accommodations, permitting transgender use of restrooms. Like same-sex marriage, it’s a trend that looks impossible to buck.

There’s only one little problem. Most Americans are actually in accord with me: They hate the idea of sharing private activities with members of the opposite biological sex. A CBS poll released in June showed that 59 percent of Americans thought people should use the bathroom and locker room of the gender to which they were assigned at birth. Only 26 percent thought they should be able to choose freely which restroom to use. Even self-described liberals split 50–50 on the issue. Although Americans under age 30 were more tolerant than older Americans about the bathroom-choice issue, only 35 percent of Millennials would actually allow free choice about restrooms and locker rooms.

Now, it’s my belief that most people are like me in another respect: Although we’d really rather not know that someone who’s undergone a male-to-female (or vice versa) “transition” — or is just thinking about such a transition and is practicing for it — is occupying the stall next to us, we don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out who belongs where. Unless there’s an exceptionally long line that affords me the opportunity to critique my fellow restroom visitors’ wardrobes and hairstyles as a form of entertainment, I hardly notice them, and I’d consider myself a perv if I did. We also are sensitive — I think — to the argument that male-to-female transgender people risk being beaten up by bullies if they venture into the men’s room wearing a dress. Okay, so go ahead and use the ladies’ room; just don’t throw it in my face, because I don’t want to know about it. After all, according to UCLA Law School’s Williams Center, there are only about 700,000 transsexuals in America’s population of more than 300 million, or less than 0.25 percent. My chances — and anyone else’s — of randomly encountering a transsexual in a ladies’ room on any given visit are vanishingly slim.

#page#What is disturbing about the co-ed-bathroom trend is that it’s highly likely to lead to actual co-ed bathrooms — that is, completely gender-neutral restroom facilities, open to anyone who wants to use them. Right now such facilities exist, as I’ve pointed out above, in airplanes, at Starbucks, and in some other venues that specifically accommodate transsexuals, are trying to save money on plumbing, or want to accommodate the “potty parity” crowd with its complaints about long lines outside the ladies’ room in contrast to the men’s. But those facilities typically contain one single toilet and are designed to accommodate one single person at a time, like a home bathroom. That makes them expensive to build — so why not just take down those little men in trousers and little women in skirts on the doors of the multi-stall “ladies” and “gentlemen” restrooms and open them both to all comers, of whatever gender they happen to identify with?

And if you don’t believe this could ever happen, guess what: It already has — in co-ed dorms on practically every college campus. In fact, one argument that the pro-LGBT crowd always raises in defense of gender-neutral-bathroom laws is that we already do that in college, so what’s the problem with doing it from graduation day until death? For a good 25 years or so, colleges and universities have conducted a kind of conditioning experiment in co-ed showering, shaving, toilet-using, and teeth-brushing. As Jezebel writer Anna Long argued in 2009, showering in a communal room full of other naked bodies (with no separate stalls) is morally uplifting:

But I will say that I briefly experienced . . . a breakdown of the woman-as-sex-object–man-as-predator dichotomy, an instant when I was a human being . . . and not an image to be evaluated for attractiveness. And I wonder if allowing young men and women to piss and shit and shower together . . . might help them view each other as a little more fully human.

Well, maybe. But in fact, even liberal women of the Jezebel-reading persuasion say they can’t stand the idea. A commenter on Long’s article wrote that she would “rather have my eyeballs scooped from their sockets with rusty spoons” than take a shower in a roomful of naked men. Another wrote: “Like, let there be a little mystery for [goodness] sake. I don’t need to see everyone I know naked.” In a 2007 article for College Candy titled “Get Me Out of This Co-ed Bathroom!” a writer who called herself “Jess” wrote: “Who decided that it would be totally cool to completely devoid college kids of any type of privacy?” In October 2013 Madeline Harris of HerCampus put together a seven-item listicle of the “awful” things that regularly take place in co-ed college johns. High on the listicle was the common practice — also described by Tom Wolfe in his 2004 campus novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons — of young men having simultaneous bowel movements in adjacent stalls and talking about them out loud in detail. Harris’s article included photographs of what co-ed bathrooms actually look like in terms of flipped-up seats, refuse on the floors, and general filth.

Defenders of such unedifying spectacles will often tell you that the bathrooms in most people’s homes are co-ed, so what’s the problem? Well, just for starters, in a college dorm — or in a public restroom anywhere, for that matter — there’s no Mom and Dad around to enforce standards of cleanliness and courtesy to the next user. And you won’t be able to identify and shame the perp who made the mess.

So I say: Thanks, LGBT lobby and your straight-world allies, for increasing the grossification of daily life for the 99.7 percent of people who aren’t suffering from gender-identity mixups. Me, I’ll be off to the spiffy women’s powder room at Neiman-Marcus when nature calls — at least until the PC gendarmes decide that even customers at high-end department stores need some lessons in viewing one another as “a little more fully human.”

– Charlotte Allen blogs about feminism, politics, and culture for the Los Angeles Times.

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