Magazine | June 13, 2016, Issue

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

One of the most dependable ways to ensure the Glorious Future for the People is to render the past indefensible. Today’s lesson from the bright-eyed scribes at the website Buzzfeed: “Gender Segregated Bathrooms Have a Long Ugly History.”

You might have thought that there were different bathrooms because men and women were different. Oh no. It’s part of the relentless imposition of Gendered Spaces on a sullen population by the dark forces of history — possibly on the orders of J. P. Morgan, American Standard, and the Porcelain Trust. Now that we know that gender is utterly subjective and that men think they’re men because the doctor swaddled them in a blue blanket when they were born, we realize that bathrooms aren’t just for bodily duties and the occasional humiliating peal of concussive release. They are Gendered Spaces, and hence they have a Shameful History.

Start with “Segregation,” which we all know is bad. That guy who shot a video of himself asking Target employees if he could use the women’s room even though he was obviously a guy? Rosa Parks. Or maybe Ross.

The article lays out the grim situation:

Cultural anxieties about bodily secretions, disease, sex, shame, and power — codified into law and reinforced by Hollywood — have allowed the segregated institution to stand. But should we let it?

I think you know the answer to that. No. We must march and we must chant. We’re birds! Of a feather! We must void our bowels together! If there is a cultural anxiety about something, you see, it’s proof of a phobia, an irrational belief. Personally, I want to live in a society that has a cultural anxiety about bodily secretions, because the alternative is someone saying, “Well, Bob’s done his business in the corner of the break room again.”

But it was codified into law! Reinforced by Hollywood! We all remember Bogart pistol-whipping Lauren Bacall when she tried to use the men’s room in To Go and Go Not. These twin oppressive systems have allowed the institution of sex-specific bathrooms to stand, when it was clearly within their power to strike a blow toward a shining future when males and females blow the bilges in the same room without Cultural Anxieties. You know, like Bonobo monkeys. They’re awesome! They have sex with anything.

We continue:

Hollywood’s depiction of the bathroom reveals it to be one of the most powerful spaces for informing our cultural anxieties around gender, bodily shame, abjection, disease, and sexual deviance.

Ah: Our anxieties, which are cultural, are being informed by movies, and hence we see the bathtub as a Space, which is Powerful. Mind you, there aren’t many bathtubs in public bathrooms, which is a very good thing; you’d try to line it with toilet paper and that wouldn’t work at all. Unisex bathrooms would not have bathtubs, but never mind. We have two new ideas in the mix: abjection and sexual deviance.

As for the first, I have no idea what the author is talking about. I have seen abject bathrooms, but they were usually in the back of a Greyhound bus. As for sexual deviance, well, transgender people are literally deviant in the old sense of the word, as in “deviating from the norm,” but if you believe that the norm is a social construct and should be done away with — along with other norms and the idea of the norm, and anyone named Norm — then sure, these Powerful Spaces of Abjection are –

What were we talking about again? Oh. Right. Trans-bathroom anxiety, which might bother a few people if they’re inclined to stare at everyone who enters the bathroom. Most don’t care and are tired of being told they have to care. What’s interesting about the debate, though, is the way it upends progressive tenets. I read an article in which an advocate for anyone-in-any-room-whatever-your-tackle said that it wouldn’t be a problem, because you could obviously tell who was going into the wrong bathroom or shower for jollies: They would not look like a woman. Copious arm hair, a no-no; feminine dress, a plus; and of course, if they accessorized. So if you say to a woman with a lot of arm hair wearing jeans and a shirt and no makeup or jewelry, “You don’t look like a woman,” you are a horrible sexist, but if a man dresses up like a parody of ’50s femininity, that’s okay — and applauding the cliché is a sign of enlightenment.

Haven’t we been told that the physical or psychological impact of growing up female in this society is formative to the female identity? Now you can skip all that and proceed directly to go. If you have to go.

The author femalesplains some more about how men feel in bathrooms and the come-one-come-all policy: “It invites the fear of the abject — and of homosexual desire — to fester in these spaces.”

This Festering Fear could be seen as a matter of privacy — and we have a right to privacy, correct? It’s in the Constitution and everything. Perhaps a fella simply doesn’t want a bloke looking at his capabilities because he does not want to be sexualized while performing a basic human activity. In other words: He doesn’t want to be subjected to the Male Gaze, which feminist theory has said for years is dehumanizing, invasive, threatening, and the summation of men’s awful sexual dominance.

Except when it’s not!

Next up: The Long Ugly History of Stall Dividers, and how an Open Bathroom fosters community. You’ll be lectured on your Privacy Privileges and reviled for your Abject Phobias. What will be everyone’s response when that’s the new thing we all must believe?

Hold it until you get home.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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