I post a lot about bathrooms on this blog - mostly pictures of gender neutral bathroom signs, or my own often stressful experiences in public restrooms. I cannot stress enough what an issue this is for gender non-conforming folks. Finding and using a public restroom should be simple and easy, and it's just not. The Arizona state legislature has been considering a bathroom use bill that would make a lot of trans and gender queer folks' lives even more challenging. The original version of the bill would have made it a misdemeanor for trans folks to use bathrooms designated for the gender they identify with, rather than the one marked on their original birth certificate (how anyone goes about enforcing this, I haven't got a clue...). It also seems that it would call into question any people using a restroom that appeared not to match their gender - such as butch lesbians using the women's room or boys with long hair using the men's room, as one author has pointed out. After an uproar in opposition to the original bill, it was re-worked so that using the "wrong" bathroom would no longer be a crime, but so that it would also be legal for business owners to discriminate against trans folks (or any others perceived as using the "wrong" restroom) using bathrooms in their stores, restaurants, etc...
I think the simplest solution to a lot of public restroom problems would be to make them all co-ed or gender neutral. Then everybody fits in every bathroom. There's a lot of transphobia in general associated with public restroom use. The original proposed bathroom bill in Arizona takes such phobia to the extreme, but I'm astonished at the number of ordinary people who are uncomfortable at the thought of co-ed public restrooms. At home, male and female-identified people use the same bathrooms all the time. Of course, folks tend to be more comfortable and familiar with members of their own household, but even when most people have a party, or host a big group of folks who don't know each other, they don't post signs on their home restrooms (if they even have more than one) designating one for women and one for men. So why do this in public? For multi-stall bathrooms, I understand people's hesitation a little more, though I don't necessarily agree (see below...), but designating single-occupancy bathrooms for men or women has never made any sense to me. If I'm at the gas station and there's a line 5 deep for the one-hole "women's room" and no line for the one-hole men's, I'm going in the men's. Still, I've found that people come up with all kinds of bizarre reasons that men and women should pee in separate spaces in public or that trans people shouldn't be able to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in. Most of these reasons are based on myths that I'd like to go ahead and bust.
1. Allowing trans folks to use women's restrooms, or instituting co-ed restrooms will be unsafe for women.
When people say this, they really mean they think it will be unsafe for cis women (see the blog glossary at the bottom of the page if you need a definition). But not ensuring that people can use the restroom that matches their gender identity is also unsafe for women - it's at worst fatally unsafe, or at the best, extremely uncomfortable, for trans women. Furthermore, just because a bathroom is labeled "Women" doesn't mean there's some magical barrier that will prevent male people from entering if they really want to. If someone really wants to make a random attack in a bathroom, a sign on the door probably won't prevent it. Gendered bathrooms create the illusion of safety, not actual safety. Just watch the first few minutes of Copycat.
2. Children will be exposed to naked people.
This issue relates to locker rooms more so than bathrooms and seems to be a main concern of some of the Arizona lawmakers who fear allowing trans folks to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity will lead to "naked men" in the locker rooms. This is, frankly, ridiculous. First of all, there's nothing inherently wrong with nudity in a locker room - when you go to the pool, people change in and out of swimsuits in the locker room, rendering them momentarily naked. That's how swimming works. Not everyone gets naked in the locker room anyway - plenty of people use the private changing stalls usually provided. If locker rooms are a problem for you or your children, change at home and enter the pool deck another way. Or use the family changing room - many pools have one. Our favorite neighborhood pool actually requires that children of a certain age be taken through the family changing rooms to the pool deck rather than through the adult locker rooms (that's not why it's our favorite pool, but it's not a bad thing either). I also imagine that very few of us are planning to leave our young children unattended in the locker room. Though I have to say, of all the things I worry about related to my potential future children, saving them from random naked people chasing them around a locker room full of elderly water aerobics ladies and adolescent lifeguards is not among them.
3. Children will be molested.
This is not a concern to be taken lightly but in this context it infuriates me for several reasons. One, it implies that trans folks are all creepy child molesters just waiting for their chance to put on dresses and get into the women's room to kidnap little girls. Such fears are both bizarre and extremely transphobic. Second, this concern feeds into our hyped-up fear of strangers sexually abusing children when in reality, most kids who are abused are abused by people they know. That kind of abuse is harder to see and easier to ignore, but it's unfortunately not rare and we do kids a disservice by freaking ourselves out about strangers more so than empowering children to have control over their bodies and to recognize and speak up about abuse when it happens - no matter who is doing it. Third, like I said above, if people want to walk into the "wrong" bathroom with the express intent to harm a child, just having the "Men's" or "Women's" signs up on the doors will not stop them. They are signs, not magic. If a stranger wants to kidnap a child, they'll find a way. More and more "family" restrooms are popping up all over the place, which are great, but a co-ed public restroom means that a parent of any gender can accompany a child of any age or gender to the bathroom, which feels a lot safer to me.
4. Men are gross.
I hate to burst this bubble, but the truth is that everyone is pretty gross. Yeah, stand-to-pee people sometimes miss and pee on the floor. That's gross. Make sure your shoelaces are tied tight. Squat-to-pee people also sometimes miss and pee all the fuck over the seat. Also gross. Learn to hover. Some people don't understand that garbage cans are for putting paper towels in, not next to. Some people have problems with flushing (I'm all for letting it mellow at home, but friends, no matter where you're at, if it's brown, flush it down). Some people who menstruate leave their used tampons and pads in the toilet, on the toilet seat, on the floor, even next to the sink (um, hello?). I've used a lot of public restrooms - men's, women's, co-ed - and I've found that disgusting-ness is pretty equal opportunity. Public restrooms? Not clean places. I'd follow the advice on the signs for the employees and wash your hands. Maybe a couple of times.
5. Transgender people want "special" rights.
Some people seem to think a law allowing businesses to discriminate against trans people using the "wrong" bathroom will only affect trans people, but in truth, few of us fit neatly into the categories "male" and "female." Few of us are wholly masculine or wholly feminine. There are days when someone could say any one of us doesn't "belong" in one restroom or the other. Who gets to decide? And how will this make us happier or safer? Trans folk don't want anything more special than the right to pee when they need to, in a place that won't get them yelled at, stared at, beat up, or kicked out.