On Bathrooms

There are some things that become a matter of public outcry that, to me, seems to be a non-issue.

There are some things that scarcely even scrape the surface of public awareness that, to me, should be screamed from proverbial (and maybe literal) rooftops.

Bathrooms fall into both of these categories.

In the first, there is the issue of which bathrooms transgendered and other non-gender-conforming individuals should use–the one conforming to their gender identity or to their chromosomal sex?

As if one’s chromosomal sex or gender identity has much of  anything to do with how the general process of using a public restroom works.

Maybe my perception of such is a bit skewed due to being a female-bodied individual in the United States, but I am under the assumption that, for most people in regions where this specific trans-bathroom-usage policy is under fire, the process works a bit like this:

 Locate nearest restroom presently open and available for public use. Is restroom single-toileted or stalled?
[Single] Is the restroom currently occupied?
If  Yes: Wait outside of restroom for occupant to finish; proceed to next step
If No: Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go about your day

[Stalled] Are there any stalls available?
If Yes:  Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go about your day

If Yes, But Only The Accessible Stalls: Do you have a disability/illness that requires the use of such a stall?
* If Yes: Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go about your day
*If No: Are you at imminent risk of an accident/extreme discomfort if you wait for the next available stall?
—>If Yes: If you’re *absolutely* certain, and if you have sufficient reason to believe that there is no one who needs this specific stall behind you, (quickly) Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go  about your day
—>If No: Wait for next available stall; once available, Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go about your day

If No: Wait for next available stall; once available, Enter; Eliminate bodily waste into toilet; clean self; flush; wash and dry hands; go about your day

Obviously, this is very over-simplified, especially for those with any sort of disability or illness, and there is room for disagreement over when it is acceptable for a person without a disability/illness to use the accessible stall, but I am about 80%  sure that this just about covers the basic protocol. Nowhere in this algorithm does the shape of one’s private parts or one’s private perception of one’s gender dramatically alter the proceedings of any of these steps — there’s slight anatomical differences, I’m aware, and various disabilities may alter the specific hows of certain steps, but the process is more or less somewhat the same. Nowhere is any other person exposed to one’s private parts or one’s private perception of one’s gender (unless the line is particularly long and you make very good friends with your fellow bathroom-waiters, I suppose).

So if the person who is somewhere on this same queue as you happens to be trans, that influences your progression along this queue…how?

“But what about predators who–”

If someone is willing to present themselves as a certain gender for the sole sake of sexual predation, a few rules and regulations probably aren’t going to stop them much. IDs can be faked. Voices can be trained. Some predators are extremely crafty, not to mention desperate. But it seems to me–someone who admittedly has zero personal experience with sexual assault or exploitation–that public bathrooms aren’t the best manner in which to prey on someone. Not to say that assaults never happen in public restrooms. They do.

But, statistically speaking, it isn’t the stranger that follows you into the restroom at the supermarket that you need to be weary of, although it is generally a good idea to stay alert in any circumstance. The incredible majority of sexual assault is perpetrated by someone that the victim knows and in an environment common to the victim.  Additionally, those perpetrators are very seldom trans or presenting themselves as trans.

In fact, trans individuals are much more likely to the be the victims of sexual and non-sexual assault, in bathrooms and outside, than are non-trans individuals.

So if you really want to help prevent assault assault, 1. don’t sexually assault others, 2. encourage a culture of consent among your peers (only assume that consent is given when consent is explicitly and freely given without coercion), 3. believe others when they tell you that they’ve been sexually assaulted, and 4. CARE (Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, Enlist others).

So, sexual assault  of cisgender individuals in bathrooms, while a real and present danger, isn’t quiet as common as certain social media posts would have you believe.

Do you want to know what is common in bathrooms in the United States?

  • Caretakers of disabled individuals having to change said individuals onbathroom floors.
  • “Accessible” stalls not being wide enough to fit wheelchairs or adult-sized persons or to fit guide-dogs/caretakers.
  • “Accessible” stalls not having proper wall supports.
  • Having too few accessible stalls for the number of individuals with disabilities in a given area.
  • Public buildings failing to comply with ADA standards and not having accessible stalls at all.

The very necessary task of using the restroom is made unnecessarily complex, if not outright impossible, for millions of disabled Americans and their loved ones. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip or at an outdoor event with few/no porta-potties, you may have about a tenth of a glimmer of how discomfort-provoking and anxiety-driving this must be. And those afore-implied regulations regarding who can enter which bathrooms makes things even harder for disabled individuals and their potentially opposite-sexed caretakers (not to mention that someone can have a disability and be trans at the same time).

This is the real public restroom crisis.

There’s a petition circulating around to call national attention to these issue. There is also a UK-based campaign, #ChangingPlaces (and it’s American counterpart, #ChangingPlacesUSA) that is petitioning and raising awareness for fully-accessible restrooms–they even have a pretty nifty Selfie Kit  with some cut-out glasses that help to draw attention to the cause. People are raising awareness and demanding change. It would be nice if we had even more people on board.

[Image description: Pale-skinned female with short, brown hair wearing  a multi-colored jacket. She is sitting in front of a green wall. She has blue glasses which are decorated with a white picture of a person in a wheelchair and another person at a changing table. She is holding a sign that says: “EVERYONE should have the right to use public restrooms with ease, safety, and comfort. #ChangingPlaces”]

So while the gender-atypical person next to you is very, very unlikely to bring any harm to yourself or your loved ones, the person next to you who has a disability or who takes care of someone with a disability may have to use the restroom in less-than-ideal conditions, if they are able to use the restroom at all.  If you’re going to raise a fuss about restrooms, if you’re going to petition for certain laws and flood your social media accounts with images of restroom doors and toilets, do so for a good reason.

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