The loo brouhaha

Among the many issues posed by the wider acceptance of rights of transsexual persons is that of the gender-segregated bathroom, and who goes where.

I have been thinking about this for some time, ever since some of our favourite restaurants did away with men's and women's bathrooms in favour of one (single occupancy) room. I always felt a slight squeam factor in those, as the previous occupant all too often did not "aim to please". Sure, I've been in some messy stalls in women's bathrooms, but by and large, women can be counted on to operate within the confines of the porcelain.

Once a person chooses which door she'll push, based on how she identifies, the important thing is to conduct ones' self efficiently and neatly. I have seen a real erosion in this civility, with litter (and worse) left on the seat and floor, and even deliberate vandalism that requires a cleaning crew. 

I've read that some women fear men will enter under the guise of being trans, but are actually male voyeurs. Some of the persons I have met at the sink have been nearly impossible to identify as male or female, but they have conducted themselves entirely appropriately.  (And we know that abuse and violence are overwhelmingly committed against the trans person.)

The person in transition cannot always find a single-use facility, but perhaps, in the early stage where  she might still be read as a male, she could go in to a multiple-use bathroom with a woman friend. A practical solution would be for her say, "I'm a woman, don't worry!" but that may be asking a lot.

In Canada, a forthcoming government bill will add gender identity as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and trans persons will be protected against hate speech under the Criminal Code. Though in the past a similar bill was defeated in the Senate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, "We can and should do more", and politicians formerly against have changed their position.

As we find ways to integrate persons formerly forced to live in shadow, we must thoughtfully dismantle barrier after barrier. You could say it's a process of elimination.


materfamilias said…
It's surprising how deeply seated is some women's need to know that they're using a facility that only other women use -- when surely they share at home. And when just as surely other women might be disease carriers as much as other men. Impatient with a line-up of three or four women waiting to use a W single bathroom while the M door is open to an empty room with exactly the same facility, I've seen eyebrows lift as if in shock when my insistent bladder propels me through the "wrong" door. ("European" thighs, capable of hovering about a splashed seat, are helpful here, but they're often necessary in women's washrooms as well -- and healthy skin goes a long way in warding off disease, quite frankly.)

And yes, I can't understand why or how people can create/leave the mess they do in public washrooms. So much more a concern than the non-issue (I wish!) of seeing a face whose (real?) gender you can't pin down peering into the mirror beside you. A campaign to keep our public washrooms clean would be so much better a place to put the energies of those who want to control any disruption in their ordered lives...

Thanks for posting on this. I have a loved one this affects, and have taught numerous students who struggle, brave souls, with this reality every time they need to use a toilet between classes. Luckily, university campuses (in Canada at least) are pretty enlightened in this area.
So far, the new universally accessible loos at Jean-Talon Market have remained fairly clean, with a couple of unfortunate exceptions. They open to the outdoors, are disabled accessible and have a baby-changing table and have a unisex sign outside.

In general, access to public toilets is a very important issue for many people; the transgendered face particular problems (here as everywhere) because of prejudice; people with bladder or intestinal problems and simply pregnant women or some older people have to "go" more often.

Here is an Ottawa campaign for a network of public toilets:
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Your first point is one I hadn't thought of, but that's intriguing; of course most people have shared, either within a family or as a guest in a home.

lagatta: I've seen the JT facilities but have not used one yet. Thanks for expanding the case, because plenty of people need access. The issue with trans persons is, I think, veiled discrimination and fear of anyone "different". I've seen pregnant women whisked to the head of a line, the kind that typically forms at theatre intermission- but haven't seen it yet for an older person.
Lynn said…
In the US several women have been forced out of the ladies' room by women who did not think they were feminine enough to use the facility. I assume they were convinced that these women were trans. There is certainly a fear campaign being waged against those considered different that is making no one safer. My university campus has finally designated unisex facilities that we hope will reduce the stress and number of UTIs experienced by our trans or nonbinary students.

I second the need for users to take more care of the facilities they use.
Anonymous said…
I live in the U.S. and really don't understand the paranoia that is being stoked or how, exactly, the gender-stringent laws being advocated here would be enforceable. Presumably, most trans people present (in terms of their appearance) more like the gender they identify with since they wish to be related to as being of that preferred gender. Thus, I can't imagine how the "enforcers" would police the use of the biologically-appropriate bathroom--apart from doing anatomical checks on everyone (or, more accurately, chromosomal testing). It seems very much a manufactured crisis designed to stoke the fears of those unsettled by the the rapid social changes of the past 10-15 years. There is no doubt about it, we are in a silly season this electoral cycle. Makes me glad I still retain Canadian citizenship.
Duchesse said…
Lynn L: Could you please enlighten me on the link between non-segregated bathroom facilities and decrease of UTIs? Do you mean that UTIs are more frequent when trans women do not feel free to use the W room, so they hold it, and increase their susceptibility to infection?

Unknown: I wonder about that too. Do we all get chipped, so our biodata can be scanned? And I used to think washroom attendants supplied hairspray or perfume.

Madame Là-bas said…
Clean washrooms, accessible to all should be our goal. Hover if you need to. Wipe the seat off if you must sit. I really don't think that desegregation of washrooms can possibly cause more urinary tract infections. Just leave the bathroom clean.
Duchesse said…
Mme: Yes, yes, clean and accessible!

Here's an realistic short article about what someone could get from a visit to any bathroom:
LauraH said…
In Toronto I've noticed an increasing number of unisex facilities. At first I was a bit uncertain but soon got over that. I've had many many unfortunate experiences in women only loos so as long as it's clean, I don't really care what the symbol on the door says.
Anonymous said…
Eventually, all of this will require a new design for the way we build public restrooms, and restrooms in stores,restaurants, etc. Floor to ceiling stalls and doors, large open sink areas that open into door-less hall. Europe has been doing this unisex bathroom thing for years.

Children should be accompanied to bathrooms (unless we're talking about at school, which is another can of worms, isn't it?).

Thanks for reminding me that someone, sometime, might have a truly urgent need, and if I can, it would be a kindness to let them go ahead.
Susan B said…
I don't understand the problem either with people using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identification, or just having non-gendered bathrooms. One "bathroom issue" that I am on board with through is adding diaper changing tables to men's bathrooms, so dads who are out with babies and toddlers can change them!
Duchesse said…
Gloria: Though I personally like full-height, locking cabines, as found in Europe and some North American restrooms, there is a security concern to creating that kind of space. The thinking was, slightly reduced privacy afforded more safety. There are probably studies on this.

une femme: Members of some religious denominations are appalled at unisex bathrooms because they believe they will be exposed to "unclean" women. Some males who will not use any unisex bathroom because of that possibility. They are opposed to a trans male in the M bathroom for the same reason.

I completely agree about change tables! I also miss the old "ladies' lounge" where a woman could nurse, sit on a comfortable chair to rest tired feet or chat with a friend, or freshen makeup at a pretty vanity. Department store "ladies' rooms" are now tiled, institutional spaces.
Rita said…
Here's the Liberal Redneck's hilarious take on this:;_ylt=A0LEV7iz3k5XXzkAGbJjmolQ;_ylu=X3oDMTBsa3ZzMnBvBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkAw--?p=liberal+redneck&tnr=21&vid=F689B0C98D4565B74DD0F689B0C98D4565B74DD0&l=135&
Lynn said…
Yes, trans and nonbinary students suffer more UTIs when they cannot access their preferred rest rooms. Our campus decided designating a number of single stall restrooms as unisex was necessary for these students as well as faculty and staff. These are all in buildings with single sex larger bathrooms to avoid the religious issues.

You can't imagine how much time this took and how many issues had to be addressed!
Jane in London said…
Here in the UK, loos are segregated (and the baby changing space is on its own, so can be accessed by any adult). People use the door they identify with - though more confident women will crash the men's facility if there is a massive queue for the ladies' at something like a large event. Transgender people have equality rights here - though I've never heard of anyone making a fuss anyway (we're British; we hate a fuss!).

Abigail said…

As long as individuals go into restroom stalls and close the door, I don't understand the problem. I would think shower rooms would be the greater issue and source of embarrassment. I don't know how schools are built now, but 50 years ago the boys' locker room at my school had an open shower room that was a huge source of embarrassment for any boy who felt himself slightly different for any real or imagined reason. The flimsy curtains on the girls' shower stalls and open changing areas did nothing to protect a girl's modesty. I wonder how much that has changed.

As for UTIs, my urologist has found that his patients with UTIs have often just returned from travel where airline schedules have caused delays in getting to a restroom. UTIs are also frequently developed by first year elementary school teachers who haven't figured out how to squeeze in a restroom break for themselves.
So there should be no surprise that individuals who feel uncomfortable using public restrooms would develop UTIs.

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