Monday, April 11, 2016

Let's Discuss Public Toilets

Let's discuss public toilets.

On my recent trip to Italy and England I saw a lot of odd public toilets. I'm pretty sure this is because many of the buildings over there--all of them, in the case of Venice--are way older than their sanitation systems, which means that toilets had to be jerry-rigged into existing structures in ways that would not happen in the comparatively youthful United States. It's not at all unusual for the toilets in a restaurant or bar in Europe to be up or down extremely steep flights of stairs. The toilets might be single stalls with teeny-tiny sinks. They almost never have paper towels. Sometimes you're expected to put your used toilet tissue into a nearby wastebasket, because the sewer system can't handle it. If there are multiple stalls in a European public toilet, the doors usually go all the way down to the ground, so that each stall is like a little closet, completely sealed off.

The toilets are quite often unisex.

By this I don't mean that they are all single stalls. More than once on my last trip, I opened the main toilet door to a room lined with sinks on one side, and stalls on the other. Just like an American public toilet, with the exception that there was only one room: both genders used it at the same time. I'd step into a stall as a man was coming out of the stall next to mine.

Nobody seemed concerned.

Nobody seemed to think about it at all.

I mention this because of the new law in North Carolina, which states that public restrooms must be segregated by a person's birth gender, not their sexual identity. In other words, a transgender man who has lived as a man for decades is legally obligated to use the women's restroom in public.

Bruce Springsteen recently said he wouldn't perform in North Carolina until this law was repealed. The Author's Guild, and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, two organizations of which I am a proud member, have asked writers not to appear at booksignings or public events (except for in schools and libraries) while this law remains in effect.

I think that with all the serious problems in this world we could find better things to legislate. I've run into a few--a very few, a sheltered few--people who honestly seem to think such laws provide necessary protection. As though people were dressing up as the opposite gender to attack other people in public restrooms all the time. As though this law would give license to predators. As though being transgender had anything to do with "dressing up" or sexual predation. As though it really deeply mattered what sort of genitals one has when one needs to use a public restroom.

I've used a lot of public restrooms. I've never once displayed my genitals to anyone in them. I've never once felt threatened by anyone in them. When I encountered a man in the public bathrooms in Europe I didn't ponder whether he was a transman or a cisman. I didn't ponder anything at all. I washed my hands and went back down the stairs to my family.

It wasn't an issue there. It shouldn't be an issue here.