On Restroom Segregation

There was a time when one relieved oneself out of doors in nature. Then came the outhouse, followed by indoor plumbing. Years went by and we had men’s and women’s restrooms in public places. Later we added a third type for the physically handicapped and now we have a fourth for families. These are all good and appropriate developments in the annals of hygienic innovation.

But there is an inherent inconsistency here that begs the question: Why do we have separate restrooms for men and women?

Is it because we have different body parts? If that were true then we might have to consider different rooms for hermaphrodites.  One must also concede that there are women who have more masculine bodies and features than some men, so that logic does not completely hold.

Do men and women have significantly different needs for plumbing fixtures that warrants separate rooms? Aside from urinals, the answer is no. Besides, we could always just include urinals in a unisex bathroom, so that doesn’t hold either.

Is this somehow a matter of gender roles? It’s hard to say, but one could concede that this might be at least a small consideration. Perhaps it is about cleanliness? The mechanics involved would seem to indicate that men might – ahem – “miss the mark” more often than women. But I have heard women say that their restrooms are disgusting because women do not sit, and so things can get just as messy around female commodes (a recent revelation to me).

A reasonable person would agree that these things all play some role in the phenomenon of restroom segregation, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Restroom segregation is primarily a matter of sexuality;  women need a place where they can be away from the prying eyes of predatory men, to relieve and refresh themselves.

Some men are sexually aggressive and women need at least one place to retreat from this. This may be why some restrooms have ante-rooms, lounges, powder rooms, etc., so that women can sit, relax, talk, put on makeup, smoke a cigarette, or whatever else women do in there– but it is clear that this space is decidedly away from men. There is no other criterion for this separation in modern times (although race was another criterion for such segregation in some places in years past).

Now for the challenge: If one concedes that restrooms are segregated by gender for reasons that have everything to do with sexuality, then why do we not also have separate lesbian and gay restrooms?

Bear with me.

I was in a mall recently and as I was standing at the urinal with my “belongings” in my hand, when I sensed a presence to my right. Guy Code dictates that one face forward, ignoring any and all distractions to the left or right, while using a urinal.

“Excuse me sir” came a deep but wispy voice, wrapped in a thick non-descript foreign accent. I looked at the interloper in what should otherwise have been a private moment, breaking Guy Code. “Do you live in (city omitted)?” he asked. “No” I said, and got back to doing my business. “Where do you live?” he persisted. I looked at him again and noticed that he was quite blatantly checking me out up and down.  He did this with a fey roll of the eyes and flash of the brow that says “I can do things for you if you let me.” It became immediately clear at that point where this was going – and fast.

Ok, at this point as a modern American man, I was facing a dilemma. Several things were going through my mind. First of all I promised myself then and there that I would never let my youngest son go to the restroom alone ever again. The second thing I thought was how gutsy this guy was. I am fairly athletic looking and was not in a particularly welcoming mood that day. What made this guy think it was safe or ok to approach me in this way in this sort of space? I am not the type to haul off and punch someone for this, but it happens and gay men know that this is always a risk. He knew it and so did I.

Now I have had several gay friends in my life, and still do, so I am sympathetic to a certain degree. And yes this sort of thing has happened to me before. I am also a healthy heterosexual male so I can understand the compulsion to try to get laid whenever the mood overtakes me. But one thing that makes good men civilized is the ability restrain oneself until the proper time and place.

The restroom is not a pickup place – at least not for me. For some men, however, the men’s room is a place to take chances like this. Unlike ladies rooms, there is no equivalent of a lounge where men can disconnect and escape from the sexual predations of other men; but perhaps there should be.

So there I was, alone with this creepy guy alone in a pubic restroom.

“I live in (city omitted)” I offered with a confident and mildly friendly grin. I quickly zipped up and left. As I was leaving he muttered something else, but I didn’t hear as I was nearly out the door. This man was a very odd looking character. I am loathe to say this because a person’s looks should be irrelevant. Perhaps it was his behavior that gave me the feeling. But this was not the sort of man I would want as my Children’s kindergarten teacher. In all fairness to this guy, he wasn’t trying to pick up a little kid. But it bothered me. Not because a gay man tried to pick me up – and make no mistake about it, that is what was happening – but that he was doing this in the men’s room. It is a place where men feel vulnerable whether they want to admit this or not.

It got me to thinking about how this might play out if all restrooms were unisex. How many creepy heterosexual men would take advantage of the isolation of a restroom to prowl around asking unsuspecting women “Psst…Excuse me, where do you live?”

Can you imagine?

So, the question of the day is – Do you think that restrooms should also be separated by sexual orientation?

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