Laws about bathrooms have suddenly become headline stories. Though media and politicians often manufacture issues, no one expected a nationwide debate about bathroom protocol.
People on social media have secured hardline positions, but few of the thousands of tweets and posts reflect any real world knowledge on cross-gender bathroom use. As a public service, therefore, I offer four true stories related to this subject.
The Newark Airport Dilemma
Several years ago, painters at Newark Airport refurbished a passenger boarding area but were careless in replacing directional signs leading to the
restrooms. The final signs before reaching either restroom door were confusing. If a man or woman passenger wasn’t paying attention to the sign directly on the door, he or she might enter the wrong door, causing momentary embarrassment. As regular passengers of that flight gate, my colleagues and I had all noticed the confusing signage, laughed about it, and avoided any erroneous entrances.
A new member of our group, a young woman, was unaware of the potential bathroom sign confusion. Experiencing a state of urgency before a long flight, she mistakenly dashed into the men’s room. Though the lady realized immediately that she was in the wrong room, there was no one else there, and she decided to use one of the stalls. Exiting the stall and washing her hands, she saw a middle-aged male executive entering the restroom. As soon as he saw her, he turned red, backed away, raised his hands in surrender, and croaked, “I’m sorry! Please forgive me. I just made a mistake.” Our young teammate looked him straight in the eye, feigned anger and disgust, shook a finger at him and said, “Don’t you ever let it happen again!” Leaving the room and laughing to herself, she immediately joined us onboard and told us the story.
An Engineer’s Shocking Decision
George, one of our company’s favorite clients, was a thirty-something engineer from a large Connecticut tech company. Before the start of a large conference at our campus, we saw George arrive at the lecture hall from a distant entrance and noted that he seemed to be wearing an earring. Though some men at that time wore earrings outside of work, they rarely wore them in a business environment. A few gay men were exceptions.They sometimes wore a single earring on the right ear, symbolically identifying themselves as gay. I was busy greeting new arrivals and asked a woman staff member to welcome George, to note whether he wore an earring, and if so, which side it adorned.
A few minutes later, our staff member, returned at a quick pace, and breathlessly told me, “It’s not a simple earring, it’s a set of two, one on each ear. And they’re not the usual gold buttons; they’re hand-painted daisies!” Our friend, George, would henceforth be called, Georgia, and was undergoing injection treatments to become a woman.
Georgia’s transformation set his entire company atwitter. Another tech guy at his company told me about the attitudes that had developed around Georgia. Some people—mostly women—voiced a laissez-faire viewpoint. Some loved the ongoing story as a staple of prurient speculation. Others had attitudes somewhere between condemnation, and “torches-and-pitchforks.”
But, of course, the big question was, “Which bathroom will she use.” The HR staff led an effort to determine new bathroom rules for the company. They generated a confidential questionnaire for all women employees, to determine their feelings about Georgia using their restrooms. More than 60 percent of the women could accept Georgia as a restroom user, apparently led by one woman, whose associates all wrote, “I don’t care what she does, as long as she does it sitting!”
My Adventure in a Roman Restroom
Entering a hotel restroom in Rome, I was surprised to see a rotund, older woman standing there, apparently ready to clean. She said nothing and made no move to leave. I stood near the urinals, unsure of how to proceed. Should I wait for her departure? Realizing that I was hesitant, the woman reached in front of me with a cleaning brush, tapped one of the urinals, and said something in Italian. Though I know very few Italian words, I was pretty sure that she had said something that would translate to “pee here.” I performed as instructed. She watched me, with scant interest. I completed my assigned task, washed my hands and departed. I remember chuckling, and saying to myself, “When in Rome…” To the best of my knowledge, the woman wasn’t a transgender person. It’s difficult to imagine her as a man, selecting special women’s clothing to participate in our thirty-second mini-drama. I don’t believe that I experienced any harm. Nor can I imagine any law that would have improved the experience.
A Young Woman’s Complaint About Transgender Bathrooms
When my daughter was a student at the University of California-Santa Cruz, I would visit and take her out for lunch. On one occasion she chose the restaurant, a student hangout in downtown Santa Cruz. A few miles from the University, Santa Cruz is a small city with a 1960s feel, largely populated by aging hippies and cannabis-loving street characters. My daughter’s chosen lunch venue mirrored that vibe.
Before we entered the restaurant, she warned me about its restroom policy. Instead of the conventional pairs of women’s and men’s rooms, management offered a series of small “People’s Rooms.” I was therefore not surprised an hour later when I found myself in line behind a young woman. As we waited for an available bathroom, I noted a framed printed statement on the wall, explaining management’s bathroom policy and philosophy.
Using more words than necessary, the restaurant owners wanted customers to know that the bathrooms were “like your bathroom, at home. There’s no need to put signs on the doors.” I didn’t pay much attention to this issue, until the young woman ahead of me, probably high on something, turned around and said, “I hate using these friggin bathrooms.” I asked why, expecting some remark related to feminism or personal privacy. But her surprising response was, “Stupid guys keep leaving the seats up!”
A Final Thought
None of these stories is directly relevant to the government lawsuits about bathroom usage. But as a group, they help to emphasize the ridiculousness of this national debate.
A question for both sides: How would law enforcement people know that someone is transgender? Do they have to carry a special card? Hmm…perhaps we need to design a tasteful transgender pin. A lovely piece of jewelry might satisfy both sides of the great bathroom debate and elevate America in the eyes of the rest of the world.