“Can we avoid the ‘bathroom wars’?” (Of course not.)
In the movie “The Help,” one of the first points of real conflict comes when Miss Hilly Holbrook, the racist villainess played brilliantly by Bryce Dallas Howard, confronts her maid Minny Jackson, played with equal brilliance by Octavia Spencer. Minny, during a fierce thunderstorm, has used the bathroom in the house, which is reserved for whites, instead of the outhouse. Miss Hilly goes on to draft legislation that would require white families to build an extra bathroom for their black help. She is haunted by the idea that white folk could get special germs she thinks are unique to the black race from shared bathroom usage.
What is it about bathrooms? Throughout the Jim Crow South, there were separate restrooms for blacks and whites. When I bring my dad, my uncle and my niece to Puerto Rico every winter, my niece claims the one bedroom with the private bathroom and the guys share the other one. Three hundred years ago, it was a mark of honor to be able to accompany the monarch as he took his toilette. Now, privacy seems most significant, and therefore the most easily endangered, when we discuss bathrooms.
Still, even I have been taken aback by the current “bathroom wars,” fought over the issue of whether or not transgender persons should use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at the time of their birth or to the gender by which they now identify themselves.
What is it about bathrooms, indeed?
I guess what it ultimately boils down to, is that public bathrooms are public places where private functions (i.e. bodily functions; or in the case of changerooms, changing and showering) occur. In other words, they are a place where two worlds, the public and the private, intersect (and not entirely comfortably).
And, setting aside previous oddball Jim-Crow-era notions about germs (if there are germs unique to a race, then others needn’t fear contracting them), in the modern context, they put the lie to radical egalitarianism, because the existence of separate bathrooms for the two sexes reinforces what biology proclaims, which progs wish to deny, that there are two different sexes. (Note, of course, the concurrent corruption of the language, wherein our society favours the term ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’, appropriating a linguistics term for other purposes.)
Even before World War ‘T’, progs were starting to push for mixed-sex bathrooms; recall the ’90s T.V. show ‘Ally McBeal’, where the main character’s law firm had a mixed-sex washroom. I was in university when that was on the air; the university I attended itself had mixed-sex washrooms in the residences. (It made showering complicated; you had to knock to ask if it was okay to come into the shower room, in case someone was toweling off / getting out of their stall into the common area; then you had to ask if you could get out of the shower, same reason. Some twit once tore a tiny pinhole in one curtain; no, it wasn’t me, but I did peek through it and see some girls in the altogether, before later tearing it big enough that it couldn’t be ignored, and telling everyone about it, at which time it ended up replaced.) It was very odd; I could eventually sometimes tell which girl was in the stall beside mine from the sound she made peeing. Once, going to the bathroom just after hearing my neighbour and her boyfriend fucking (in her room two doors down from mine), as I was washing my hands at the sink, they burst into the bathroom together in their bathrobes; in the mirror, I could see her post-coital flush on her face, and shortly after I heard her peeing and doubtless also expelling his cooze (she was on the Pill, liberal cafeteria Catholic that she was)… On Friday and Saturday nights, a bunch of girls would turn the damn place into a beauty salon, filling up the area around the sinks with hair products, driers, curling irons, etc., placing a chair in front of one of the sinks, taking turns doing each other’s hair before going out clubbing… Once, when a girl got drunk, she tried to pee in the urinal in one stall… It was all very surreal, and so wrong…
Anyway… From what I can tell, the non-transgendered-centric rationale for mixed-sex washrooms is due to some feminists thinking that, like women, men like to carry on long conversations in washrooms (we don’t, normally), and worry that women might miss out on business deals, etc., that men might conduct privately amongst themselves in the last male-only public spaces left. And so even if it happens that progs have pushed too far this time with battling for transgendered access to changerooms of their choice, and get pushback in the specific case of public changerooms / showers, I doubt we will see an end to wars over access to bathrooms, as regards the sexes, at least. I suspect the assault on the last male-only public space will continue. (Note, by the way, how neo-cons feel compelled to frame the changeroom issue exclusively in terms of fears of male predators in female-only spaces. Why, it’s as if they don’t care about / believe in male-only spaces, and/or realize they can’t get any traction with such appeals in our current social and political climate.)