Washroom Wars: are we ducking the real problem?
In watching (from a safe distance) the ongoing war over washrooms and who gets to use which ones, I feel like something is missing from the coverage and debate I’ve been exposed to thus far. Maybe it’s been discussed somewhere I haven’t yet stumbled across. But just in case, I suggest that the real, core issue here is being sidestepped.
Just another elephant in the (wash)room, I guess.
Why do we have such an absolute taboo on general-use public toilets? Why do we teach our kids from an early age not to go into the “wrong” public washroom? It’s not just Victorian prudery; women’s loos are quite modesty-preserving. Men don’t have to pee in a line of very public urinals. We could all do our business in decent privacy even in a shared facility, with stalls and so forth.
The real reason we do not allow men to share women’s toilets is because women become more vulnerable when they have to squat and/or expose their nethers to pee. And millennia of experience tell us that a more-than-negligible percentage of men will take advantage of this vulnerability and temporary partial nudity to steal sex — in other words, to peep, grope, and/or rape.
Ask any woman who’s ever worked outdoors with an all-male crew, how careful she was to find a really private place to take a leak. Ask women who hike or camp alone. Ask women who’ve served in the US military, where women have been advised by commanders to go to the latrines in pairs or groups for mutual protection. I’ll say it again: women needing to pee, needing to remove clothing to pee, are vulnerable to voyeurism, harassment, intrusive photography, assault, and rape. It’s hard to fight, or to run fast, with your pants (or pantyhose) down around your knees.
So the real reason we don’t allow men to share women’s public toilets is to protect women from rape — from being caught in a washroom with a predatory male, at a disadvantage, in a vulnerable position.
And ya know what? While some perhaps are primarily driven by a hunger for public validation of their gender identity, imho the most obvious reason why M2F transfolks wouldn’t want to use the Gents’ — even if they do have the physical equipment for the stand-up routine — is because it’s not safe in there. Being obviously gay or “sissy” in a public men’s lav can be dangerous. Do please recall that men also rape other men, particularly those they deem to be insufficiently manly. It’s traditional for straight, gender-insecure men to play gender cop: punish gay men, cross-dressers, etc. and assert their own probative masculinity.
And ya know what else? As far as I can tell, the main reason why conservatives are so freaked out about M2F transfolks using women’s loos… is that they fear physically intact anatomical males will lie about being trans, and use that lie to sneak into the women’s loo with intent to commit voyeurism, harassment, and/or rape. Their fear, however transphobic it may be, is really rooted down deep in a fear of rape — that if we “let men into the women’s bathroom” then women in a vulnerable situation will be exposed to predatory men.
This whole bitter, angry controversy would not be happening if we didn’t need to segregate our bathrooms so strictly by gender, and we wouldn’t need to segregate our bathrooms so strictly by gender if men didn’t rape women and other people they consider “non-men” or “sub-men.” It’s patriarchy and male supremacy that got us into this shouting match. It’s not the behaviour of transfolks, or of cis-women, that is the problem here. It’s the behaviour of men who harass and rape women, gay men, transfolks, etc.
Basically, women are afraid to have strange men in the loo with them, and transitioning M2F folks are afraid to be in the same bathroom with straight, gender-insecure men. Maybe we need to repaint our bathroom signs so they read simply “Rapists” and “Non-Rapists.” Just so everyone’s clear.
And before the inevitable Whataboutist pile-on, yes I do know that girls have been known to bully and sexually shame other girls (in school bathrooms, for example). And yes I do know that — very rarely — women have been known to sexually assault other women. And yes I do know that straight men intent on raping could just dress up as women and lurk in women’s bathrooms anyway, even if we try to segregate them for women’s safety. But these are edge cases. So no, I don’t think they invalidate the fundamental premise: we segregate bathrooms to protect women from opportunistic rape.
What stands out to me is that if men would just stop raping other people because they deem them worthy of punishment, or “fuckable” — whatever the hell that means, since men historically seem willing to fuck anything from watermelons to sheep to defeated enemies to other people’s grandmas, but I digress — then we could all share suitably modest generic toilet facilities without embarrassment or danger. That great big taboo wouldn’t be needed. And we wouldn’t all be fighting over who’s allowed access to that precious safer space, that refuge from sexual assault, the women’s loo.