Wednesday • 2016.06.01
Welcome to the Restrooms of the Future
Imagine, if you will, that you feel nature’s call one day in a public place.
Following the arrow on the sign marked Restrooms, you round a corner and come upon two doors. To your mild surprise, neither door carries the traditional “pants” or “dress” emoji that you’re used to seeing. You take a moment to examine the doors and consider your next move.
Both doors are marked with the updated version of the accessibility icon, so if you’re looking for an accessible stall, you know you’re covered either way.
But which of the two doors is the right one for you?
The sign on the door closest to you has an ideogram of a user. The door is marked Single in a language you can read, with a little lock icon just to make it clear. That probably means it locks, you think to yourself. Looking around, you might even find there are multiple private rooms available in a busy location.
The sign on the other door shows multiple users. And instead of Single, it reads Shared. That one is probably more like other public restrooms I’m already familiar with, you conclude.
But … Shared? Regardless of gender? What are the implications of that? There could be either men or women in there, you realize. (Or even other genders, it might also occur to you.)
Now, this might not bother you in the slightest. Having most of the facilities combined together, after all, would be a much more efficient distribution of space and resources. No more Men’s rooms standing empty while there’s a line for the Women’s, for example.
Baby-changing stations would always be accessible to anyone.
There’d be no more incidences of the Women’s room being temporarily closed for cleaning at the worst possible time, just because the janitor happens to be a man (or vice versa). Not to mention, if you happen to be trans and/or non-binary, finally you can use any public restroom without undue stress. That would be great!
Really, a little bit of logical thinking reveals that all-genders shared facilities would really make life easier for almost everyone in society.
On the other hand, it would be unfair for us to pretend that there aren’t some legitimate issues with public all-gender restrooms, and some of those issues might well affect you personally, so let’s examine them fairly.
First of all, if you are a survivor of abuse or assault at the hands of men (regardless of your own gender), you might have anxiety about sharing a public restroom with them. Fortunately, there’s a safe and accommodating Single room you can use instead.
Ditto if you happen to honor religious restrictions that dictate not sharing restrooms with other genders. There’s nothing wrong with being devout to your religion (as long as you don’t force your beliefs on others), and it certainly wouldn’t harm anyone if you chose to honor your religion by using the Single restroom. I promise, I’ll never judge you for where you choose to pee. (Just, please, afford me the same respect.)
Are you maybe just “pee shy?” That’s fine, too. You could choose to use the Single rooms for that reason also. In fact, Single rooms would come in very handy for a lot of people who aren’t presently well served by the majority of public, gendered restrooms we’re all mostly used to. Wouldn’t it be great if Single was always there as an option?
It’s also possible you might be irrationally afraid there could be a transgender person in the Shared restroom while you’re in there. I sympathize; different is often scary, especially if you’re imagining they might do bad things to you because that’s what your political representatives keep saying.
If that happens to be of concern to you, fret not: The Single room would make an excellent solution for you as well. It would allow you to do your private business in peace, while conveniently saving you the effort of having to peek under every other stall and check other people’s crotches to make sure there aren’t any trans people “lurking” in your area.
Sounds good, right? Single and Shared instead of Men’s and Women’s. It’s an interesting concept, but would it work in reality? We know the answer already. Every week we see stories about businesses, facilities, and organizations that have already implemented non-gendered public restrooms, with problems few and far between (usually limited to a few complaints from conservatives and the occasional bureaucratic challenge with building codes).
It may be, someday, that we look back on gendered restrooms in the same way we now look back on other outdated cultural standards. Slavery, women as property, corporal punishment, segregated restrooms. All once-normative social inventions that had their day, guided and constrained society, then faded to obscurity in the shadow of their indisputable successors. The public Men’s and Women’s restroom is dead; long live public restrooms.
This article originally appeared in Slate Outward.