PISSED OFF AND OUT
by Harvard West
So I’m standing in the Mens’ Room of the Lake Oswego Public Library and I’m struggling with an enigma: the urinal will not drain. One of the previous three “contributors” had somehow clogged it so severely that with each successive flush the bubbling synthesis of sterile urine and fluoridated drinking-water inches closer to breaching the porcelain bowl. Having spent the previous 3 hours on the road I’m desperate to relieve myself, so I consider my options.
Lake Oswego is a relatively medium-sized town with a relatively modest public library. There is but one Mens’ Room, equipped with but one currently malfunctioning urinal adjacent to a tastefully stalled toilet which – as I type – is occupied by a different kind of “contributor” whose symphony of bowel movements and muffled screeches and grunts suggest that he intends to remain “in residence” until some strong-stomached librarian forces him out. I am therefore literally S.O.L. because although the Lake Oswego Library is fully equipped with additional lavatory facilities, these are the only ones available to me.
My genitalia bars me from entering the Ladies’ Room, my mobility prohibits me from using any lavatory that has a white wheel-chaired paraplegic printed on the front door, and – perhaps unique to public libraries – my age and guardian status (or lack thereof) bars me from using the “Children’s Boys and Girls Rooms.”
Theoretically libraries are supposed to be public institutions and as such they are required by law to serve all residents regardless of sex, race, creed, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities or economic status. No resource, no archive, no material can fall under the domain of any specific citizen or subsection of citizens with but one exception. Because while we have made impressive strides to eliminate barriers for all Americans over the past few decades, community standards still require that what happens in a public restroom must be privately insulated within certain social categories.
I understand why America practices segregation in public restrooms on the basis of sex. It’s pretty much a global standard, and – despite the grumblings of the radical fringes of the feminist movement who decry the separation and the supposedly “stereotypical” DOT pictograms that mark Ladies’ Restrooms across the land – nonetheless provide women with at least some protection from potentially dangerous men who otherwise would be able to corner and take advantage of them when they are at their most vulnerable. (There’s a reason perverts hide video cameras in backpacks in Women’s Restrooms) I also understand the wisdom of having special facilities for Americans with disabilities and, when not crossing my legs and in a more moderate mood, I can also understand to have a specially designed “Children’s Restroom” for small Americans who otherwise would have trouble using “big-people” facilities. In places like public libraries and schools where a high percentage of the population is under 5-feet-tall, such specialized facilities make sense. Yet I have to ask, when and where will we draw the line?
In recent times some academics have been so bold as to compare discrimination against transgender Americans in restrooms – both public and private – to the experience of African Americans in the Jim Crow South. Since restrooms are segregated by sex – not gender – transsexuals are generally expected to “do their business” in the restroom they used in grade school. Nonetheless, some transgender advocates have begun arguing to merge sex with gender when establishing bathroom boundaries, while others have – somewhat more successfully – lobbied for so-called “gender neutral” or “unisex” bathrooms.
The cause of “gender neutral” restrooms sounds valid enough, but for some it ultimately seems like yet another step to an even more segregated restroom system. If we have a separate restroom system for children, then why not adult midgets who fit the porcelain proportions of a child but whose age currently prohibits them from entering? And then what? Will we have to build pubic outhouses for Amish people whose faith prohibits them from using modern technology but whose citizenship entitles them to all public resources? (Actually most Amish do have indoor pluming) Of course, I’m taking this to a ridiculous extreme, but I do think its ridiculous that some insist on making a civil rights issue out of where we go to the bathroom. It’s not an issue of persecution, it’s an issue of practicality. And – to be honest – I’m not sure a segregated restroom system is really practical.
I can’t speak for all men, but personally my biggest beef with public restrooms is that – well – they’re too public. I appreciate those rare facilities that choose to go the extra mile by placing floor to ceiling dividers between urinals so I don’t have to feel so awkward about having to take the middle stall. I wish public restrooms were designed more like cubicles with a locking forth side. If we were afforded such luxuries perhaps we’d feel less ambivalent about sharing our public restrooms with members of the opposite sex, gender or anything else. God knows it would be cheaper to have one giant public restroom with several insulated spaces than two or more segregated restrooms with inferior facilities.
But since I don’t live in that world, and my bladder seems unable to placate societal convention much longer, I find myself sitting here outside the Men’s Room, contemplating my options. Should I violate a bathroom boundary or piss in the Men’s Room sink?