Thursday, December 15, 2005

the bathroom problem in mainstream media

This is an aricle that I got from the AIM news pop-up thingy about a place in Brazil that is trying to pass legislation to make certain establishments build third bathrooms for transvestites (and presumably all non-normatively gendered people). While I got the feeling that it was put in kind of as one of those "weird news" joke things, and while it stated that Brazil is "somewhat more tolerant" of homosexuality than other Latin American countries (which I have heard is definitely an American conceit fostered by the tourist industry to lure in adventurous and wealthy gay tourists), I was still quite happy to even see the "bathroom problem" mentioned in such a mainstream space. I'm assuming most of you are somewhat familiar with this issue, but perhaps not; in essence, it is the problem faced by transgendered or non-normatively gendered people when they try to go to the bathroom in a public place. It's a big issue, and most transgendered people report at some point being kicked out of a restroom and/or experiencing some sort of violence in a restroom, especially the women's restroom. Women seem to be very invested in keeping their bathroom space free of anybody who is not very obviously female, to the point where it can be very hard for people who are biologically female and don't appear female, as well as for people who are not entirely biologically female but identify as such, to use a woman's bathroom. A lot of transgendered people also have bladder problems due to their inability or fear of using public restrooms, and at least some people tend to curtail activities that take them away from safe bathroom spaces for too long. Some places make steps towards addressing this problem (Such as the Saturn Cafe, with their wonderful gender-ambiguous doors, that Jesse directed us to in Santa Cruz this summer), but others run up against problems. Will women feel uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with men? Will it lead to harrasment of women? That just negates the transgender person, as someone who doesn't factor in to the "will they get hurt or be uncomfortable" discussion, when obviously they are and do. Grrrr.
Anyway, here's another link, this time to PISSAR (people in search of safe and accessible restrooms), a UCSB student group dedicated to making sure that bathrooms on campus are handicapped-and-transgender safe. Check it out on your campus or wherever you are: Are your bathroom entrances out in the open, or are they hidden away in a stairwell where people don't walk by very often? Do you have unisex bathrooms or boy-girl? Do you have an instance (this is my favorite, I found it at my school) where there is a boy's bathroom and a unisex handicapped bathroom right next to each other? Are the paper towel/tampon dispensers in your bathroom too high on the wall for a person in a wheelchair to reach? Anyway, enough of my ranting for this morning. This is such a silenced (people really don't like talking about restrooms usually, are we all really that shy?) and present problem, so it's good to talk about it.


erica said...

i've been amazed at some of the reactions since bentley's took the gender signs off the bathroom doors (although they've always been somewhat ignored)--a lot of people, i think especially women but nearly as many men, when you tell them they can use either one, look completely baffled, and look back at me with this incredulous "you mean i can really pee in a place where a man has peed? are you sure?" sort of look. it's really been interesting to see how protective some people can be of purist bathroom spaces.

PocaCosa said...

Several of the cafes on Haight St in San Francisco have intentionally ambigous bathroom doors. In general, I like small cozy places that just have one bathroom with one room, period; it's less space for the workers to clean and eliminates the need to care. At least, it seems more economically feasible than three separate restrooms. But if you have a huge establishment and need the space, it makes sense to have three.

You know how airports have "Family Restrooms?" So dads can take their daughters to pee and moms can take their sons... Why isn't just every restroom a family restroom?

That's so weird about Bentley's, I'm disappointed in Bentley's customers! But I shouldn't be shocked. The other day I was at a restaurant in Berkeley. There was a small one-person line for the women's room, so I went into the men's room. That one woman looked surprised. In Berkeley!!!

ammie said...

I'm glad some people responded; I tend to get a bit overwrought about this, so I'm glad othe people are thinking about it too. I am amazed at how strictly even the most unlikely people are of bathrooms, it seems like something that isn't really that hard to grasp. I think it comes down to what Erica said about it being interesting; it is interesting, but for most of us that's about all it is so we maybe don't spend a lot of time thinking about it in relation to ourselves. For transgendered people, it is a potentially awful part of every single day of their lives. No offense to Erica, of course, since I know you do think about such things, but probably a lot of your Bentley's customers don't because they don't have to.