A wise man once asked, “Well, where have they been using the bathroom all this time?”
I remember the controversy with Target allowing customers to use the bathroom of the gender that they identified as. It was painful to see the links and comments flying through my social media feeds.
I had some classic mixed emotions about it. Initially, I thought “Just use the bathroom of whatever equipment you got down there. Why is this even a thing?” A narrow-minded response spurred by decades of programming that started in early childhood – probably as early as learning to speak. Programming that tells you boys do this and girls do that, these are boy colors, those are girl colors, men have these jobs, women have those jobs, etc. I don’t think children are responsible for understanding things that way. Children know what they’re taught. Adults, however, don’t get the same pass.
I read comments about people being concerned with the safety of themselves or their children. I saw people defending the ostracized. I saw anger, anxiety, outrage, and disgust. (I know how harsh comments’ sections can be on the internets, but I feel like I need to go there still not to always engage but to witness people’s honest selves. It’s a heads up for me. It’s putting my ear to the ground on what thoughts other human beings are carrying around.) I saw so much divide and blind hate. It seemed like a situation where no one on either side of the argument would be happy in the end.
I tried to imagine how tormented someone could be every day and how humiliating an incident could be for that person. I’d never chosen to think deeply about the topics (another way of saying I ignored them) of homosexuality, transgender, or gender identity. They happened to not affect me directly, so I wrote them off as deal with as needed. I vaguely recall a news personality mentioning “homosexual lifestyle” in an interview. Throughout the exchange, he mentioned the word lifestyle multiple times, and I thought to myself, “A lifestyle is a choice. Does this guy believe that someone chooses their sexual orientation?”. The more I thought on it, I started to understand that there are definitely people that believe someone can choose to be gay or not. How crazy is that? I like the color grey above any other color. I don’t know why it appeals to me, but every thing I own could be in greys, and I would be two thumbs up with that. A person has no more control over their sexual orientation than their favorite color. That’s hardwiring. You can’t just casually reprogram that. Haven’t you seen A Clockwork Orange? Something else that clicked in a very heavy, dark way was the idea that there were people everywhere that buy into the idea that sexual orientation or gender identity are things someone chooses. There’s religions that believe it. Yikes.
I predicted this fiasco would be the beginning of the end of public restrooms*. In my infinite imagination I saw male and female door signs piled up and burning in parking lots with cheerful shouting. I became nostalgic thinking I would one day miss the hustling, head-down shuffling us guys do in airport and movie theater bathrooms. I’d reminisce with my bros about standing at a trough style urinal at a college or high school stadium bathroom – the good ol days.
Soon enough we’ll say good-bye to the public restroom. Like car phones and VHS tapes, we’ll wonder how we ever lived that way. Most likely what happens is that bathrooms in public places will become individual toilet rooms with no gender identified. Sinks will remain communal similar to Newk’s Cafe setup (props to them for being ahead of the game on that one). The family conscious establishments will still keep 1 or 2 family restrooms big enough to park a stroller and fold down a changing table. Selfie engineers are gonna take a hit by being forced to take their bathroom selfies where the guys can watch or risk having a shiny toilet in their background. They’re a creative bunch that will figure out a way to manage.
While the restrooms will still be, by definition, public, they’ll be individual or private spaces. It’s fun entertaining the idea of who’s going to be first. I expect Target will lead the way for department stores, but after that particular group, it’s hard to predict who’s next. Schools, restaurants, parks, banks, airports, etc? Who knows?
Sure, eventually everyone gets on board. One of my co-workers suggested high-end restaurants will follow suit next implying that high dollar businesses would be among the first to make the changes. The point that places with both high-revenue and customer traffic are in the best position for a quick turnover is hard to argue.
I expect that high traffic, high concern places will be first to go private bathrooms: schools are at the top of that list then military boot camps (if they aren’t already). Thinking back to SANDS Everywhere elementary in Hartford, CT back in the 80s, we came out of the bathroom and washed our hands at a large half-circle shaped sink that had a rail we stepped on that turned on the water (WOW, how do I remember that?). Those will be back but with motion sensors. Eventually all public places will conform if a law isn’t imposed to speed them along. I expect the last of them will be those with the worst bathrooms like parks, bus stations, subways, malls, nightclubs, etc – the low budget/high traffic places. Gas stations are terrible, but most of them are ahead of the game and will just take down the gender signs.
I intentionally glossed over the harmful things that have been said to transgender and their supporters. I don’t consider it debate. My stance is pretty straight forward. We’re human beings. We’re the smartest animals, and we should be discovering ways to relate to each other instead of creating more ways to divide. It’s getting old – seriously. The stuff we pick out to separate each other is so fkn stupid. I feel like we could be so much more advanced as a species if we didn’t get stuck on ridiculous BS – war, terrorism, capitalism, and the discriminatory favorites: gender, religion, sexual orientation, skin color, and income class.
It’s the same frustration a parent has when the kids won’t get along. Like “Dummies, you’re on the same team. You gotta live and play together. You gotta share this house.” You just want the rest of the humans to get it together, so we can get on with building intercontinental highways, developing speed-of-light transportation, advancing medicine, and producing universally affordable clean energy. You just want to yell at them to THINK BIGGER!
Big picture thinking** feels good. I’ve been trying it on for a while. We’ll watch the communal bathroom system slowly disappear. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. I don’t see another way for this all to play out. It’s gonna be great for the plumbing business.
* Note: “Public restroom“ in this context is understood to mean communal public restroom.
** Note: Author John C. Maxwell gives some great advice on the practice of big picture thinking in the book Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work, chapter 4. Ask me for a detailed review; I read it regularly. I love the book and the way it engages you to consider the ways thoughts can affect your actions. The theme is cognitive awareness.