Thursday, April 21, 2016

How to solve the problem of bathrooms and gender: Privacy for everybody!

My memories of sixth grade: Moving to a new town, starting middle school, and being herded into group showers with a bunch of naked boys I’d just met.

It’s not a pleasant memory. After a lifetime of being educated on modesty, I suddenly found myself thrust into the most immodest of situations: The requirement that we take showers at the end of our P.E. classes. The boy’s locker room at my new middle school was cramped and had one big shower with a half-dozen nozzle for considerably more than a half-dozen boys. Exacerbating the discomfort? Some of us were hitting puberty faster than others.

Some of us, like me, were hitting it a little later.

That wasn’t the only upsetting feature of the experience. There was the kid who, after showering, put his socks on before putting his underwear. Who does that? Worse yet: My experience with an older kid — I think he’d been held back at least once — who had, to my tender eyes, the body of man: He loomed over me, freakishly hairy in all the spots you’d expect, with muscles that God never quite chose to bestow upon me. Whichever nozzle I managed to claim, even briefly, was the one he decided should be his own.

Ever had to fight naked in the showers? There’s nothing good about it.

All this makes me think that we’re trying to answer the wrong question in the current debate over what bathrooms should be used by which people of which gender identities. The real question is this: Why do we expect people of any gender or orientations to place themselves in a situation where they might be regularly expected to see somebody else’s genitals — or be seen?

Why should anybody have to give up that privacy?

Philadelphia, where I live, has addressed the bathroom issue — at least partially — with this requirement: All public single-stall bathrooms are gender neutral. That’s a good start.

In larger institutions — schools, arenas, office buildings — bathrooms are designed with the convenience of the building owner, not the privacy of the user, in mind. Perhaps that should change.

I’m not suggesting that we rip out all bathrooms and shower facilities and replace them with single-stall private facilities. Well, yes I am. But: Only as a requirement of renovation, or of new construction. There’s no reason I should have to risk my penis being seen just because I use the bathroom in a school. Is this a perfect solution? Probably not. But it should go a long way toward eliminating the underlying debate.

Let’s change the terms of the bathroom debate. Let’s give everybody maximum privacy.

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