When I feel fear about using a public restroom, it’s fear that the last person didn’t flush. Or fear that others may hear embarrassing sounds come out of my stall. Fear that the line is longer than I can deal with. Fear that there’s germs everywhere. The only time I have ever been afraid in a public restroom, and that fear was of other people, it was because it was crowded and it occurred to me how easily someone could snag my purse if I wasn’t careful.
That’s largely because I’m privileged. I’m a cis woman who looks like a woman, so nobody blinks an eye when I go into the women’s restroom. (A “cis” or “cisgender” person is someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned with at birth.) It’s interesting to me that this privilege is afforded to me based on how I look and not how I behave, act, or otherwise exist in the world, but that’s a thought I’ll expound on another time.
Anyway. I don’t know how it feels to be truly afraid of others in the bathroom — afraid of being harassed, afraid of being assaulted. I can only imagine how that feels. And I imagine that it is quite scary.
Here’s the thing, though: I do not believe I have anything to fear from transgender people in the restroom with me. I know this because I have shared restrooms with transgender people, knowingly and probably unknowingly too. We were all just in there to do our business. So I have a hard time understanding why anyone might be afraid of a using the same restroom as a transgender person (unless you’re afraid of people in the restroom in general). I think someone who is transgender — or appears to be transgender — probably has more to fear from others in the restroom than the other way around.
As an elementary school teacher, I have had to deal with bathroom issues before. Sometimes you have kids who, it turns out, skip the part where you’re supposed to wash your hands. Sometimes you get huge puddles or piles of paper towels. One time I saw a sink become separated from the wall. I won’t get into “Tales of the Mad Pooper,” but the epithet “Mad Pooper” has been used in my school career over multiple years and in multiple buildings.
Sharing restrooms is not the biggest bathroom issue facing the grade levels I teach. Everyone at this age is learning about respecting privacy, and establishing and enforcing personal boundaries. The biggest difference between elementary school restrooms is the urinals, which I don’t think are necessary. (They also attract other issues, like Mad Poopers.) (Then again, as a woman, I might not be aware of the full pros/cons of urinals.) I think we could probably switch to unisex restrooms for the most part — maintain some that are for one user at a time, for people who require more privacy.
I can understand why people might need to revisit their guidelines for older students, especially once adolescence becomes a bigger part of school life, and if students change in a locker room on school premises. But I think people are forgetting what bathrooms are actually for. They’re places for us to poop and pee and change out used menstrual products. We can wash our hands in there! Mirrors are a bonus if we want to check something about our appearances. Why can’t we just let people peacefully use the bathroom they are comfortable using? There’s always a chance that someone could take advantage of restrooms, sure, but being transgender does not make a person more likely to be an attacker. Harassment and assault are already illegal anyway, regardless of where they occur. I suspect we only worry more about bathrooms because we already feel vulnerable in them. If anything, bathroom bills seem to seek to protect members of the majority from experiencing discomfort rather than experiencing harassment or assault. And they do so at the expense of people who do not appear to be clearly one gender or another (some transgender people “pass,” and some cis or androgynous people may not). Ultimately, I do not believe my comfort is above anyone else’s safety and dignity.
Additionally, I do not understand how a bathroom bill can be consistently enforced. We never even caught the Mad Pooper, after all.