Bathrooms: A privilege or a right? (Blogmas 18)

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219vjoThe bathroom. We all go. Its main purpose should be for #1 and #2, although many other activities may happen in a bathroom. (I’m thinking preening, washing up, and the like- get your mind out of the gutter; although yes, sometimes sex in bathrooms happens.) Arguably, the bathroom is the most important space in any home or public area. Because when you gotta go, you gotta go! Know what I’m sayin’, dawg? Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the fuss over the use of public bathrooms and a rant has been brewing.

219v59In the US, there are states actually passing legislation around who can use public bathrooms. Although it seems odd, let’s not forget that at one point, the US had segregated bathrooms in some states for Black and White people. Now the debate has turn to transgender people and which bathrooms they are allowed to use. Some states are requiring people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex. There’s actually been cases where transgender people using the bathroom have been stopped and told they aren’t allowed in the bathroom, or harassed. Maybe this is because I am Canadian, but I can’t even IMAGINE how someone has the audacity to go up to someone and say, “Excuse me, I notice that you used the men’s room, but you aren’t really a man. You are a woman, so you have to use the women’s bathroom.” First of all, how do you know that the “woman” isn’t just a really feminine looking man? How do you know?  How are they even going to enforce such laws? Are they going to hire the genital police to guard the doors to public bathrooms? “Pull down your pants, we need to be sure that your parts match the stick-person sign.” “Hey, the sign lady has a dress on, and you’re wearing pants, so you go to the men’s room.”

219vc3Furthermore, why do we even need to assign bathrooms by gender and/or sex? Especially in those one-room bathrooms. Men and women use the same bathrooms in our homes, so why do public washrooms have to be genderized? When I go to the gas station, and I’m on the road a lot, I’m going to whichever bathroom is open. I have used the “Men’s” room too many times to count. Why would I wait in a line behind a bunch of ladies (many of whom are going to spend at least 5 minutes in there grooming after doing their business) when I can skip across the hall into the empty men’s room? I wouldn’t and I don’t. Yes, I usually have to put the toilet seat down, but that’s just a minor inconvenience and I always use toilet paper to protect my hand from man germs. And, yes, I’ve surprised many men waiting to use the “Men’s” room when a somewhat attractive blonde chick comes busting out the door instead of the man they were expecting to see, but I don’t care. When you gotta go, you gotta go!

219vplIn Canada, there has also been controversy for people with illnesses such as Crohn’s, colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), incontinence and the like who are often denied access to so called “public bathrooms.” In Saskatchewan in 2016, an elderly man using a walker who was on the verge of peeing in his pants asked to use the bathroom at a gas station and was denied access by employees. In fact, the ability for people with disabilities to access “public” bathrooms is so limited that Crohn’s and Colitis Canada has a campaign called, “Go here”  which recruits private businesses to keep their bathrooms, uh, well, open for business. In addition, people can download an app on their smart-phone to find businesses where they can do their business and a card to show that says, “I am a Crohns, Colitis, IB sufferer and I need to go to the washroom.” Can you imagine? As if it’s not bad enough to have an illness that causes frequent bouts of explosive diarrhea, but in order to use a so-called “public” bathroom, you have to show a stranger a card that basically tells them that you are about to have explosive diarrhea!

219vfbAgain, I do a lot of road trips, and I’m lucky to say that businesses have never harassed me about using their bathroom. I always just duck into a gas station, fast food joint, or a Best Buy in order to relieve myself. But there have been some places of note where finding a bathroom was a problem. These are generally the tourist attraction towns, like St. Andrews, New Brunswick, the Halifax waterfront in Nova Scotia and Freeport, Maine. I understand that the businesses in these high traffic areas don’t want the general public freeloading in their toilets, but at the same time, when you gotta go, you gotta go! My favorite line is when I go into a particular place, for example, a tourist bureau in small-town Maine, it may have been called Freeport or something like that, and when I ask to use their “restroom” (as Americans seem to call it, although to equate what goes on in there with “resting” seems a little odd to me) the response is, “We don’t have a restroom.” I call bullshit on that! My next question is naturally, “then where do you go to the bathroom?” And generally the response is that the bathroom is for employees only. As someone who worked a stint in a tourist industry where we had access using a key to a small port-a-potty that was for employees only, if someone ever came in with the pee dance or that strained/worried look of, “I have a poker,” I always gave them the key. It’s called empathy. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Transgender people and people with disabilities and I would argue many seniors as well (anyone with toileting challenges, really) are facing discrimination regarding the right to use the bathroom. And it should be a right, but it is a right that we seem to be treating like a privilege. It’s about time we acknowledged the most basic human quality we all have in common: we all use the bathroom. Everybody pees. Everybody poops. There’s no denying it; so how about we stop denying people the ability to get their business done and to get it done with dignity. No laws are needed here; just basic human compassion and empathy.

OH