Friday, April 14, 2023

F ³: Bathroom Etiquette


In the university building there is a bathroom. It is a gender-neutral bathroom. There are five stalls with doors. Two are marked “Urinals”. The one to the far right is wider, it’s the accessible stall. At intermission audience members queue at the door. Students, adults. Parents with kids. 

It’s not the only bathroom in the building but it’s the one closest to the theatre.

The students come and go in this space with ease. Visitors have varying degrees of comfort. I’ve never seen anyone complain or express objection. It’s clear that it’s a new experience for some. But what’s important is that they’re all there to see a student production. That’s the point, not critiquing a public restroom.

In the Fall of 2019 this was labeled as a Women’s restroom. After the pandemic closures and the campus re-opened it had become a gender-neutral space. This last time I visited two of the stalls had been changed over to urninals and labeled as such. It’s a work in progress. 

The most important thing I should tell you is that it has always been clean, well-stocked with toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towels. All the fixtures work. It smells clean.  I mean, that’s what you really want to know about a public bathroom, right?

Last weekend as I waited my turn I spied paper notices posted to several of the mirrors over the sinks. I wondered what they said. I worried that they might have something to do with the fact that this is a gender-neutral space. Were they requests for respectful behavior because of some negative incidents? Was this an announcement that they’d be changing the bathroom back to single-gender status due to lack of acceptance or some stirred-up controversy?

The last year or so has been especially harrowing for LGBTQ+ people as a conservative backlash has swept statehouses and school boards across the country. In state after state the country is moving backwards, removing rights, taking every opportunity to criminalize people over issues of gender and sexuality. 

I stood in line in the gender neutral bathroom, worrying. Over-thinking. What kind of a world will these young people graduate into? Is it one that is worthy of their intense honesty and open-mindedness, fragile self-acceptance, and breathtaking creativity? Will they thrive?

Finally the moment came and I approached the sink to wash my hands. I read the sign.

Please do not wash your painting tools in these sinks. Use the sinks in rooms 117 and 118. Thank you. 

That was it. That was the sign that I had spent the last five to ten minutes worrying about. I smiled. Of course, I thought. After all, it is the Fine Arts building. The words were accompanied by clip-art images of paint rollers, brushes, and other artists’ tools.

If you are in college in the year 2023 you very likely know how to use a gender-neutral bathroom. It is no big deal. You have bigger things to think about. But you just may need reminders not to wash your messy paint brushes in the bathroom sinks. You are still young and you don’t always think things all the way through. College is college, after all. 

I really, really wanted to take a picture of that sign. But I knew that taking out my phone to photograph something in a relatively crowded bathroom was a creepy thing to do. So I am writing this piece to memorialize it. 

It matters that there are clean and well-stocked bathrooms that everyone can use. It matters that people who use them can treat each other with respect. I guess if I made a sign that’s what it would say.

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