On the surface, the same-sex public restroom debate seems to be solely a transgender issue. It’s the main reason why way too many places in the United States fail to provide them. Then there’s North Carolina, who famously made it illegal to use a restroom that doesn’t correspond to the gender you were assigned at birth. Conservatives fear that trans people are dangerous or some sort of threat to their cisgender counterparts. Yet, there are plenty of people who aren’t trans and would find that gender neutral bathrooms make their lives so much easier.
Angel Soft, a toilet paper company, recently began airing a heartwarming commercial featuring a single father raising a daughter. The minute-long ad features a sequence of clips of the duo’s interactions during various points in the girl’s life. Of course, being a toilet paper commercial, all the events took place in bathrooms. The very first clip shows the father standing in line for a women’s restroom with his infant daughter. After getting an odd stare from the woman behind him, he apologizes and explains that there’s no changing tables in the men’s restroom.
Though one could argue that to remedy the father’s awkward situation, there needs to be changing tables in both men and women’s restrooms (which is true), the commercial exemplifies one plight of single mothers raising boys and single fathers raising girls. When a child reaches a certain age, it becomes socially unacceptable to bring him or her into a bathroom designated for the opposite gender.
However, at that age, usually around four or five, children aren’t quite ready to use the toilets completely by themselves and an adult typically has to be nearby. At home and school, it’s fine for a child to be alone in a separate room from their parent, because they’re generally kid-friendly places with trusted adults. In other places, though, the adult can’t really send the child to the bathroom alone. There are plenty of things that could go wrong if five-year-olds were alone in public restrooms, which are filled with strangers and unprepared for kid mishaps.
Another problem with single parenthood and raising a child of the opposite sex is that, at some point, the child will want to express independence and go to the restroom alone. If the kid is old enough to do so, then that’s all fine and dandy. But, if he or she hasn’t really mastered peeing in the toilet without making yellow puddles on the floor, or holding in the number two so that their pants (and noses) are saved, then the lack of gender neutral bathrooms poses a great inconvenience.
The second group of individuals who would benefit from gender neutral public restrooms is the handicapped. Some can go alone, but it’s those who need help going to the bathroom that I’m referencing. Typically, disabled people who can’t go in one by themselves need help transferring to the toilet, assistance with their catheterization or colostomy bags. It’s not realistic for a handicapped person to make sure that there’s someone who’s the same sex and close enough to help them go to the bathroom when going out in public. There are situations in which a female will be with only males, such as being with male relatives, hanging out with guy friends or in a heterosexual relationship; same goes for males surrounded by only females. How awkward would it be for the handicapped person to go on a date and bring a third wheel just so that he or she can pee?
I fall into both categories of people described. I’m disabled and have to have help going to the bathroom, and my parents separated when I was really little. With my mom, I have very little trouble. However, when I’m with my dad, we have to go on a scavenger hunt to find family restrooms. Recently, we had to go halfway across the mall we were shopping at just because my eyeballs were floating, a.k.a. Southern slang for really had to pee. In addition, I have a stepfather who also helps me sometimes. So, one thing that’s at the back of my mind when I’m not with any females who can assist me is what I’m going to do once that chai latte I got at Starbucks hits my bladder.
Until there are gender neutral restrooms, there are several things that one can do. The first is to not drink anything, which is of course not the best idea. Second, holding it until going home, which could have disastrous and smelly consequences if that tactic fails. Another is to find a family restroom which, like I mentioned, can be like a scavenger hunt and some places might not even have one at all. Also, they’re single occupancy and occasionally not very clean because, well, kids aren’t known to be the tidiest people around.
Disabled people and children of opposite-sex single parents shouldn’t have to resort to another option just to relieve themselves. The push-back against gender neutral bathrooms is seen as discriminatory against those who are transgender, as well as gender nonconforming, gender fluid and any other identity that I might have forgotten to add. However, the discrimination is also against caretakers who are just doing what they’re supposed to—helping their child/spouse/friend/relative/patient use the toilet.
Whether supporters of segregated public restrooms aren’t aware of all those who are affected or just choose to ignore them, it’s still a topic that needs to be addressed. Transgender people may be found on the liberal side of things, but there are individuals in both political parties who either are or know someone who is a single parent or disabled. Whenever I see this issue come up, I wonder what the conservative opinion would be if the focus was put more on the groups that I talked about and if that would promote the cause better.