When I first when to the male’s bathroom, I was very strategic about it. I decided to go in the middle of a class time on the fourth floor of the CCM building, which doesn’t have a lot of classrooms on it in the first place. To my relief, the bathroom was empty, and I went in there to do my business. With my pants at my ankles, my heart was pounding the entire time. I felt extremely vulnerable. What if someone walked in there and saw my shoes? What would I do if I came face-to-face with a boy? That’s not something I had ever been concerned about, but quickly I began to consider the worst possible scenarios. I immediately regretted choosing a class project that would make pissing so stressful.
When I asked groups of ten people randomly selected from the cafeteria, two out of ten guys told me that they’d be uncomfortable seeing a woman in their bathroom, whereas four out of ten girls said they’d be uncomfortable. Essentially, more than half the people I asked wouldn’t care, but most cited that they would find it “weird”.
I used the men’s bathroom two more times at Champlain College after that before I decided the stress wasn’t worth it. Even if it was worth like, 65% of my grade or something. A few days later however, I was at the movie theater and as I felt the urge, I also was feeling like I’d really wussed out in terms of my final project. So, I tried it again. As I went in, I received a weird look from an older gentleman standing at the sink almost immediately. I went with my gut reaction and immediately widened my eyes, saying something like, “Shit, wrong bathroom.” I left, laughing nervously. I regret not going through with it, I guess, because who gives a shit? But I didn’t do it.
Why, once society has designated rooms as “male” and “female”, am I so nervous to go in the wrong room? Aren’t they just rooms—or are they?
The debate about segregated bathrooms feels fairly new, especially since Obama passed the declaration under Title IX to let transgender and gay people use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable with at any government funded institution (schools, post offices, so on). However, the concept of gender-segregated dates back centuries.
The first gender-segregated bathrooms were established in France in the 1700s. In the 1800s, they passed a law in Massachusetts that when “male or female persons are employed in the same factory or workshop” they had to have a specific amount of designated male and female “water-closets”. Over the next three decades, each state would pass it’s own version of that law.
A common assumption would be that these laws came about because of the differences in male and female genitalia, however, Terry Kogan, a professor at the University of Utah, claims that this is not the case. Kogan, who has done extensive research on sex segregation, explained that these laws likely had to do with a woman’s social anxiety about her place in the world. According to Kogan, they made these bathrooms with nice curtains and comfortable seating so women would be more at ease and have a safe space to go to.
In a sense, that makes sense. Inherently, leaving class or taking a break from work to go to the bathroom is essentially “taking a break”. If I have to pee during class, it’s not uncommon for me to walk across campus to pee in the restroom of my choice. It’s my time, I should take that where I want to. That might be odd, but it would explain why this project was so stressful for me. I just wanna pee on my own terms and the idea of peeing in a space that was someone else’s was not fun.
Of course, views toward women have changed since the time women first entered the workforce, but it’s unlikely that the system of segregated bathrooms will ever change, despite the LGBTQ+ movement for more gender-neutral bathrooms. This is because of old plumbing codes that dictate how many bathrooms for a building and designate those bathrooms as separate for men and women. Amazingly, many of these old codes allow for more toilets in men’s restrooms—and I think it’s safe to say that judging by the lines at a women’s bathroom, this concept is ridiculous.
I know that I personally have no problem with gender-segregated bathrooms, but when I used the men’s bathroom, I was terrified of being called out—anxious to face confrontation when I really just had to pee. I can’t even begin to understand what trans and non-binary people go through every day in order to use the bathroom. The idea of being called out for using the wrong bathroom gave me so much anxiety that I quit my project, I can’t imagine how stressful it would be worry about getting called out for using the correct bathroom. I’d probably just piss myself instead of face that.
When I did my project, I didn’t really consider the implications or a larger social message—I didn’t even really choose it myself, just a few people in my class seemed very invested and I figured it’d be easy to write about. I didn’t really think I’d give a fuck about using the guy’s bathroom but as the date to start my project neared, I got really anxious. What if someone got really mad? What if I made people uncomfortable? Would I have to see a dick?
Apparently the chances of seeing a dick are pretty slim, but it happens.
“If you don’t want to see anything, don’t use the bathrooms by the dining hall,” I was told by senior Michael Hamilton. “Urinals there are kind of sketchy.”
I used safe CCM bathrooms, but I was still pretty nervous for the entirety of my project, which I why I quit three bathrooms in. I was just uncomfortable, and I didn’t belong. It wasn’t my bathroom. Having to use the wrong bathroom sucks, which is in part why Obama’s Title IX ruling is good—let people use the bathroom they are comfortable with, let them be comfortable while they piss. I’m not a guy, so I didn’t feel comfortable in the guy’s bathroom. It had nothing to with my genitalia, I was just uncomfortable and unhappy.
Sure, I was a little afraid and anxious of confrontation, but the odds of any real confrontation playing out were probably pretty slim. If someone was really upset, I could’ve said it was a class project and it would’ve been fine. Trans and non-binary people face harsher circumstances for just trying to be comfortable in their own space.
“It’s easy to identify a problem, but not a solution,” my dad told me when I asked him about it. “We’ll figure it out, it’s just gonna take time. And stop using the men’s bathroom.”