When you find yourself barreling down the corridors of Portland State with an irritated bladder full of spent coffee, looking for a bathroom that is in service, I think you will agree with me that it is time to desegregate the restrooms.
After discovering the perfectly lovely gender-neutral restroom on the fourth floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union, I have to ask why we ever segregated the restrooms in the first place. For those unfamiliar with the idea of a gender-neutral restroom—allow me to explain.
Restrooms in public buildings have, in the past, been segregated between male and female. The reason for this is so that men can maintain the ability to pass water while standing and women can be free from the discomfort of having men in the restroom—a point to which we will return to later.
The problems with this model are obvious. If Brown vs. The Board of Education taught us anything, it is that separate and equal is not a real thing. It’s true, womens’ restrooms are cleaner and generally don’t smell like the wall outside of a dive bar like mens’ rooms invariably do. When there is only room for three restrooms on every floor, the choice of which kind to have two of must be made.
Segregating the restrooms also means that in order to serve what must have been assumed to be an exclusively bi-gendered student population, there would need to be an equal distribution of male and female restrooms. This means two restrooms taking up space, sometimes on radically different ends of a building.
Furthermore, the assumption that the PSU population would comfortably fit into one of two genders is, at best, faulty. Based solely on the sign on the door to the restroom, PSU is forcing students who might not identify with one or the other of the represented genders to use one of the two or three physical disability restrooms, or the ever-luxurious gender-neutral restroom in SMSU.
Besides pure lack of representation and the discomfort a person who doesn’t identify as male or female would feel having to use or choose between inappropriately gendered restrooms, there is also the very real threat of verbal or even physical abuse if those occupying the restroom feel so vulgarly inclined.
In order to better serve the PSU student population, I think it is time that we made all of the bathrooms on campus gender neutral. The sign on the door would be a toilet—very representative of what is inside. There would be no urinals. All the stalls would have those uncomfortable gaps closed for privacy.
Everyone could use all of the restrooms, and multitudes of bladders and bowels could be relieved in a much more leisurely manner. The amount of available restrooms would double or sometimes triple on every floor. You wouldn’t have to remember, painfully, which direction held the appropriately-gendered restroom.
A trip to the restroom wouldn’t mean a mad dash, mid-class field trip to the next floor. Because of this, students would be able to relieve themselves more expediently in order to return to class lectures in a timelier manner. Lines for high-traffic restrooms would ease because of newly available relief outlets.
Gender-neutral restrooms would of course come with their own set of challenges. It would be paramount in a gender-neutral bathroom situation to ensure the physical and mental safety of every person who would use the restroom.
Keeping such sensitivity in mind, it would be necessary to make sure, should violence occur, that restroom stalls could be safely locked with floor-to-ceiling walls so that violating photos could not be taken. This, in addition to the increased amount of potential good samaritans by virtue of more frequent foot traffic, should prevent any physical or emotional violence that could occur.
If one wanted to go even further to protect people at their most vulnerable, then the addition of a panic button to the hand-washing area that would summon campus public safety would be a welcome addition.
None of these measures would aid those who have already suffered from abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder that might be triggered by seeing a person of another gender in the restroom. I feel that we have already done these people a disservice by not having a sufficient number of single-use restrooms where they would be able to go about their business without having to worry about harassment.
While I am sure that I am leaving out some group or another, I cannot forget to mention persons with physical disabilities. The advantage of a gender-neutral restroom is that a person with a caregiver would no longer have to clear the restroom if the caregiver was of another gender, and when you need to use the facilities, every second counts.
Restrooms are not something that any people or group should be displaced from. While my knowledge about gender equality is admittedly limited, I don’t think it takes much thought to realize the benefits of having more restrooms available for everyone of every gender to use.