Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Importance of gender-neutral restrooms

So life in NYC is exciting. There are tons of things to do, a variety of people to do things with, and access to culture all around. Yet, close-minded folks still abound.

Friday night a group of us went out for drinks, and found ourselves in a trendy martini bar on the lower west side. Beautiful outfits surrounded me, fancy people talking about fancy things, while sipping their cosmos. Not my usual beer-drinking comfort zone, but it was cool nonetheless. I am open to new things.

My dirty martini was much stronger than anticipated, and I stumbled back to the bathroom, and thus elbowing through a crowd who did not even notice that there were others in the bar.

There were two red doors. Both boasted RESTROOM. Neither was specifically assigned to a gender. I liked that. In a city where millions of people live amongst one another, it is important to have options; to not quickly throw someone in to a blue or pink box based on their biological sex.

The woman waiting in line in front of me apparently did not agree.

Donned in a short, all white dress – with her collar popped just so – she looks at me and asks, “Why can’t they just have a ladies and a men’s room?”

Well maybe, I tell the woman with the valley-girl voice, the bar is trying their best to be progressive; letting folks know that you can be whom you want, when you want…even in the public restrooms.

Thinking I was enlightening the young woman, I began getting excited about sharing more of my (important) knowledge, and passion for breaking gender lines, until she looked at me; wide-eyed.

“Ew. Gross,” she remarked.

And with that she disappeared in to the next door that opened – a tall, drunk man stumbling out before her.

Across America transgender folks are begging and pleading for a change. The Seattle Times reported on two female-to-male mall-goers who were not only kicked out of the shopping plaza for using the “wrong” restroom, they were also marched around the mall by security guards.

In my undergrad, I wrote for my college’s paper, where I reported about how the campus did not offer even one gender neutral restroom for its students, staff, faculty or visitors, even though it boasted about being diverse on the school’s Web site.

There is no federal law that mandates the inclusion of restrooms where all genders can feel safe, so it is up to businesses, schools and cities to implement gender-neutral restrooms themselves.

I contend that the more commonplace these restrooms are, the more likely folks, such as the woman who remarked at the icky-ness of a male or female using the same commode, will ease up the desire to have everything neatly labeled and put in to a box.