IEET > Rights > Martine Rothblatt > PostGender
The Bathroom Bugaboo

If the law does bend and reform itself to eliminate the legal separation of people into males and females, what will become of sex-separate lavatories? Do not the genitals of a citizenry become a proper interest of the state when it comes to exercising excretory functions in public buildings? Is not the public restroom, with its separate urinals for men and makeup mirrors for women, proof that the apartheid of sex is necessary?

Questions such as these were also raised when African Americans sought equal rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Ubiquitous “whites only” and “coloreds” signs hung in front of separate restroom facilities throughout much of the South. Many people were enlightened enough to share a bus seat but drew an apartheid line on sharing a toilet seat.

In fact there is no need for sex-separate restrooms, and this can easily be accomplished without violating personal privacy. All that is needed is to remove apartheid-like “male” and “female” signs from the outside and install only closed-door stalls on the inside.

Several quasi-legal objections might be raised to unisex lavatories:

• Persons with penises will be discriminated against by losing access to “quick and dirty” stand-up urinals.
• Persons with vaginas will have to face toilet seats wet with urine from “sloppy shooters” or those too inconsiderate or lazy to lift a toilet seat.
• There will be an increase in restroom rape by placing people of different genitals together in a place where their genitals are exposed.

Starting with the alleged discrimination against persons with penises, this problem can be resolved immediately by placing a certain number of stand-up urinals inside closed-door bathroom stalls. Yet a better solution, however, is to install only sit-down toilets in public lavatories. Each sit-down toilet is usable by all genitalia, whereas stand-up urinals are designed for only one type of genitalia. So, in fact, it is stand-up urinals that are per se discriminatory. As to the extra thirty seconds it takes to drop one’s pants and sit down to pee—this seems a very small price to pay to ensure equal access to all restrooms by all people.

Of course, some persons may be too lazy to sit down to pee, or even to lift a toilet seat, or to aim halfway straight, thus imposing a seat-cleaning or crouching obligation on the next stall occupant. The solution to this problem is education. From childhood we need to train all children that it is civilized to sit down to pee, as part and parcel of a sex-free education. Today we train boys to stand up and pee as a sex discriminator. As every parent knows, the natural progression is from diapers to sit-down urination. Stand-up urination for people with penises is a way to say males are different (and better) in a patriarchal society.

A second possible solution is technology. Visitors to O’Hare Airport will recall that a push-button device on all toilets automatically cleans the toilet seat and dispenses a sanitary seat cover. Simple signs in front of each toilet, reminding the occupant to please sit down, may also be effective.

Restroom rape is a serious problem today, even with sex-separate bathrooms. It is pure speculation as to whether unisex bathrooms would increase restroom rape or decrease it by converting a “women’s space” attractive to rapists into a non-sexed public place. Generally rapists prefer seclusion. The thought that persons of any sex can enter any restroom at any time should discourage sexual violence in restrooms.

Heightened security, such as better night lighting, is one of the best tools to diminish rape. For about the cost of a single modern urinal, each public restroom could also be equipped with a continuous loop camera high above the exit door. This would have the same effect on discouraging restroom crime as when such cameras are installed elsewhere. If we place as much value on a person’s life as we do on a convenience store cash box or an ATM machine, then legislators should mandate automatic video surveillance of public restrooms. Legislation such as the Violence Against women Act (VAWA) sets a valuable precedent for spending federal money on facilities such as better outdoor lighting to enhance public safety.

The “bathroom bugaboo” presents no obstacle to the legal elimination of sexual apartheid. But today the law continues to enforce a separation of the sexes down to the urinal. In 1990 legal secretary Denise Wells was arrested in Texas for using the men’s restroom at a concert instead of waiting in a huge line for the women’s restroom. She was found not guilty by a mixed male/female jury and is now an advocate of “potty parity.” A dozen states mandate this feature in new buildings, ranging up to a required ratio of four to one female-to-male toilets in some California buildings. Laws requiring unisex lavatories on the European model, with adequate security features, would be less expensive to comply with and would also provide much relief to women faced with the indignity of long waits for a basic biological function. Such a change would also offer minimal consideration to dads out on the road with infants. Today the men face the insult of being unable to comfortably change their kids’ diapers in private, while changing areas are often “assumed necessary” in women’s restrooms.

The bathroom bugaboo is a legal problem because, as with race, restroom segregation reinforces social discrimination. It took laws to eliminate “whites only” lavatories. It took laws to mandate handicapped toilets. And it is taking laws to redress inadequate bathroom facilities for women. The best way to redress this harm, and to help cleanse society of sexual apartheid, is to pass laws that mandate secure, reasonably clean, unisex restrooms for all.

The new paradigm of a natural continuum of sexual identity provides a lot of work for lawyers in dismantling the old but omnipresent apartheid of sex. The elimination of sex as a basis for marriage, a label at birth, and a recurring checkbox in life will not come about easily. But the rewards are well worth the effort. Sexual identity lies at the heart of human expression. Eliminating the sexual shackles of today will spawn a revolution of gender creativity. All human beings will be able to live happier, more enriched lives.

This graphic signage blog does great honor to the Bathroom Bugaboo.

Martine Rothblatt is an IEET Fellow and is author of several books on satellite communications technology, gender freedom, genomics, and xenotransplantation.


I have no problem with unisex bathrooms, would certainly be more efficient from an architectural standpoint, but would like to point out that many of us are able to stand and urinate into a sit-down toilet without making a mess.

“Stand-up urination for people with penises is a way to say males are different (and better) in a patriarchal society.”

Lol. Sometimes feminists take plausible proposals, then reveal bizarre speculation for their reasoning.
Its almost like the Art Bell crowd who say things like “We need less government…” Ok, with you so far “ order to disempower the reptilian puppet masters”

Actually racial apartheid within public spaces is but a product of laws. Legislators caused the problem in the first place. And of course, they could not really solve it afterwards, they just cured some of its symptoms - because obviously politicians cannot change all the prejudices of their electors.

It is really not different with bathrooms. Many individuals (mostly women) would be horrified at the idea of sharing toilets with unknown subjects (mostly men). We can surely try to remove stupid laws. But we should not force unpleasant experiences on anyone. You could spend days trying to explain to a woman that men are not raping machines, that no male individual is going to bother them, or even notice them, in a shared restroom space. It won’t work.

The key is freedom of choice. If women want a separate bathroom, a space where men are not allowed - so be it. No problem. We do not need a law for that. Just let it be not the only legal option. The problem would be solved quickly, and all kind of new possibilities will spontaneously arise.

Another ‘solution’ that has been proposed is for ‘women’s’ clothing to be redesigned in such a way as to enable female-bodied people to pee while standing up as well.

Everyone can pee and shit sitting, but only men can pee standing, and only _real men_ can shit standing!!! (sorry I couldn’t resist;-)

It would be a complete nonsense to get rid of urinals. Equality should not be achieved wholly at the expense of efficiency (even if some compromises have to be made). The reason women’s lines are longer at the multiplex is only partly because it takes longer to go through the rigmarole involved in a sit-down toilet; it is also because there are less of them, because they take up more space. Space is money, as surely as time is.

The solution is the following. Urinals are available to anyone who prefers to pee standing up and does not mind her genitals being viewed by others. While in the short term this will mainly be hemen, taking advantage of the useful shape of our penises (as far as peeing is concerned), the price for using this facility is that we accept that this more public peeing space can also be used by women. (Perfectly possible, seen it done it at least one film.) Of we insist on privacy we can always stand in line. And in more luxurious facilities there could be a separate area for make-up.

(As an aside, here in Belgium it is not uncommon - though it is becoming more so - to have unisex toilets featuring urinals situated in the washbasin area that is also used by women.)

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