The Toilet Treatise

Sep 11, 2013 by


Gender neutral restrooms have been around for a long time, only we used to just call them restrooms

Recently California State University Long Beach has been trying to re-brand itself as an LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersex and Queer)-friendly school.  One of the physical changes that the school is making is designating certain public restrooms and unisex as well as ADA (American with Disabilities Act) – accessible.[1]  It’s basically a private bathroom in which only one person enters the room at a time, and anyone can use it.  A lot of public and private-owned buildings in Europe have bathrooms like this, although judging from the age of the buildings I doubt it can be said it was specifically done for gender neutrality purposes.  The reason why these older European buildings tend to have gender-neutral bathrooms is either because 1) they do not have enough space for gender-specific restrooms or 2) they are built with comfort in mind rather than expediency.

What do I mean by expedient bathrooms?  I mean the idea of having ten loosely boxed-off toilets and five sinks in one room, so people can line up and take whichever amenity needed is next available.  It’s an industrialization, a sort of assembly line of a very personal and private act of one’s day.  Because we consider relieving oneself to be a private matter, we are uncomfortable being in such a pseudo-private place with other people.  This is why we created gender-specific bathrooms:  because perhaps we can feel better about basically urinating in public if we are around people who have the same “equipment” as us and are presumably not going to look at us directly.  I don’t know how natural this whole system is; I was very, at times extremely uncomfortable using public restrooms up until high school, so for me it was not natural at all.

FileItem-285425-bathroom_LO_02When we try to make things more expedient, we have to have a certain level of standardization in order to make the process go more smoothly.   The problem is with public restrooms is that they force people to dichotomize themselves in order to fit into a specific definition of human that may or may not be accurate.  It’s uncomfortable not only because of the lack of privacy, but because of the lack of leeway for different identities.   If, however, we put comfort before expediency and had more restrooms that were gender-neutral, then both problems would be taken care of with one solution.

[1] Brian Addison, “CSULB Creates 11 Gender Neutral, Publicly Accessible Bathrooms,” Long Beach Post, (September 11, 2013), <>

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  1. Gerber

    Two problems I have with this:
    1) Throughout history, restrooms have been a long box with lines of holes in it where people would sit next to each other. I think this idea of a public restroom is not industrialization per se so much as recognition of fact 2.
    2) When you have a bathroom where one person can go in at a time, it may be luxurious, but keep in mind you have eliminated two other stalls to do this, at least. With those two stalls eliminated, people have less access to restrooms, because they would be constantly full. Luxury is nice where it is possible, such as low population areas in Europe. However, this is more a recognition to luxury would come at the cost of access, and the necessity of access overrides luxury.

  2. Heather Malone

    Some public restrooms I have seen feature separate rooms for the toilets that are nong-endered but are only near the size of a bathroom stall, and have sinks in a public area right next to these “toilet rooms.” If we built bathrooms like this, we could still have a normal amount of toilets but allow for more privacy. Also, since the restrooms would be non-gendered, we would not have to deal with the common problem of women waiting in line forever while the men’s room is half empty. So traffic would be streamlined, privacy would be increased, and no one has to deal with any awkwardness concerning gendered restrooms.

  3. Gerber

    And take out the urinals? The reason men don’t take as long is because of urinals. Also, it depends what you mean by separate rooms. If you mean that the stall wall merely extends higher, people would feel awkward sharing a restroom. If you mean dry wall, It would take up a lot more room. Plus, even if you had the separate rooms, I doubt women would ever feel comfortable entering a public restroom ever again in this country. How many times do you encounter broken stalls? Imagine if the lock to one of these broke and a man, not knowing it was broken walked into the stall while a woman who did not know either was there. She would scream and he would be arrested for sexual assault or something along the line. And, even if locks were repaired the instant someone found out they broke, they are used so often that they would constantly break and every day five people across the nation (at least five) would have a man entering their stall or a woman entering. When it is someone of the same gender, it isn’t as big a deal cause the probability that it was on purpose is low. However, everyone would assume it was on purpose and it poses too many risks in that regard.

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