“There are more upstairs,” she said. “The line might be shorter,” so I abandoned the ten-person backlog only to find an even bigger wait on the second floor, but it was too late to go back. Bladder-bloated conference-goers kept flowing out of the arena. I claimed a spot at the end of what looked like the shortest line, where one man and a dozen or so women waited ahead of me.

The university’s dusty scarlet signs had proclaimed the downstairs bathrooms to be admit-one, any-gender-any-time affairs. But the bathrooms on this floor, which handled the blackwater of thousands of spectators at any given event, required the efficiency of stalls. Relief en masse; pee, flush, repeat. Men and Women plaques normally regulated entry up here, but the conference organizers had covered them with paper printouts: ALL GENDER BATHROOM.

The line inched forward, and more people joined behind me: shes and hers with hips and dresses and long hair, or maybe theys or hes, but only two of us looked “male” in the sense a speaker had used the term yesterday. “I’m an alpha,” she had said, “so sometimes I’ll get this voice during our meetings—this loud, assertive, male voice—and my co-pastor will give me a look, and I’ll realize I need to tone it down and listen.”

The line inched forward, and I crossed the threshold of a four-stall bathroom with a row of unattended urinals I didn’t think I should use. When Prince William married Kate Middleton, I camped outside Buckingham Palace with a sleeping bag and granola bars, smack in the middle of a sixteen-hour sardine crowd, not a bathroom in sight. Around the fourteen-hour mark, someone behind me said, “I’m using my water bottle,” and a girl with him said, “Chad, don’t,” but Chad shouted to everyone, “I’m from the USA! The You-Can-Pee-Anywhere!” I don’t know if he actually did it, but I didn’t like being American in that moment.

The line inched forward, and the man ahead of me processed into a stall, and I became the line’s token representative of the “men in women’s bathrooms” debate, which is not a “women in men’s bathrooms” debate. Which one is the child molester? The online Safeguarding curriculum (a requirement for Episcopalians who work with children), accompanies this question with five headshots: two women, two men, and a teenage boy. Every guess yields the same answer: “You can’t spot child molesters by the way they look,” caveated with, “Child molesters are most often men but sometimes women.” Less-than-cubicle walls exposed ankles and calves—Victorian-era cleavage. How many other novitiates here were worrying about voyeurism or a urine fetish or whatever other reason had pulled me into this bathroom—me who shared a gender with Catholic priests, creepy uncles, and locker-room politicians? “For some people,” the morning’s speaker had said, “a God called ‘father’ doesn’t sound like good news.”

The line inched forward, farther from the private bathrooms downstairs and the traditional, binary ones at the south end of the building. I’ve peed behind dumpsters, on beaches, in alleys, gardens, parking lots, yards—and yet I was here, in this bathroom, I-can-pee-anywhere-ing in a space created for people who can’t.

But how many here didn’t want a space set apart, how many here had picked this bathroom because it wasn’t a space apart? If I retreated to a men’s room—a familiar, comfortable lineup of strangers with their dicks out—would my abstention echo Mike Pence’s refusal to meet with any woman besides his wife?

To normalize poop and help potty-train children, illustrated animals and humans defecate across the twenty-seven pages of Educational Development Corporation’s best-known book. I discovered Everybody Poops in high school, because it was funny. Everyone poops, but everyone drinks water, too, and that doesn’t make us laugh, and we don’t have separate drinking fountains. They’re different things, or maybe just different times.

I can’t remember the PE teacher’s talk that precipitated my class’ first shower in the junior high locker room, where everyone except the weird kids stripped down and didn’t talk about dicks, and where no one used the one-man shower tucked in the corner like time-out, but I know the teacher had to give one.

The line inched forward, and I let the line happen to me, like it happened to everyone else. When a stall opened, I entered. I peed, flushed. I washed my hands without looking at anyone, and when the paper towel jammed, I left it and dried my hands on my jeans on the way out.

“Thanks for letting us use your bathroom,” a woman said, and I must have looked helpless because she added, “This is usually the men’s.”

7 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Oh my Lord, Josh, this made me laugh!

    Reply
  2. Kyric Koning

    This bathroom talk is getting deep. Way to distill the profound from the “profane.”

    Reply
  3. Abby Zwart

    We have two bathrooms in the teacher’s lounge at school. One is a door-ed room with a single toilet and a sink. It’s labelled men’s. One is a room with a stall IN IT separating the single toilet from the sink. It’s labelled women’s. I will readily use whichever room is not occupied, and I notice other women teachers do, too. I’ll occasionally get a surprised look when I exit from a guy waiting for his turn. However, I’ve never seen a male teacher use the room labelled women’s.

    I don’t know where this fits into your piece, but it feels related.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      This feels very related. Thanks for provoking more thoughts, Abby.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        When I worked at a wine bar, we had two identical single stall bathrooms marked men and women. Way more women customers, so I often use the men’s. On a side note, women’s was usually worse to clean.

        Reply
        • Avatar

          I’ve heard that from a few people, that women’s bathrooms are often worse to clean than men’s. I have no evidence myself to contribute, but it makes me wonder why the opposite is the stereotype.

          Reply
  4. Avatar

    Love the humor in this!

    Reply

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