Bathroom fears

Texas’ legislature is currently in special session to consider, among other things, a bill to protect you from going to a public toilet next to someone who was not born into the gender graphically depicted on the bathroom door through which you and they have recently passed.

You know. Stick-figure-in-a-dress or stick-figure-in-pants. It’s universal.

[Confession: I did violate this once, in Austin. I had just finished a long drive during which I had consumed a very large soft drink. When I pulled up at the hotel where I was going to a meeting, I dashed into the lobby, found the restrooms and, in my haste, took a wrong turn. I thought it unusual that there were no urinals, but hey, it was Austin. I entered a stall, took care of my business, and was washing my hands when I noticed vending machines on the wall behind me. I thought it highly unusual that they would sell feminine products in the mens’ room. Then, the “Ah-hah!” moment. Sheepishly (actually, gazelleishly) I dashed out, looked at the door behind me and confirmed my fears, then looked around to see if anyone had observed me. If this incident is the cause of the current brouhaha at the Capitol, I deeply apologize to all my fellow Texans.]

That little story, by the way, brings to approximately three the number of confirmed cases of bathroom-gender-jumping. I don’t think it matters to the crusaders that it’s almost always inadvertent. People like me must be stopped, through every available civil and criminal means.

The mere possibility that something like this could happen makes some legislators want to station armed guards at every bathroom door to check birth certificates and compare them to, uh, equipment. I can’t see those jobs getting a flood of applicants, but protecting the God-given bathroom privacy of every red-blooded, single-gendered American is worth a lot. This sudden, overwhelming threat to bathroom privacy has even kept the Texas Senate from dealing with less important issues, like funding public schools.

What could be worse than being at the urinal and some lady in a red dress comes and stands next to you? What if he/she doesn’t know that guys in that position don’t talk to each other? What if he/she doesn’t know guys don’t look at each other, either? Especially not at each other’s, uh, equipment? You’d hope it’s one of those restrooms where they frame today’s sports page over the urinal, so you could just read and avoid looking at him/her. But it could get ugly. And if it’s a lifestyle page, you better check and make sure you’re in the right restroom.

If you’re a woman, what greater nightmare could there be than to have a woman dressed like a dude, or a dude dressed like a woman, enter the stall next to you? (Okay, it could be worse. They could be wearing the same dress as you.) If you’re in a stall, you might not see them, but most of the time the door has enough of a crack that you get a glimpse as they pass. Either way, you can see their shoes, and women can tell a lot from shoes. Oh sure, they’d close and latch the stall door, but then you’d just sit there and imagine what he/she is doing in there! If you can’t imagine it, just stand on the toilet seat and look over the partition! You’ll probably be deeply offended! Him/her too!

Of course, in some scenarios, the offenders may actually be in the bathroom of their birth gender, which has been changed, and thus in compliance with the proposed law although their appearance indicates otherwise. They’re the true targets of this law. We don’t want them in the restroom of their new gender. We want them in the restroom of their original gender. But what if their dress and appearance matches the stick-figure on the bathroom door, but their equipment is not original? This cannot be determined by a superficial glance. We may all have to start carrying our birth certificates at all times.

In any case, just thinking about these horrors has a few lawmakers, and everyone else in their echo chamber, in a complete tizzy, unable to think about anything else.

I have LONG considered public restrooms extremely scary places. In movies, all kinds of bad stuff happens in public restrooms. Guys are always getting knifed, shot or beat up, threatened, blackmailed or otherwise mistreated in there. Sometimes they walk in on a drug deal, or catch James Bond peeling off his rubber face, or the Mission Impossible force is in there tunneling into the Vatican or something like that.

When it comes to bathroom business, like Superman I prefer a fortress of solitude. In fact, the series of doors that slam shut behind Maxwell Smart as he enters his office while the opening credits roll strikes me as just about right. My first choice is to take care of that business at my house. Only the direst emergency can force me into a public stall, and when it does, I enter in abject terror.

I’ve come to appreciate the “family” restroom — a one-fixture facility with a locking door. If forced into a multi-stall situation, you just hope no one comes in. If someone is already in there, you have a little bit of an upper hand in that you can choose your stall, and you know he’s nervous about you. But if you go in alone, get started and then someone comes in — all you can do is pray it’s not Liam Neeson thinking you kidnapped his daughter. But it probably is.

In that situation, no matter what’s going on inside me (and it must be bad or I would not be in there) I will go completely silent. I’ve even been known to lift my feet so if he looks under the stall doors he will think no one is in there. If I have to, I can hold that for an hour, until he takes care of his business, washes his hands, dries them, checks his hair and leaves. Thinking you’re about to die is a wonderful motivator.

[A word here about those self-flushing toilets. They’re evil. Once in Dallas, I had to duck into a restroom and change from casual clothes into a suit and tie. I stepped into the only stall, hung my suit on the hook, and began to get out of my casual clothes. To get socks and shoes off, of course, I had to sit down. When I stood up, it flushed. About this time, a guy comes in. He sees there’s only one stall and from his anguished gasp, I can tell he is in trouble. I hurry, and this does not help. I get the pants on, but I have to sit down again to put on the socks and shoes on. Sitting, standing, I trigger probably three or four more flushes while he’s dancing just outside the door, whining. I can see his feet hopping. Finally, he gives up and leaves. I hope he found what he was looking for.]

I won’t even go into the thinness of the toilet paper, the lack of working soap dispensers or the near-impossibility of trying to get your hands in front of the little electronic eye that turns the water on. And those noisy, supersonic hand dryers — who thought of that? If I see the hand dryer is made by Boeing I just wipe my hands on my pants and go.

By far the closest thing I’ve had to “fun” in a public restroom was in a museum in Denver where the sinks, triggered by hand motion, start singing “Row, row, row your boat.” There are three sinks, so you can theoretically flit from sink to sink forever, creating your own little choral round. I’m sure it’s cost them thousands of gallons of water.

I think society will eventually move away from communal bathrooms and go with all stalls and open seating, with no stick-figures on the doors. I’m already at home in that scenario, what with my Austin experience. But if I see a pair of heels come clicking in, I’m lifting my feet.

If it really is a woman, chances are she’ll be chatty. And the guys who wear heels? Scary.

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