Today, I attended a conference with 400 other women at a local hotel. The hotel converted the men’s room closet to the conference space into a temporary uni-sex bathroom. They had a sign informing bathroom visitors of the change and directing men who didn’t want to use a uni-sex bathroom to a men’s only bathroom elsewhere in the building.
Apparently, there were some misunderstandings as men reportedly asked women to leave the bathroom and women asked men if they could read. Perhaps the hotel should have simply assigned an attendant to the bathroom to keep things running smoothly?
But in the spirit of really having to pee and wanting to contribute to safe, respectful bathroom spaces for everyone, I decided to use the unisex bathroom.
I walked in with an acquaintance. It was really quiet and we both sort of automatically lowered our voices and stopped chatting. There was only one other person in the bathroom. I went into a stall. I peed. And I flushed.
Then I said “It is so damn quiet in here!” and the other occupants sniggered a bit. One of them pointed out that it wasn’t a great smelling space and we all blamed the urinal (and the urinal cakes.) Then we washed our hands and that was that.
I didn’t hesitate for a minute when I realized that a man might be using one of the other stalls. It wouldn’t have bothered me, but since most of the other women preferred to line up at the women’s room – I guess I’m unique in this regard.
The turn off was the urinal. Not the possibility of a man using the urinal – no big whoop for me. But the urinals are just gross, right? And eliminating urinals reduces the likelihood for awkward encounters when a men’s room temporarily goes uni-sex. If everyone has to use a stall, we are all good.
I’m curious what the women would have said if BOTH bathrooms were turned into uni-sex bathrooms? And if there is a men’s conference, do they convert the women’s bathroom into uni-sex?
However, if the Sheraton hotel at Station Square can successfully set up a uni-sex bathroom over the course of one event – is it really that hard to do so on a more permanent basis?
I would really like to see an effort among local businesses that have single stall bathrooms to turn them both gender neutral. This would be a solid project say along the Penn Avenue Arts corridor or in Lawrenceville. It would be very important to have uni-sex or gender neutral signage in addition to literally just having one toilet.
This is something I notice beyond my heightened awareness of gender nonconforming people being safe in bathrooms, but simply because we are two women who often have to take turns to use a bathroom when there is a perfectly good empty men’s bathroom right there. As we move further into middle-age, we both realize that time isn’t always on our side when we gotta pee.
Even better if they remove urinals completely and replace them with diaper changing stations. Maybe get a grant and work with Construction Junction to remove and salvage all of those urinals? Work with local gender non-conforming artists to create signage and then see what happens.
Using the temporarily gender-neutral formerly men’s bathroom yesterday did not cause any harm to me. It wasn’t even the most uncomfortable moment of the event. I didn’t feel threatened or worried about men urinating near me in another stall. I didn’t feel embarrassed or anxious. I mostly felt relieved (pun!) because I didn’t have to stand in a long line at the women’s room.
And while the title of this post is slightly inaccurate (the bathroom was temporarily gender neutral), the fact is that the same assigned to men continued to belong to them by the presence of the urinals and their protests about women coming into the space in spite of the signage.
Have you had experience with temporary uni-sex or gender neutral bathrooms at events? Please tell us in the comments.
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