The Private Lives of Public Bathrooms (Part 1)

Although what happens in the toilet usually stays in the toilet, I want to talk about the backstage story of all of our lives: Issues about public toilet etiquette—the private and public.

Don’t touch anything. Try not to smell. Avoid eye contact. Hover. For men—don’t look down or let your eyes stray.

I discovered quickly that there was the problem of people not enjoying the public bathroom experience as much because of cleanliness issues and poor management. Just imagine how much worse this could be when you're traveling. There is so much that goes on in these places. Babies are changed, make up applied and conversations had.

Beyond these private issues, there are also real public concerns: problems of public access, ecological waste, and—in many parts of the world—sanitation crises.

Should bathrooms become standardized to accommodate the disabled? Is it possible to create a unisex bathroom for transgendered people? Why do women get private stalls and men get urinals with hardly any privacy?

Toilet dividers give us the notion of security and privacy for our own elimination, and privacy from other people doing theirs. I personally believe that even men should be given that privilege of eliminating in peace.

In an increasingly sex-positive culture, it seems like bathroom issues are something that most people are reluctant to talk about. Biologically speaking, we don't need separate bathrooms—we're using them for the same reasons.

So this raises questions: Do different sex bathrooms reinforce gender separation and social division—the division of people into two unchanging sexes? What happens to the transgender people?

I think that it is time to break the taboo and talk openly about bathroom experiences and find ways to ease some of the anxieties people feel in public bathrooms. This will reduce the need for us to be so vigilant about policing our behavior in these spaces. Feel free to drop comments and watch this space for more on the topic.