The recent designation of three gender-neutral restrooms on our campus is a welcome and late-coming development, yet it has become clear, via national news (not to mention local outrage), that some on campus are leery of this change to cultural tradition. I am among the several faculty members and students who think we need to go even further. So I am declaring that I will be using any restroom on campus henceforth. Don’t be embarrassed if you see me – I won’t be – just say hello and do your business.
We are all adults; if we can’t acknowledge that everybody poops, everybody pees, then, well, there is a pre-school book about that topic. Thinking and speaking about human waste can be inappropriate – like during a meal, say, but we all see our pee and poop every day at least for a brief moment before flushing it. Whether we consider ourselves male, female, neither or both, all of us must expend the waste from our bodies. Luckily, our campus provides hygienic and clean facilities to do so, and every one of us knows the purpose and function of a toilet. And we have made their use a magnificently private affair, in single, lockable stalls.
So why separate toilets based on sex or gender – those notoriously incomplete and limiting socially constructed categories? If using the toilet is private, behind a stall, then it doesn’t matter whether the pee is coming out of different genitals. And even if we wipe our butts differently, or if we have to deal with a tampon or some other hygienic device, we still can be assured of our privacy behind those stall walls. As adults, there is no need to whisper about these things our bodies do or find embarrassment or shame therein.
I understand that gendered restrooms are our cultural norm. But let’s face reality: humans pee and poop, primp and gossip, refresh and recharge in public restrooms. We would all benefit from better acknowledgment of our common human-ness, even if there might be some initial discomfort for many of us. Therefore, I propose our campus begin working toward designating all of our restrooms as human restrooms, redesigned thoughtfully for privacy, convenience and functionality.
Until then, however, I will be using any restroom I choose. And I hope you join me. This column includes an image created by Sam Killermann and part of a campaign to designate more gender-neutral restrooms everywhere. Similar signs are available – for free! – to all universities upon request. But until Murray State makes that request, I hope enterprising individuals will copy this image or download their own and begin placing it on restroom doors across campus. Let’s make something happen.
I look forward to seeing you at the restroom sink.
Letter from Paul Walker, Associate Professor of English