Urinary panic strikes Maine
Ah, urinary segregation. The moment at which, according to Jacques Lacan, we learn whether we are boys or girls. Do you go into the room with the icon of the person in pants or a skirt (so we also learn the sartorial signifiers of sex and gender as well). And of course it’s a perfect system of sexual socialization: because everybody has to pee, everybody has to choose a gender. But just one.
Now, according to the Christian Civil League of Maine, those crazy “homosexuals” and their “homosexual agenda” are trying to destroy this basic foundation of gender difference. According to a statement in the Bangor Daily News,
The Christian Civic League of Maine believes that these new guidelines are not merely an error in judgment on the part of the Maine Human Rights Commission. Rather, they represent the latest effort by the homosexual lobby to impose their confused views of sexuality on society at large.”
At issue is an effort by the Maine Human Rights Commission to do what is being done throughout the country: deal with binary urinary space in a country with a growing number of transgender-identified citizens. In Maine, a young female-identified student was denied access to a girls’ bathroom because she was born male. But whatever you may think a transgendered person’s “true” identity is, it is not “simply” what sex they were assigned at birth.
And despite what the Christian Civic League of Maine thinks, these are not issues of sexuality (desire), but of sex (male/female) and gender (masculine/feminine). In other words, there is a diversity of gender expression going on in our schools and throughout the country and the binary urinary space of his and hers bathrooms is no longer able to accommodate how Americans live and pee.
And although many of us may believe that “we have always had his and her bathrooms and we always will,” that is clearly wrong. We didn’t even have bathrooms or outhouses until fairly recently in human history. Humans went more or less wherever, without the benefit of toilet paper or much privacy, let alone a strict binary urinary segregation.
The Maine Human Rights Commission, despite the panic, seems interested in keeping binary urinary space in place. They’ll still have boys and girls bathrooms, but you can enter based on your gender expression rather than the sex assigned at birth. I have to say this seems like a bad idea, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is it still forces a binary notion of gender onto an increasingly gender-diverse society.
But what is the answer to urinary segregation? Every year I pose that as a final-exam question in my course on gender. The question is posed in the future: “Twenty years from now you are an architect and have to build a large building. What will you do about the bathrooms?” And every year students come up with ingenious designs for how we’ll go in the future.
Generally the students imagine circular rooms with a variety of closed stalls: urinal (which biological females can use thanks to those clever plastic urinary devices like the She-Wee), wheelchair accessible toilets, toilets, toilets with baby changing table, etc. In this way, urinary space becomes about what you need to do rather than gender expression.
But what to do with bathrooms as they already exist? I would argue we let the students decide. For the most part, younger Americans have grown up with far more diversity of gender expression and thus they’re far less panicked about peeing.