The curtain raised on peeing with girls

I was at a Moth StorySLAM in Cambridge last week and I found myself in a gender-neutral restroom, which I have used many, many times.

Men and women peeing in the same room. Stalls and urinals.

It was a little surprising the first time I entered this restroom and encountered women, but two years later, it’s absolutely, positively no big deal.

Except sometimes I get to learn something that I didn’t know.

Last week, I was using a urinal while two women occupied stalls to the right, talking to each other through the partitions. They talked for about a minute, engaged in a lively discussion, before one of the women said, “Okay, we need to stop talking for a second and just pee.”

And they did.

I found this amusing. Does this happen all the time, or was I experiencing a one-off moment?

It’s not unusual for two men to talk while using urinals, but we are presumably peeing while speaking. I’ve never felt the need to pause before speaking. Sometimes I'm even shouting across a crowded restroom in Gillette Stadium, asking my friend to meet me in a certain location once we’re finished.

So maybe this was an unusual and amusing moment, or maybe not. With more men and women occupying the same restroom space, mysteries will be revealed. The curtain will be pulled back.

Either way, it wasn’t a big deal, and it’s still not a big deal to me. Memorable and amusing but nothing more.

I know others disagree. Given that the Vice President doesn’t allow himself to have dinner with a woman unless his wife is present, I suspect that peeing in the same room as a woman might cause him heart failure.

But I also suspect that for Mike Pence and others opposed to these gender neutral restrooms, their historical lens is shortsighted.

Less than a lifetime ago, there were places in this country where the notion that African Americans and whites could sit alongside each other at lunch counters or on public transportation prompted outrage and violence. Not too long ago (and still in some places today), an African American man would be taking his life in his hands if he dared to date a white woman.

The Supreme Court decision allowing for interracial marriage was decided just 50 years ago. This means that the marriage that produced President Obama would have been illegal in many American states at the time of his birth.

What seems ridiculous or impossible or uncomfortable today will be commonplace tomorrow. As human beings, we tend to view the world through the limited lens of the present, and happily, progress often happens faster than we think.

Had you asked me 20 years ago if I would see an African American President, legalized same sex marriage, legalized marijuana, or gender neutral restrooms in my lifetime, I would have said no.

Thankfully I would’ve been wrong.

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There is no reason to delay the use of signage like this.

I understand that not everyone is ready for universal restrooms.

While I may use a restroom at a place like Oberon in Cambridge, MA, which has a large restroom of stalls and urinals used by all genders simultaneously, it's simply too much for some people.

When genitals are privately exposed for the purpose of elimination, they must only be privately exposed amongst their own kind. Strict segregation of penis and vulva at all times in public spaces is a nonnegotiable for many people.  

Note: Vulva is the correct term for the external female sex organ. The vagina is actually the internal genital tract extending from the vulva to the cervix, but for some reason, it is often used  incorrectly in place of the anatomically-correct vulva.

Someday, universal restrooms will be commonplace. People of all genders will enter a single space for the purpose of elimination, and no one will give a damn. Future generations will undoubtedly scoff at our bizarre need for genital segregation in the same way most of us scoff at the idea of segregating the races on a bus, a lunch counter, or a school. 

But some of us aren't ready for genital desegregation yet. I understand. Change is hard. Fear is a powerful force, even when it's unwarranted and misguided. Altering a longstanding norm can take time.  

But in the cases when a public restroom is a single serve space with a lock on the door, why can't we at least dispose of the male and female distinctions and use something more appropriate like this outstanding sign located at RJ Julia Booksellers in Middletown, CT?

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Not only is this sign more respectful and inclusive to all genders, but it makes no sense for three women to be waiting for their single use restroom while the restroom designated for men is empty.

From a perspective of efficiency, this is a change that must be made.

More importantly, signage like this demonstrates the necessary level of respect, inclusivity, and civility that should be afforded to people of all genders, as well as a much needed acknowledgement that gender is not always a binary proposition, and that all people deserve to live their most authentic lives absent of stigma, bias, or fear. 

Gender binary signage should already be a thing of the past, at least in the case of single use restrooms. This is a small but meaningful step that even the most ardent traditionalists and most staunch genital segregation advocates would be hard pressed to oppose.

If you own a business with single-use restrooms equipped with gender binary signage, change it today. Make the world a little more efficient for all human beings and a little more accepting to people of all genders and forms of gender expression.

I went to the bathroom alongside a bunch of ladies, and something surprising happened.

I competed last night at a Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon in Cambridge, MA. 

The Oberon has two restrooms. When I started performing there in 2013, these restrooms were identified by placards as "Men" and "Women."

About a year ago, the "Men" and "Women" placards were replaced with placards that read "All Gender." Since then, I had only found myself in the restroom with a woman once, and it was alongside several other men. Though the placards had changed, people for the most part continued to segregate themselves according to sex.

Last night, however, I found myself in the restroom at one point with one other man and three women, and when that man exited the restroom ahead of me, I was the only man in the restroom with these women. I almost didn't notice, but as I stood at the sink washing my hands alongside two of the women, it occurred to me that I was using a public restroom with a majority of women for the first time in my life.

Also, none of us cared a bit.

At the end of the night, I returned to the restroom and found myself alone with one other woman. As we approached the sink together, we began talking. I had won the StorySLAM, and she had recognized me from my previous victories and wanted to know how I managed to win so often. As we washed our hands, I gave her a few storytelling tips, and she told me about her battles with stage fright and her desire to tell a story someday. 

I was back on the street, walking to my car, when I realized that I had just engaged in my first conversation with a woman in a public restroom, and I couldn't get over these two facts:

  1. It was no big deal at all. 
  2. So many dumbass jerk faces (I'm looking at you, North Carolina) think it's a very big deal.

If your opposed to allowing people to use the restroom of their choice, it's time to put on your big boy or big girl pants and grow up. Sooner than you think, "all gender" or "gender neutral" restrooms will be the norm, and people will wonder why gender segregation was once required in order for people to sit on toilets and wash their hands. 

After last night, I'm wondering it myself.

Firemen became firefighters. Penmanship became handwriting. Great. But there's one gender neutral word I can't support.

Firemen became firefighters.
A serious improvement. I'd rather be a firefighter than a fireman. 

Stewardess became flight attendant.
Also an improvement.  

Policemen became police officer.
A solid choice. I'd rather call a police officer for help than a policeman. 

Mailman became mail carrier. 
Fine. More descriptive, even.

Penmanship became handwriting.
A more modern alternative.  

Waiter and waitress became server. 
I don't love it, but I can live with it. 

Freshmen became first year students.
A little awkward. Not the greatest. But I can live with it if I must.

I appreciate the attempt to create a more gender-neutral language, particularly when so many of these words traditionally skewed male. 

But there's one that I just can't get behind:

Fisherman has become fisher. 

In 2013, Washington state completed a six year process of rewriting their laws so that they were written using gender neutral terminology. Certain words like manhole cover remained because a better alternative could not be found, but fisherman became fisher, and I hate it.

And it's not only Washington who has adopted the new word. Many websites and news organizations acknowledge fisher as an appropriate alternative to fisherman.

I'm not saying that fisherman is the right word. I'm saying that despite it's obvious male slant, fisherman is a hell of a lot better than fisher. 

But I'm open to better options. I asked my students for alternatives, and their suggestions weren't all that appealing, either. 

Fisher person
Fish hunter
Fish catcher

To be honest, they didn't love these ideas, either. They also agreed that fisher was a terrible alternative.

One of them pointed out that a fisher is actually a small mammal that doesn't eat fish.

Another terrible use of the word.

So I'm looking for an alternative to fisher, and until I find one, I think I'm going stick with the admittedly male leaning and possibly sexist word fisherman.

Sometimes a word - even when wrong - just feels right. 

I don't know any professional fishermen - male or female - but I can't help but think that they would agree with me.