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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As long as you're not as sexually repressed as the Vice President, the gender-neutral restroom is working just fine

During intermission at last night's Moth StorySLAM at The Oberon in Cambridge, I went to the restroom.

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The Oberon has converted its formerly gender-specific restrooms to gender-neutral restrooms. When I entered what was once a men's room, I was greeted with the typical line that can be found during intermission, except that this line contained both women and men. 

Nine people in all. Five women and four men were queued up in front of the four urinals and three stalls. Some were chatting while waiting. Others scrolled through their phones. As far as I could tell, no one thought this odd or inappropriate.

And why would they?

Women used the stalls. Men used the urinals or the stalls.  

One of the women in line actually knew me from previous performances and asked me for some storytelling advice while we waited to pee. 

For someone like the Vice President, who can't have dinner alone with a woman who isn't his wife or drink a beer when his wife is not present, I would imagine that this scenario might cause him to blow a gasket. His seemingly admitted inability to control his lustful desires might erupt into an uncontrollable fervor at the mere thought of a semi-naked woman behind a thin restroom partition.   

But for the majority of Americans who operate as normal human beings and who aren't so fearful of temptation that they must quarantine themselves from the opposite sex without a marital chaperone, this gender-neutral reconfiguration is working out just fine.      

Perhaps in the future the restroom design could be differentiated this way:

Gender-neutral restrooms

Single use restroom for the perverse who can't control themselves when genitals are exposed privately but in the vicinity of their own genitals

The men's restroom: All I want is a little consistency, please...

I appreciate and embrace consistency in all things. Find the fastest, most accurate, most efficient, least expensive way of doing something, and repeat as often as needed.

This is why men's restrooms infuriate me. 

Almost all men's restrooms contain urinals. This is good. They actually allow for the fastest, most efficient use of the restroom. They are quick to use and take up less space than a standard toilet, allowing for more of them. Urinals are the reason why the line to the men's restroom is always shorter than the line to the women's restroom. 

But here's the thing:

In the last decade or so, privacy partitions have started appearing between urinals in some restrooms. These rectangular pieces of plastic or wood have been bolted onto the wall between urinals, apparently offering a modicum of privacy to the user. 

"You can still see my head and my feet, but just try looking at my penis now, buster!" 

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I'm not specifically opposed to these privacy partitions. What I'm opposed to is the lack of consistency between restrooms. Some have partitions between urinals and some don't, and this bothers me. Men either require this privacy partition or they don't, and I'm annoyed that we haven't come to a decision on this matter.

If it were up to me, I'd have no privacy partition. For a very long time, men used urinals without complaint or problem. Why we need to suddenly ensure the privacy of our genitals is beyond me. There was a time when men at Fenway Park and other baseball stadiums urinated into a communal trough without much complaint, and there are probably places where these troughs still exist. Men pee on trees all the time. Sometimes we pee side by side on the same tree. I can't imagine that many men suddenly felt the need for privacy while using a urinal.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps a significant number of men require a strategically placed sheet of plywood positioned at penis height to feel comfortable.

"You can look me in the eye or stare at my shoes while I pee, but don't you dare look at my penis!"

Maybe men are more concerned with wandering eyes that I think. Perhaps exposure of the penis contributes to shy bladders. Maybe this is homophobia rearing its ugly head.  

What I've also noticed is that the smaller the men's room and the more professional or fancy the establishment, the more likely that there will be partitions. 

Therefore a corporate headquarters or an expensive restaurant is more likely to have partitions than a concert hall, a fast food restaurant, or a sports stadium.

This annoys me, too. 

Men who work in the corporate world or spend more on dinner are more likely to have penises that require privacy than men who attend football games or stop at a McDonald's to use the restroom?

Also, aren't these quite often the same men? 

I don't know.

But here is what I do know:

We either need these partitions or we don't. Either equip all men's rooms with these privacy partitions or stop adding them to restrooms altogether.

Consistency. That's all I want. A universal agreement that this added expense is either needed or not. We either need to hide our penises in the restroom or we don't.

I think not, but as long as we can come to some kind of agreement, I'll be happy. 

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.