The Bathroom Wars

by: Bonnie Wilkins Overcott

While the Bathroom Wars have been put onto the back burner, one wonders: Will they start up again when everything calms down?

I identify as a straight cis female, a Western European-American, a wife, a mother, and a Christian. I’m a resident of Minneapolis in the 5th District, where we shocked the rest of the world by electing the first Muslim representative, Rep. Keith Ellison. We didn’t shock ourselves, because we’re used to being derisively referred to as the most liberal district in the country. I’m a vegetarian who could stand to lose a few pounds and would be a vegan if I could give up ice cream. Did I miss any labels or categories? I garden, quilt, read, write and love traveling. I attend church regularly. Of course, I grew up in the sixties and seventies, went to the University of Minnesota, was against the Vietnam War and, yes, am a liberal or progressive, so I’m somewhat suspect.

With the election of Donald Trump as President and all the intrigue he brought to the White House and the hurricanes, the bathroom wars has been put onto the back burner. Will they start up again when everything calms down?

When the Bathroom Wars began, I was somewhat confused. Personally, I spend the least amount of time in public restrooms as possible. Most are not pleasant places although some, like my grocery store, put fresh flowers in them and keep them in impeccable condition. Most aren’t particularly clean. Some are obviously so unclean I don’t want to come into contact with any surfaces. I don’t go into a public restroom to make friends, make phone calls (although some people do), or just pass the time.

One Halloween, I was at a restaurant. One young man was dressed as Pippi Longstocking. He approached the restroom doors and hesitated. I realized suddenly he wasn’t sure which one he should use. Ultimately, he chose the men’s room.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in and around men’s rooms, for a cis female. Everyone who’s watched John Walsh’s crime shows, knows there are evil men who lurk in men’s rooms waiting for little boys. When my son finally and absolutely put his foot down and refused to go into one more ladies’ room, I relented. While he was inside regardless of how long he dawdled, I leaned on the woodwork of the entry and looked each man going in directly in the eyes. Some looked a little shocked, but that was okay. The normal ones would see a young boy inside and understand. The perverts would know that one peep from my son would bring a raging mother inside and there was no chance they could change his clothes, dye his hair and sneak him out without me knowing. I was particularly vigilant in public libraries.

My father had Parkinson’s disease in his later years. There were times when I brought him into the ladies’ room. Never did a woman inside object. Other times, I’d wait outside the men’s room. Parkinson’s affects your short term memory. Sometimes, Dad would forget what he was doing and wander around. On occasion a man would be leaving and ask if I was waiting for the older gentleman who was wandering around inside seeming confused. More than once I had to go in and retrieve him and no man ever objected when I came into care for my father. Occasionally, a man would assist by volunteering to bring my father into the men’s room. Often they were sons who were caring for their own aging mothers and knew how important it was to help one another care for our parents.

Women behave themselves in rest rooms. In all the years I’ve used public restrooms, I’ve never encountered a woman who was misbehaving. I’ve heard stories of men not behaving themselves in restrooms, which is why I was protective of my son. I was surprised to find out that a restroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport was a magnet for men, like the former Senator Larry Craig, traveling through with sin on their mind. Now there’s a Facebook page where men using the “Larry Craig Memorial Restroom” can check in like they would a restaurant or museum. Some of my male friends have done that. Remember, though, that Larry Craig was a cis male entering a men’s room. Technically, he wasn’t breaking any bathroom laws.

Public spaces, like sports arenas, are notorious for having a lack of facilities for women. Men can go in, unzip, do their business, zip up and leave. Women have to go in, find an empty stall, unbuckle or unbutton, unzip, squeeze out of, roll things up and/or roll things down, sit down, then reverse all the previous activities. Hence the block-long lines of women waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s not at all uncommon for a woman who can’t wait to give up in disgust and enter the men’s room because she knows most of the stalls will be empty.

It was bewildering when legislators began trying to pass legislation making it illegal for people to enter a restroom that was the opposite of the gender on their birth certificate. Of all the things to worry about, I thought. Is our education system the best in the world? Is our healthcare system the best in the world? Are our bridges, highways and transportation systems the best in the world? Have we alleviated poverty? No? Well, then let’s worry about public restrooms. Another question was how would that law be enforced and by whom? Would we all have to carry copies of our birth certificates around? Would guards frisk people entering restrooms?

I noticed that the people introducing these restroom laws were conservatives, like Sen. Larry Craig. There are a lot of places my mind doesn’t go. But I became concerned. Why are these (mostly male) conservatives so concerned? They said they needed to protect us women from predatory males dressed like females hiding away in the ladies’ rooms. Really? Their minds go there? Conservative legislators in my state introduced restroom laws. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became.

After fretting about the issue, I wrote to my state legislator, Rep. Jim Davnie. “I have a suggestion about the bathroom legislation Republicans are considering.” I wrote. “Let’s label the bathrooms ‘Conservatives’ and ‘Liberals.’ I worry about the mindset of conservatives and I am not sure I want to share a restroom with them.” Reason prevailed, however, and at 9:07 p.m. on a Sunday night after the debate was over, Rep Davine replied, “I’m happy to report that the bathroom bill never moved, so no amendments such as you suggest were possible to offer.”

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