Recently, I sat though a seemingly endless conversation about constructing a model school policy covering who can enter which restrooms under what conditions.
Conversations like this tend to ramble on because no one ever seems to want to nail down exactly what problem needs to be solved. In the case of crafting a coherent restroom policy, is the goal to protect certain kinds of feelings in those who might be viewed, or is it to prevent certain kinds of feelings in those doing the viewing? Is it to protect the school or district from charges of discrimination? Or is it something else entirely?
To consider just one example, let’s say Pat is born as a boy, but decides to identify as a girl. Pat therefore wants to use the girls’ restroom. What’s the problem with this?
- Some of the girls who use that restroom might feel uncomfortable about being in a state of undress in the presence of someone they regard as being of the opposite sex. So they don’t want Pat in the girls’ restroom.
- But Pat feels uncomfortable about being in a state of undress in the presence of people that Pat regards as being of the opposite sex. So Pat doesn’t want to use the boys’ restroom.
- If Pat’s preference has been made public, some of the boys in the boys’ restroom might feel strange about Pat’s being there. Some of the boys might choose to use it as an opportunity to bully Pat. So Pat probably shouldn’t use the boys’ restroom.
- Some people fear that Pat might be faking, just so he can look at girls while they’re in various states of undress. They don’t want Pat in the girls’ restroom.
- So Pat can’t use the girls’ restroom, and he can’t use the boys’ restroom. But Pat can’t be given a separate restroom to use, since that would single Pat out as ‘different’, which might hurt Pat’s feelings, and could be considered discriminatory.
And so the conversations drone on, and on… not unlike the Battle of Wits scene in The Princess Bride.
Note that as soon as we start hashing this out, it becomes clear that there are lots of potential problems that we’ve been ignoring for generations. To take just one example, what if a gay person of either sex goes into the ‘correct’ restroom? And does it matter whether that person is openly gay, or has kept it a secret?
The answer to questions like these used to be: ‘Suck it up.’ But in our new, enlightened age, that just doesn’t cut it anymore.
In the end, it comes down to this: For a bunch of different reasons, some people don’t want to be in a state of undress in front of some other people; and some people don’t want certain people to be in a state of undress in front of certain other people.
It may seem as though the only foolproof solution is to prohibit anyone from being in a state of undress in the presence of anyone else. Period.
If everyone who uses a school restroom gets a completely closed-in stall, so no one can peek in by looking over or under a divider, or through the gap in a door, then no one ever has to be in a state of undress in front of anyone else. There’s no need to worry about what might be seen, or who might see it. And since everyone is being treated equally, there can be no question of discrimination. Problem solved, right?
Of course, there are some difficulties that would be raised by such a solution, starting with the cost of retro-fitting so many restroom facilities in so many schools.
But suppose we look at it a little differently, and ask: What if no one has to be in a state of undress at all? That is, what if there were no restrooms to use, and therefore no questions about who goes into which ones under what circumstances?
How, you ask, could that possibly work? People do have to urinate and defecate sometimes. But — and this is the key insight — they don’t necessarily have to do those things in restrooms.
Suppose we gave every student — and school employee — extended-wear diapers to wear during school hours? No one would ever need to be in a restroom, so no one would ever need to be in the state of undress required to use a restroom. Nothing to see, no one to see it.
Wait — is this actually feasible? How long can you wear one of those, anyway? Remember that astronaut love triangle about 10 years ago, where one astronaut drove 1000 miles from Houston to Orlando to try to kill her rival? To avoid having to take bathroom breaks, she wore a special space diaper developed for NASA. So making it through a school day shouldn’t be a problem. And what’s good enough for our astronauts should be good enough for our kids.
Not only does this approach avoid the cost and other problems of retro-fitting restrooms, but it barely requires changing the law. We recently passed a law requiring schools to hand out free feminine hygiene products to students. Adding diapers to the list of handouts would be but the work of a moment.
And there would be other benefits as well. It would, for example, be good training for the kids, who may one day be old (or astronauts) themselves, and may need to wear diapers for reasons unrelated to school policy. Also, it would serve as a kind of sensitivity training, to help young people appreciate the challenges faced by a significant number of elderly Americans every day. Finally, as a bonus, kids won’t have to waste valuable class time using the restrooms.
Now, I don’t see this becoming official policy at any school districts anytime soon. But I am informed, by usually reliable sources, that there are lots of students who have already begun to ‘think outside the stall’ by simply choosing to ‘hold it in’ for the duration of the school day. That’s got to interfere with their ability to concentrate, especially in afternoon classes! So a good first step would be supporting these students by adding diapers to the list of things we distribute at school for free. We can make it mandatory for everyone else later.