Of stalls and secrets. We deserve private public restrooms, and a cessation to at least one culture war needlessly dividing our society

To the Editor:

This past July, the Department of Defense lifted its ban on transgender servicemembers, for the first time allowing them to serve their country openly as a person of the gender with which they identify, regardless of what’s reflected on the birth certificate.

Then, in October, the DoD laid out a path by which servicemembers could obtain a “transgender diagnosis” from a military medical provider, assemble a transition plan with their doctor and command, and eventually be recognized as the opposite sex. Information about this policy is now being transmitted throughout the Armed Forces, to no small amount of confusion, skepticism, and concern.

Some servicemembers question the practical implications of this policy, wondering — for example — whether it’s fair for a biological male who identifies as a woman to be graded on a physical fitness test according to the female-adjusted scale. Others are exploring the furthest reaches of hypothetical plausibility to inquire — for example — whether a biological female who identifies as a man but who then subsequently gives birth should receive 12 weeks of maternity leave or just the 10 days permitted to fathers.

And while these and other questions will undoubtedly be worked out in the years ahead, the most immediate point of consternation concerns that most sacred of spaces at the heart of social controversy:  the latrine.

Back in April 2016 — as the Republican presidential primary reached its feverish climax — primary candidate Senator Ted Cruz contended that “grown men” should not be allowed to use “the little girls’ restroom.”  His remarks were in response to then-candidate Donald Trump’s position that people should be free to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate,” which itself was in response to the Republican National Committee’s call for states to pass laws limiting access to school bathrooms based on students’ “anatomical sex,” most notoriously enacted in North Carolina (and soon to be before the Supreme Court thanks to the policy of a Virginia high school).

Now, in the military context, servicemembers are getting skittish, since the Defense Department is adamant that it will not create a third (and distinct) class of person. Should women, then, be required to shower in open-bay facilities with a pre-operational transgender female? Should the men’s bathroom be available to transgender males who can’t — practically and physiologically — make use of its urinal facilities?

While these anxieties may be sincere, they disregard a fundamental reality: The way public restrooms in America are constructed is pure rampaging lunacy, and the madness needs to stop.

How did we become a people who can send a man to the moon, but who can’t extend a bathroom stall divider all the way to the floor? What does it say about our cultural priorities that we don’t tolerate violent crime, but do tolerate a gap wide enough to back a Jeep through when the stall door closes?

What compels us to endure the mortifying outlandishness of seeing our fellow man’s foot on the ground in the stall next to us as we attend to one of nature’s most private functions? Are we savages?  Beasts?

Have we in this age of astonishing technological progress nonetheless deemed ourselves unworthy of the dignity of a deuce in private? Must we now rip our society asunder merely because we can’t conceive of a world in which people are entitled to the solitude Providence intended when nature calls us back into its fold?

To ensure dignity and respect to all fellow citizens, it is time — indeed, decades past due — that “the public restroom” become “the public restrooms” — a room comprised of many rooms, where separate enclosed “water closets” afford individual privacy. Where each bathroom contains a single throne that, in its consummate inanimateness, cares not whether it is sat upon by King or Queen.

Extend the stall sidings! Fill the gap in the door! Implement locking mechanisms intended to serve as more than mere decoration and capable of — gasp — actually keeping the door closed. How has an engineering profession whose legacy includes the pyramids in Giza, the Great Wall in China, and the Albany Bus Terminal fail to envision a solution to the dread we all feel when that bacon cheeseburger catches up to us while shopping at Crossgates?

My call to action bespeaks no delusion; fully-enclosed, single-stall prototypes already exist among us in society. Each time we fly above the planet like deities in our commercial jet airliners, we patiently wait our turn to use bathrooms that impose no restriction on the “type” of human permitted. It is a bathroom rendered unisex by virtue of it being single-occupant.

I reject the notion that the private evacuation of our bladders and intestines is a luxury available only when in the heavens. We deserve private public restrooms here on Earth’s surface, and a cessation to at least one culture war needlessly dividing our society.

On the battlefield, there may be logistical limitations to the bathroom privacy the military can afford its finest. Yet in garrison environments, perhaps the armed services should lead the way in converting existing restrooms into rooms full of restrooms — a row of proud polished port-o-johns — where the gender of the occupant is both private and irrelevant.

Or we could just get over it. But, until then, it’d be nice if I could have a moment to myself. And could someone please refill the soap dispenser?

Captain Jesse Sommer

Fort Polk, Louisiana

Editor’s note: CPT Jesse Sommer is the senior Army prosecutor at Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

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