Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Our bathroom, ourselves

I want to talk about bathrooms. My apologies for being so forthright about this, but it is becoming a matter of life and death in some parts of the continent.

It’s a big issue in that boiling cauldron to the south of us. Several states have put laws in place regarding bathroom use. In order to “protect people”, you have to use the washroom of the gender which is listed on your birth certificate. In other words, men (according to their birth certificate) and women (according to their birth certificate) have to use the specific gender identified loo.

That poses a problem for a number of situations.

Men who are out with their female children, can not, under this law, change their children on the change table in the men’s washroom. Mothers can’t do the same with their male children.

As a parent of six children, both male and female, I have been in the position of being with a child of the opposite gender and heard the plaintive wail of “I gotta go!”. Fortunately, help was at hand and the problem was resolved to everyone’s  satisfaction.

This matter is a real problem for those who are transgender or those who visually identify or dress as the opposite gender. It is also an issue for those who dress outside of culturally acceptable stereotypes.

A friend of mine, a pastor in the US and former US Marine officer, prefers pants, slacks and jeans to dresses, especially as she grows older. She finds it a lot more functional. Another pastor prefers khaki pants, dress shirts and bow ties. She has had several difficult encounters in women’s rest rooms, although she is a woman.

I have seen American media reports that some people are intending to carry a gun into the washroom to “protect themselves from perverts”.

The bottom line is that people just want to use the facilities. Heck, we all need to use the facilities. Is that too much to ask?

The rural church is light years ahead on this matter. I have served rural congregations where it was expected that you used a bush behind the church or an outhouse. In churches where there was a washroom, it was exactly that. A washroom with one toilet. Behind the furnace. Everyone used it. The unwritten rules were that the men put the seat down and wiped the sink afterwards. The women kept it clean and the men fixed the plumbing problems. And no one got twisted out of shape about who used it. People recognized we all have the same human need.

I have known at least one transgender person in Grey Bruce who told me she never really had any serious issues with washroom use. I hope she was right and telling me the truth as she knew it. Just remember, we’re all human and at some point, we all gotta go.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.