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How Androgynous Bathrooms Ruin Social Cohesion, And Women Can Restore It


When I was young, for many Easters my dad’s side of the family celebrated in fresh dresses and pressed suits at my uncle’s country club. It wasn’t quite as tony as that sounds—it was a Midwestern supper club attached to a golf course. It was certainly the nicest place I’d ever visited then, and I was always elated to go. Even so, our 30,000-person hometown was populated by a bunch of farmers and university professors from the local state university extension, so the tone was nothing like some East-Coast venues I’ve since visited as an adult.

The Easter feast featured a dude in a bunny costume, into whose arms grandmas would stuff their grandbabies and coo while taking pictures before the child escaped in terror. It also featured kiddie cocktails, and since my siblings and I were rarely allowed soda we gorged ourselves on those sweet red suckers during this once-a-year opportunity. It was like magic: all you had to do was walk up to the bar and ask for one.

Besides the fantastical luxuries of kiddie cocktails on demand and omelets made to order, which you could watch being made right there at the brunch line, the most splendid thing about this place was the ladies’ bathroom. The door opened, not right to the toilet stalls, but to a sitting room with soft round stools placed in front of big mirrors surrounded with those little round Hollywood-star makeup lights. My mother nursed her babies in there, and ladies would come in to “freshen up” their hair and makeup, chatting animatedly, as ladies do.

The Glories of Women’s Bathrooms

That was my first introduction to the potential glories of women’s bathrooms. My husband likes to joke that men’s bathrooms are basically a urinal lit by a naked lightbulb, while ladies’ rooms are often a cozy little nice-smelling place women go to recharge and even connect with each other. You can make friends in the bathroom while re-lining your lips or sharing hand lotion.

Bathrooms are also a private place women can go and literally or figuratively let their hair down without disrupting surrounding public activities. If you need to cry, or see if your nipples are leaking, or take a deep breath before you walk into a pressure-filled meeting—whatever it is, bathrooms for women are often a genuine safe space, a place to collect and recombobulate in time of need. We know when we get there we have a good chance of being able to let our guard down and take care of ourselves. It’s psychically restful.

These protections for privacy and women’s unique needs are the driving impetus behind a coalition of women who have created the new Just Want Privacy Campaign, which aims to restore sex-specific bathrooms. Liberals were the ones who insisted upon a “right to privacy,” and the Just Want Privacy Campaign is working with, among other leading liberal ladies, Maya Dillard Smith, who recently resigned from running Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter after she and her daughters encountered three transgender men in a bathroom who were “obviously men,” “all over six feet tall,” with deep voices.

“My children were visibly frightened, I was very uncomfortable, and it engendered a lot of questions from my daughters I was ill-prepared to answer,” she says. “…What are the implications on the rights of women and girls? What are the implications on the rights of parents?”

Dillard has started a new group to open a more civil discourse on this matter, Finding Middle Ground. She, musician and self-described “far-left liberal” Blair Tindall, and longtime lesbian activist Miriam Ben-Shalom are holding a press conference today to announce their desire for a higher level of discourse on this topic. Go, ladies. I stand with you. My reasons are somewhat different, but despite our differences we can come together on this.

The Cultural Argument for Limited Sex Segregation

Ever notice that women often take care of business in packs? The scary reason for that is self-protection. In public places, you often never know whether you’ll find a women’s lounge in the bathroom or a disgusting, pee-spattered place bare but for the wads of torn, damp tissue thrown here and there. But when they are well-appointed, female bathrooms are a refuge and a forum. We also go together to get a little girl time. This allows for social bonding that promotes women’s individual and collective mental well-being. I once enjoyed a spur of the moment chat with a senior female colleague while we both freshened our makeup in the bathroom at work, and it jumpstarted a mentor-like relationship.

The current push to forcibly inject biological men into women’s bathrooms will disintegrate that protected commons, and real women will be worse off. Besides the political and religious concerns currently at play in the debate over whether humans with XY chromosomes (whom we used to call male) in every cell can get naked in the same spaces as women who have not personally invited that level of intimacy, there’s a cultural argument against opening sex-segregated areas. It’s broader than toilets and showers—consider how Harvard University is effectively banning single-sex voluntary clubs.

In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) was a member of a fraternity-like men’s music honorary. They did man stuff together, and since I was more of a feminist back then I often resented it. Why couldn’t they just do things everybody wanted to do? Why were they excluding me? I tried to limit my demands on my boyfriend because I knew clingy women irritate men, and that as just a girlfriend and not a wife I had fewer claims on his time, but still it bothered me that time we could have spent together was curtailed by this stupid sexist organization.

Why was it so important, anyway, that all these young men jump about naked in the local lake in the wee hours of the morning? Why did they need to play juvenile games, like stealing underwear and glitter bombing, while inducting new members? What the hell was it with smoking cigars, drinking, singing Irish drinking songs, and talking philosophy that I couldn’t participate in? It all seemed so stupid, I could hardly contain my irritation.

I thankfully have matured away from this petty, anti-sex manipulativeness as I began to understand the beauties of the differences between the sexes, and our deep need to reinforce and develop our complementary sex-specific differences. Acting on my irritation with my boyfriend would have pushed him in one of two directions. It could have provoked him to double down and become a bro; or it could have suppressed him and made him a beta male.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

As it is, thankfully I have an energetically male husband who lives at the intersection between these two repulsive extremes. He enjoys being a man, and I enjoy him being a man. Together, we celebrate his masculinity and my femininity. In fact, one of his male characteristics has been celebrating my female characteristics, and helping me come to terms with my own sex, which I have long despised as weak.

In great part because he is a man, and is not ashamed of that, he finds women exciting and worthy of respect because we are something else. Loving his own differences has set him free to love mine, and because he loves me as a woman I am learning to do that, too. The value he places on sexual difference is elevating my own opinion of the same.

Because of that, I accept my femininity better now. I am more at peace with and happy about myself as I am. I feel less pressure to act like a man, and to automatically prioritize manly preferences and behavior. Ironically, cherishing our sexual differences makes us less desirous of being what we are not. Good fences make good neighbors.

What does not make good neighbors is one party that insists on moving the fence across the property line, or on tramping across your yard whenever he feels like it. This is essentially what the trans lobby is claiming the right to do: force themselves on other people. They’re attempting to yank from nature and its God the power to define boundaries built into the world itself. They’re rejecting reality, and substituting fantasies, all because of an impossible power trip.

Boundaries create meaning and value.

In the process, they’re replicating the tragedy of the commons. Boundaries create meaning and value. Without definition, we’re just amorphous and depressing, like much of modern art. If A can equal B can equal C, and everything is whatever you say it is and nothing objective, the end thereof is nihilism, which is another word for destruction.

Many—dare I suspect most—middle- and upper-middle-class folks have little personal experience with the tragedy of the commons, because they don’t live in communities like mine where guaranteeing public access to a property and refusing to police social norms there means it will be mostly fit for graffiti. But every society that cherishes its members enforces boundaries, because without them, barbarians rule. That means chaos, and chaos hurts way more than boundaries do. Just think about why Syrians want to get into Germany.

Repeat After Me: Equality Doesn’t Mean Sameness

Biological men and women are naturally separated by each other to some degree, despite our unity as equally valuable human persons, because we have immutable physical differences that no surgery or hormone transfusions can ever completely erase. These natural differences are built into the very cells of our bodies, into our myriad mysteriously interconnected and completely automatic physical processes that even after centuries of science our top scientists have hardly begun to understand.

Women have a connection with each other that men cannot participate in—and vice versa—because men and women are different.

The brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of women is real because of these real and immutable differences. Women have a connection with each other that men cannot participate in—and vice versa—because men and women are different. The existence of freely chosen sex-selective organizations like sororities and arrangements like sex-segregated bathrooms reflects this simple, natural truth. It is not a grid imposed on reality but a structure that reality itself has created. Sex-specific social arrangements simply harmonize with and reflect the underlying reality.

Trans bathrooms feel violating because they are violating. It not only violates social norms but the reality undergirding them, because a social norms reflect what a society thinks is true. In this case, our social norms about sex segregation in certain appropriate cases correspond to not just our culture’s collective wisdom built over time but also a simple, objective physical reality. That makes this social norm stronger, and provides reason to reinforce rather than destroy it.

Get Out There and Sex Things Up

Normal people—meaning, apparently, not people who write for Slate—already somewhat unconsciously do this with things like gender-reveal parties and photo shoots for unborn babies. Slate editor Jessica Winter emits one of those suffocatingly navel-gazing articles on just this topic. She says sex reveals “would sound so tiresomely gender studies 101 if these weren’t actual people having actual children right here on my Pinterest boards in 2016.”

Proclaim and act on your good ol’ reality-based, biological sex positivity.

No, actually, it’s a refreshing proof that normal people who don’t get gender studies degrees are still able to notice that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and that these are both exciting yet very different realities. Where did “celebrate diversity” go? Or was that only an empty slogan for cynically beating up ideological opponents?

I used to feel condescending about these sorts of things myself, but I’m done with that now. Count me on the side of moms and dads joyously celebrating reality. Count me as a mommy who grew up rebelliously anti-girly now elated to buy my daughter the sparkliest, pinkest, most femiliciously bodacious dollies and dress-up, all of which she demands of her own accord despite my careful efforts to point out her brother’s trucks and fireman hats.

Count me excited to get my boys their first BB guns and dirt bikes. Consider me the most ebullient thanker of men who open doors for me in shopping malls. I feel like shaking your hands, you dear men, and heartily performing penance for spending four years of college prunishly berating your comrades for the same deed.

Now go forth and sex up society likewise. Proclaim and act on your good ol’ reality-based, biological sex positivity. Wear those heels. Kiss that girl like you mean it. Replace these gender weeds with some flowers. Society obviously needs our help.