Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Can We Please Just Have Gender Neutral Bathrooms Already?

When I am out with Robert at the mall or a drugstore or eating out at a restaurant or enjoying some other activity in a public place, it is inevitable Robert will need to use a restroom.   Robert has mobility issues and, sometimes, bathroom issues.  He has a habit of falling asleep on the toilet (no matter where he is) and oftentimes needs help cleaning up or even changing his clothes. 

He always needs a reminder to wash his hands.

Robert is a 46 year old man so I’m not comfortable taking him into the Women’s Restroom (actually, I’d be fine with it – it’s the other women in the restroom who probably would have an issue).  If it’s just me and Robert out and about and he needs to use the restroom, I lead him to the Men’s Restroom and let him go in, keeping my fingers crossed he doesn’t have a seizure on the way to the stall.

Robert takes his time in the restroom (because of the apparent narcolepsy when he sits on a toilet) and I either have to wait outside for an hour, hoping he’ll wake up, or I wait until I am (fairly) certain no one else is in the restroom, knock on the door, peek in and ask Robert if he is doing okay.  (This usually wakes him up). 

When not knocking on the door and partially opening the door to talk to Robert, I am lurking outside the restroom getting all kinds of quizzical looks from the men going into and coming out of the restroom.  I give a half-smile and feel compelled to mumble that I am waiting for my brother.   The puzzled look on their face usually doesn’t go away.

This is not a new issue.  Parents of opposite gender children face this when the kids get too old to be taken into the gender appropriate bathroom of either mom or dad.  The child is too old to go into the opposite gender bathroom but too young for the parent to feel comfortable letting them into a public restroom on their own.  What’s a parent to do? 

Caregivers of a disabled spouse or parent (or sibling) and parents of disabled children face this dilemma all the time as well.  Sometimes there isn’t a choice.  When Robert is in his transport chair, I will have to take him into the Women’s Restroom if it’s just the two of us. 

This dilemma makes me wonder how many people stay home just to avoid dealing with a potential problem.  I don’t plan to stay home with Robert just to avoid having to lurk outside of the men’s public restroom or risk scorn by other women when bringing Robert into a Women’s Restroom but there might be others that do factor these things into their decision to go out shopping or to a movie. 

The answer seems simple enough: more unisex restrooms!  Gender neutral bathrooms seem to be popping up more and more but I really don’t understand the hesitation in creating these everywhere. 

The next time you are in a public place or at a public event, check to see if there are gender neutral bathrooms and if there aren’t, think about sending an email to their corporate office.  More awareness of the need for these gender neutral restrooms just might help bring about change. 

I plan to send an email as soon as I’m done lurking outside the Men’s Restroom . . .

19 comments:

Other Brother said...

Another solution is for you to dress like a man and lower your voice. Just an idea. :)

robert's sister said...

You're hilarious, bro!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that most people would give a person a hard time who needs to assist an adult of the opposite sex in the restroom. On the other hand most wouldn't bat an eye to a child of the opposite sex in the restroom. Society has conditioned people to accept one and not the other.

I know my father would feel weird if an adult female came in the restroom while he was in it. A little girl with her daddy probably not so much.

Thankfully more and more family restrooms are eliminating both of these situations.

robert's sister said...

I think a lot of discomfort is mine - I feel weird taking Robert into the women's restroom because I don't want to make others uncomfortable. I may have to get over that until we have more family restroooms!

Kathy said...

Yes, I'm a bathroom door lurker too.
You can find me with hovering about the men's room door and lots of times with my foot propping it open a little so I can hear Hubby better.

I get lots of looks but my favorite was the look of the gentleman that walked in the bathroom while I was IN THERE too! I just smiled real big :)
He excused himself and said he would wait.
I smiled at him again as Hubby and I passed his table in the restaurant. Hey, I'm a friendly person :)

But I agree. There should be more "family" style restrooms available. It's funny how these small things have a big impact on our decisions to go anywhere. My mind races to, "Can we be accommodated?"

Until we get them I suppose I'll just be lurking at the men's room door with it propped open with my foot. Maybe I will see you there :)

robert's sister said...

Kathy, It's a good thing you're so friendly. :-) I guess we'll just get used to lurking until there are more of the gender neutral bathrooms. I'll have to try your trick of propping open the door with my foot. Thanks for the suggestion!

Sheila said...

Thank you for your post. I was thinking about this recently with respect to people who may require assistance in the bathroom. Gender-neutral bathrooms are an excellent idea. I will try to remember to ask for them more often. Thank you.

robert's sister said...

You're welcome, Sheila. I'm hoping the more people ask for them and are aware of the need, the more we'll find!

Imogen Ragone said...

I must be honest, I had never thought about this before. However, once you pointed out the issue it seems obvious that something needs be done. There do seem to be more gender-neutral bathrooms these days, and "family" bathrooms which would help you out, but still not the norm. I do remember from the days when my son was just about old enough to go into the men's room on his own doing my own lurking...
I'm glad you don't let this issue stop you getting out and about with Robert. Thanks for raising awareness about it.

Jessica said...

You know, I had forgotten about your blog until Vicki emailed us today. I immediately stampeded to the web to see what's up. This post is fabulous. I'm sure that this situation never crosses many people's minds - I know it hadn't crossed my mind. You're such a wonderful person and a fantastic writer. Keep on crusading - it all starts with one voice.

Also - your article in today's offering was brave and wonderful - and, again - you brought to the forefront an issue that many probably haven't thought about, but that we will all likely encounter at some point, whether within our own lives or being touched by someone else's life. Thank you for taking the time to give us such eye-opening, valuable information.

I appreciate you so very much (but you already know that) and look forward to catching up on all of your posts!

robert's sister said...

Oh, Jessica! I don't know what to say -- you're too kind and I'm so thrilled you're reading the blog. I love your use of the word crusade! Advocating not only for my brother but caregivers too, my crusade may not be the loudest but I am persistent (kind of like a gnat buzzing around your head). :-) Thanks for reading the post; I'm anxious to see if there's any reaction to the article I wrote about working caregivers. Talk to you soon.

robert's sister said...

Imogen, Before Robert, the only time it crossed my mind was if I was out with my young step-son. Not until caring for Robert did it occur to me that gender neutral bathrooms just make so much sense! I'm glad you're aware of this now too -- the more people who understand the importance, the more likely change will happen. Thanks for stopping by!

Leah said...

My husband has this problem when he's out with our four year old daughter. He takes her into the men's if necessary and says he's never had a problem from anyone but he doesn't want a man using the urinal to feel awkward with her presence.

He says he loves it when he can use a family restroom.

robert's sister said...

Leah, I can understand how he feels. The family restroom would be beneficial to so many people, not just the disabled and their caregiver. I was travelling this weekend and there were family bathrooms in most of the airports which was great to see. Target has them also so I think we're getting there but it's soooo slow! Thanks for your comment!

Heidi said...

I must say I really like the gender neutral restrooms as they allow me to take my 5 year old son into them. He's been fully trained for almost two years now although he does at times still want a little help with wiping. Women have always been very understanding in the ladies room but he has been embarrassed with the comments of a few little girls about his age. "Ew! Mommy why is there a boy in here?"

And depending on where we are and the amount of people I'm not always comfortable allowing him to go in the men's room by himself. A small store fine but a large one, no.

I also found these restrooms to be more accommodating and easier to use when I was pregnant with my 2 year old girl. Interesting blog, btw and happy Mother's Day to you.

robert's sister said...

Thank you, Heidi. Happy belated Mother's Day to you too! It seems these "family" bathrooms would be a benefit to everyone. Goodness - who wants to hear "ew" when they walk into a room? Your poor son! :-) Thanks for your comment!

Samantha Akhtar said...

Many women will be naturally opposed to the concept of gender neutral bathrooms. Although those are common with cafe with only one bathrooms.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Samantha, There are probably people who would be uncomfortable with the gender neutral bathroom solution. It would be nice to just have it as an option. Believe me, it's uncomfortable for me to go in the men's restroom to check on Robert! :--)

LaVonne said...

I have an 11yo son with autism who is getting better about being allowed to go into a restroom by himself, but I'm still not completely comfortable with the idea, especially if it is very busy and crowded and if the restroom has more than one exit. I definitely want to see more gender neutral restrooms. This would also solve a problem for LBGT people who don't quite fit other people's ideas of what a "man" or a "woman" should look like. A man wearing a dress, for example, may not self-identify as a woman or as transgendered (I knew a guy in college like that. He liked to wear women's clothes and makeup, but he considered himself a straight man). Gender neutral bathrooms would help solve some of these issues as well. :)