Recently, while visiting the library of a small east coast college, I found myself in need of a bathroom. I encountered this one:
Later that day I sought out the bathroom I usually use on campus: a nondescript single-user loo in the social science department, a place I’ll call Bathroom B. I wanted to visit Bathroom B partly because I had to go, and partly to see how it had changed since my last visit to the college at the end of the summer. Unlike the Omni-Gender Bathroom, Bathroom B is still trying to figure things out.
I work at this college several times a year, and have enjoyed observing Bathroom B’s evolution. Every time I visit, Bathroom B sports different signage. When I first encountered Bathroom B, it had a sign that read “Women.” On my next visit it bore a hand-lettered sign: “Unisex.” The next time I saw Bathroom B it was simply identified with a glyph not unlike that of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
That afternoon, I found Bathroom B marked with a strip of duct tape and the word “Women” in black marker—a return to its roots. Given that I only visit quarterly, I imagine I’ve missed at least a few iterations of the bathroom’s identity.
What I appreciate about this particular campus is the students’ and faculty’s willingness to change with the times–only to reevaluate and change again. On the one hand there are transgender students who require a safe space in which to answer nature’s call. On the other there are female students and professors who wish to use a cleaner bathroom than that typically frequented by male users. What’s the resolution? No one knows. But this once-banal bit of signage on a small room meant to satisfy a physiological function is now the hotbed of a series of wrought questions spanning biology, identity, safety, and selfhood.
Duct tape is sturdy, but not permanent, so I’m guessing Bathroom B will continue to evolve. The Omni-Gender Bathroom seems to have found a more stable identity for itself. Who’s to say which is the better destiny?