Monday, January 23, 2012

The Wrong Restroom!

I was traveling a couple weeks ago, and pulled off the road to a truck stop for a bio break. The men's room was full, so I stood inside the door by the sinks and waited my turn. While I was waiting, a 40-ish year old woman walked in and stopped dead as soon as she saw me, a look of complete bewilderment on her face. I said, simply, "Men's room," to which she immediately blurted out an "Oh, God, I'm sorry" and darted back out into the hall wearing a rather embarrassed look.

It reminded me of an incident from college. Most of my classes were in the "design, art, architecture and planning" (DAAP) building, which was set a bit apart from the rest of campus. It had kind of an odd layout, which befit the art students that generally populated its halls. One of the unusual "features" was that the men's and women's restrooms were located at opposite ends of the building on each floor. But instead of all the men's rooms being on the east end and all the women's on the west, they alternated poles depending on which floor you were on. The women's rooms were on the east end on floors 1 and 3, but on the west end on floors 2 and 4 with the reverse being true for the men's. So you had to be very conscious of which classroom you were in when you decided to take a break.

One night, I was in the studios working. It must have been close to the end of the semester, as there were several of us there. I got to a point where I needed some more supplies, and was going to make a run up to the local Walgreens. (Not the best choice for art supplies, certainly, but there aren't generally too many options at 3:00 in the morning.) I went around asking if anybody else needed anything and, not having any takers, made a quick stop to the restroom before I left.

As I'm sure you've guessed, it was the wrong one. I wasn't thinking about which floor I was on, and simply went to the nearest. It took me a couple seconds to register the discrepancy. "Wait, something doesn't look right here. Oh, hey! There's no urinals!" But, I figured, it was 3 AM and the whole building was almost empty so I might as well make use of the facilities. So I'm standing in one of the stalls when I hear the door open. Some footsteps were shortly followed by a pair of sneakers I could see in the stall next to me. Clearly pointing in the "correct" direction. Whoever she was, I'm sure she saw my shoes were going the "wrong" way, but she didn't seem to care enough to say anything. I finished up, washed my hands and left, catching one of my peers on the way out who was only just registering what had happened and trying to stifle a laugh. I shrugged and went off to Walgreens.

The memory sticks out for me because it was one of the first real first-hand experiences I had in a progressive culture. For that minute or two, it was a unisex bathroom. (This was several years prior to Ally McBeal giving that notion any widespread exposure.) That there were two of us, of different genders, sharing the facilities highlighted to me that, hey, we're just all people and any labels you may ascribe to or have applied to you don't really mean anything. I had no idea who she was and (I don't think) she had any idea who I was. We were just two people doing something that ALL people have to do.

I don't think I've ever told that story before. Not because I was embarrassed or anything like that, but simply because it was essentially a non-event. It was memorable to me precisely because of how much of a non-event it was. Maybe the girl in the stall next to me was simply terrified speechless, or was in some altered state of mind where she didn't even notice me. Hell, maybe it was another guy! Like I said, I never saw anything but sneakers. I prefer to take an Occam's razor approach and think she just didn't care that a guy was in the stall next to her, and it was largely unremarkable for her as well. Two people just going about their business.

Shouldn't that be how comic shops operate? Where anyone can walk in and not really care that there are other people milling about? They could be male, female, black, white, heterosexual, homosexual... Comic shops have been around considerably less time than public restrooms, yet they still continue to evoke reactions not dissimilar to the first woman I mentioned above. "Oh, God! This is a comic shop?!? I'm sorry!" Wouldn't the second scenario, where a female's presence in a comic shop is a non-event, be preferable?

I mean, really, if gender parity can be a non-issue in a restroom, why is it so hard in comic shops?

1 comment:

Jeff Dreger said...

I have my own "wrong restroom" story. I was traveling through O'Hare and was very tired and out of it plus I had to go to the bathroom probably more than I ever have. Consequently, I had some serious tunnel vision and proceed very quickly to the nearest restroom which I ran into and - not seeing any urinals immediately - popped into the nearest stall. I hadn't seen anyone on the way in but suddenly heard a female voice. I was annoyed thinking "why didn't she just take her kid into the ladies room with her?" Suddenly it dawned on me where I was. I didn't think folks there would be as understanding as in your case so with no real options, I just walked out as quickly as I could (of the now very crowded restroom) and proceeded as quickly as I could to the next terminal. I heard a couple of surprised comments as I bolted, but I didn't say anything or look back afraid that someone would overreact and I'd get into some sort of trouble. Very embarrassing.