I was in Austin the other day, at a Starbucks, and was shocked to find separate men’s and women’s bathrooms. Starbucks being the bastion leader of political correctness that it is, a barometer of sorts of the issues of our times, I have seen “unisex” bathrooms in many locations. And let me preface all this by making sure everyone understands, I have no issues with the latest gender tolerances. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have one. I want to be in a men’s-only bathroom, but for a different reason than you assume.
There are things that I think we should just keep to ourselves about. Bodily functions fall into this category. I want to keep the illusion that women are “the fairer sex.” Not weaker, fairer. Prettier to look at, gentler, less war-like. Sharing a bathroom with a woman shatters that illusion.
I’m not being political – I just had to pee
So we are clear, I don’t even like it when my wife is in the bathroom when I have to utilize the facilities. I, in return, give her privacy whenever she goes to the bathroom. She does not return the favor. She sees my use of the bathroom as an ideal time to get my opinion on things since I’m captive. It drives me a little crazy. There are times in a man’s life when he just wants to be alone. This is one of those times.
When I walked into Starbucks, realizing that I had to pee after the hour drive into downtown, I was at first worried about having to use a shared facility. OK, I’m in downtown Austin, one block away from City Hall and The Moody Theater, where Austin City Limits is filmed. There’s a lot of homelessness down there, just like there are in most cities across the nation. The last thing I wanted was someone thinking I was making a pass, or being creepy. I just had to pee. At a certain point, your shyness is overcome by your desire to pee, so I braved whatever I would face, and went ahead and found the bathrooms. To my sheer delight, there was the welcome silhouette of a man and a woman on separate doors. I was spared from having to worry about peeing in front of a stranger, a female one at that. But more than that, I was spared from having to listen to a woman use the bathroom.
No means no
I have never said that I’m not a prude. I may have even admitted to it once or twice. I don’t enjoy being in the bathroom with people of my own gender, so when you throw in the unknown that is a woman, I really don’t want to share this space. This would be no different with anyone who identifies with a third gender, or not their biological gender. At the end of the day, I don’t want anything to do with someone else’s bathroom usage any more than I want to be around my wife when she is in need.
But I was put a little aback by this Starbucks not being up to date with other Starbucks that I’ve seen. Granted, this location has bigger restrooms that are not the typical unisex single-seater of most other locations I’ve seen. They had quietly solved this problem in smaller locations, by just making the single-use bathrooms unisex – really only changing a placard outside each bathroom. But a bathroom designed for use by more than one person simultaneously reveals the bigger issue. We’re really not comfortable peeing in front of the other genders, regardless of which one we associate with.
That one time, in college
And I, for one, don’t have any issue with that. Like I’ve said, I would like a little more mystery in my life when it comes to bathroom functions. My first year of college, I was in a co-ed dorm, and my room was conveniently in front of the woman’s bathrooms. Sure, the showers were there, and I’d sit with my door open and say “Hi” to all my lovely co-ed floor mates each morning as they went off to shower, covered by nothing but a towel. But there were times when that 17-year-old utopia was shattered. I’ve always been this way, it would seem. It hasn’t helped that I’m more shy about this than most of the women I’ve known in my life. I mean, what’s so interesting about a guy going to the bathroom?
There’s a bigger issue here, however. We’ve forgotten the issue of privacy and how personal it is to most people when we start talking about dictating bathroom usage. Even as a guy, I can tell you, there hasn’t been very many times when I’ve seen another guy’s willie, and I’m typically standing next to at least one other guy at a urinal. There’s etiquette. You just don’t lean over to your stallmate and ask, “Hey man, whatcha got there?” It’s not homophobic. It’s about respect and privacy. For goodness sake, I’m just trying to pee.
Back to the Starbucks bathroom, I was relieved (pun intended) that there were separate bathrooms, and even better, there was no one in mine, male, female or otherwise. I could use the facilities without having to have that awkward interaction with a stranger in the bathroom. I mean, do you smile, say “Hi,” or just ignore them? I usually just ignore people. But I also don’t want to be thought to be unfriendly. Just don’t judge me by my bathroom etiquette, please.
How corporations should act
In all honesty, the best thing about this Starbucks location was their allowance of letting anyone use their bathrooms. I know this policy has generated a lot of interest on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s not a political issue. It’s a human one. While I was ordering coffee, a homeless guy came in as well. The barista in front of me instructed the man that he had to leave his blankets outside. It’s been cold in Austin, and this guy looked like a small mountain under his blankets. I was thinking how great it was that they made him leave that outside – a cruel thought of “I don’t want to get lice” passed through my brain.
I know, don’t judge me, it was just a passing thought. But the barista was being genuinely gentle with the guy, even got him a cup of water. This little show of humanity, while corporate-policy induced, speaks pretty highly of the company and of the young man in front of me. He showed genuine empathy, something I don’t normally attribute to someone working in a downtown environment. I don’t really like Starbucks coffee all that much, actually. It’s expensive, and they burn it 9 times out of 10. But I do believe in supporting companies that are doing the right things and making decisions that aren’t just financial-based. I’ll continue to support them in my travels, and hope they continue to be as decent as they are being now.
The man in question grabbed his water and went to use the bathroom – spared the indignity of having to pee outside like an animal. But it was the attitude of the young man that struck me so strongly. He didn’t get this attitude from a memo – there had to have been corporate training on how to treat people with kindness and empathy. Again, something that is rare today. Maybe he’s just one of those young men who were raised correctly and are truly just “good people.” I honestly hope it wasn’t that. I hope that Starbucks has pulled people aside and taught them a little humility and grace. In an era when most businesses are more worried about profit than perception, it’s nice to see one company trying to make a difference.
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