Mostly because I’m ignorant of the nuts and bolts, I’ve pretty much avoided the debates about whether transgender students should be allowed to use the bathroom of their choosing. My position is roughly the same as Thoreau’s over at High Clearing.

However, what little commentary I’ve read seems to leave an important point unaddressed. In my experience, schools are unforgiving when it comes to respecting students’ privacy. In my middle school, no provision was made by our gym class for those students who would have preferred not to shower in a room full of other naked boys. The gym teachers (there were 2 gym teachers who taught one class0 actually made it into some sort of right of passage, something we all had to do as a step to manhood. At least that’s how I interpreted their attitudes.

In high school, the school for whatever reason ordered the doors to all the bathroom stalls in the boys rooms to be dismantled so that if someone had to do “sitting-down business,” they had to do it in full view of others. As in the middle school shower example,

It was rumored that school policy in each case treated the girls better. I had heard (but didn’t know and still don’t know if it’s true) that for the girls’ gym classes, my middle school allowed the students to have their own shower stalls. I had heard (but didn’t know and still don’t know if it’s true) that my high school permitted girls to have bathroom stall doors. If those rumors are true, then I think that’s inexcusable sexism, not that girls should have to suffer the same as boys, but that boys shouldn’t be especially targeted.

Despite my hyper-modesty, I was able to do the middle-school showering with no problem. But in keeping with my hyper-modesty, the “no doors on bathroom stalls” policy really, really bothered me. When you gotta go, you gotta go, except when you’re too afraid to, then you can’t, but you still gotta. And well, nobody’s gonna be sympathetic.

My anecdote is just that, an anecdote. I’m sure some schools handle things better and some, worse. And maybe at a systematic level, most schools handle these things better. Or maybe I’m just hypersensitive. I realize it’s asking a lot to suggest the world needs to change to accommodate my special neuroses.

But the debate over transgender privileges needs to take privacy seriously. I’m actually optimistic that the debate can lead to greater respect for students’ privacy, if only because any workable compromise or solution on the issue may include offering things like private clothes-changing stalls, private shower stalls, and doors on bathroom stalls.

Category: School

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11 Responses to Locker rooms, bathrooms, and schools

  1. fillyjonk says:

    In some schools, the stall-door-removal is justified as “but kids might do drugs (or other illicit things) in the stalls with the doors closed!”

    In junior high, we had the shower-as-a-group thing. I pretty much hated it (I developed early and fast – I had stretch marks as a young teen and I so didn’t need ANOTHER reason for the girls to snicker and tease). I can’t remember now what I did – I think I took a washcloth and “bathed” (as much as I could) in the bathroom stall.

    (In high school – I attended private school – we did not have gym, we had mandatory sports, BUT they were at the end of the day and I could shower at home afterward. In many ways my private school was a more humane place than the local public school.)

    As for bathroom stuff – there was one bathroom you didn’t go in to unless you were a “tough girl.” And I just trained my body, more or less, not to need a bathroom for most of the day.

    I dunno; the whole “not making people uncomfortable” ship pretty much sailed years ago. Junior high is just set up to make most people uncomfortable in some way.

    though I think bathrooms with enough stalls, and with good secure doors on the stalls, would go a long way to increasing everyone’s comfort. (And maybe stall doors that go farther down to the floor? I remember people trying to crawl UNDER stalls)

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if drugs were the justification for removing the stall doors. But to me, that’s not a very good justification. I do think the concern in your last paragraph is justified.

      I agree that people, especially middle-school-aged people will probably be be uncomfortable regardless. But I think there’s the opportunity for marginal changes.

      • fillyjonk says:

        there have been incidents here in public restrooms of young men sneaking into women’s lavatories and trying to film the women while they are in there. One guy got caught doing it and I hope he gets the book thrown at him.

        I have way bigger problems with the idea of cameras in public restrooms than I ever would with the idea of transwomen in them.

  2. Murali says:

    Its only when I came to the UK did I have a toilet where the showers are open (as in no cubicles at all). It makes me very uncomfortable and this has been one contributing factor to why I don’t go swimming as often as I used to. Even in the army, there were cubicles. In the older camps there weren’t any doors to the shower cubicles. However, there was a line stretched out on hooks in front of the cubicles and we hung our bath towels on the line to give us some privacy. Even in the jungle, we would go far enough out that no one could see us before we dug a hole to shit or pee.

    I don’t see why this desire for privacy is a neurosis or hangup while the people who are fine with doing their business in public are normal. Why can’t we be the normal ones and the other people be exhibitionists

  3. Peter says:

    “NUTS and bolts,” ha ha.

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