6 Helpful Ways to Check Your Male Privilege in Gender Neutral Bathrooms

A person dries their hands at a sink.

A person dries their hands at a sink.

A couple of weeks ago, my roommate and best friend pulled me aside to talk about something in relationship to the apartment.

While I knew it would possibly be an accountability conversation or something of that nature, it surprised me to find out that that she wanted to talk to me about my bathroom behavior.

“There’s a smell coming from the bathroom,” she told me.

There is a whole array of not so pleasant smells that come from the bathroom, but in this case she was talking about pee. My pee. She had pointed out to me that there was evidence of it all around the toilet. Pee that stayed there so long that it began to smell.

This was the larger takeaway from that generative conversation. It sparked reflection about my behavior in the bathroom. I had to check my own privilege and think about the impact I was having.

This is especially important because I work in an office with a gender neutral bathroom, and my roommate and I also share a bathroom. So, on a daily basis, I live in and navigate a world where I interact with multiple genders in a bathroom setting – and, like every other part of my life, I experience male privilege at the expense of other genders.

Though many people have penises and/or stand up to pee, for this article I want to focus on ways that cis men can be better allies to the other folks with whom we share a bathroom.

We, as cis men, need to examine and shift our actions in the bathroom.

More and more, the gender neutral bathroom movement is growing – and not going anywhere soon. Fights for the rights of non-binary and transgender people to have access to gender-affirming spaces are being won across the country. But we still have a long way to go.

While battles are being won, there is much work to be done. Hopefully we will soon live in a world one day where gender won’t even play a role in bathroom design – or any other allocation of public space.

In fact, an architect in Chicago is designing a revolutionary new concept for gender neutral bathrooms it’s a row of individual toilet stalls separated by walls with a hand washing station in a separate room. These bathrooms cost less to build, offer more privacy, and take up less space.

While the constructs of the gender binary continue to evolve and dissolve, male privilege does not. We know that patriarchy and male privilege appear in all aspects of society, and the bathroom is no different.

I am a queer Latinx cisgender man who tries, fails, succeeds, and oftentimes stumbles in understanding my male privilege. I feel lucky that I even have regular access to gender neutral bathrooms in my own life – so, in these spaces, I want to make sure I’m respecting the space that many people fought so hard to create.

I was grateful for the conversation my roommate had with me. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of seeing and peeing in the world.

Here is a list of the many ways we as men can check our privilege at the door – the bathroom door.

1. Aim – Enough Said

Many gender-segregated bathrooms have urinals. The great thing about urinals is that they’re effective in catching urine when doing your business standing up – they’re wide and higher up from the ground. So the system is actually designed to catch all the droplets that would otherwise end up all over the place.

A conventional toilet is not designed in this way. If you don’t aim, everything can quickly go awry. Since the toilet is further from the ground, droplets can splash out if you’re not pointed directly at center.

Then there is that moment at the end. For those of us who have learned to pee standing up, we probably have experienced this.

There is that little extra left. That excess fluid that’s still in there. That you want to make sure is all gone so you vigorously shake all over the place, not realizing that in the process, droplets end up on the floor, the toilet seat, and who knows where else.

The likelihood is that you don’t even notice where the excess of your pee has landed – that no one has ever pointed it out to you.

You are a cis man. And to some degree (especially if you are a white cis man), society promotes an idea that we are entitled to absolute freedom of movement. You deserve, among so many other things, to pee freely and have no one tell you about the consequences of your poor aim.

Reality check: This is patriarchal logic, if not completely representative of the world in which we live. There are consequences.

What we cis men oftentimes never have to think about is who will have to clean up the mess we don’t even realize we are making. We have to clean up our own mess and our own pee.

In a world where people are realizing the limitations of enforced gender and gender policing of bathrooms, multiple genders do and will share the same toilets. Everyone should be entitled to a clean, sanitary toilet.

Your target practice is essential to this progress. So, challenge your male privilege. Point, aim, flush.

2. The Toilet Seat Is a Throne, So Treat It Like One

This should go without saying, but never, ever – and I really mean never – attempt the dangerous feat of peeing without lifting the seat up. For some of you adventurous people who want to prove yourself to the world, I understand how tempting this might be.

You have spent your life perfecting your aim. So much so that you believe you are the exception – that you don’t have to lift the seat up to pee. You have perfect precision and nothing, not one drop, will get on the seat.

Newsflash: This is a cis male-entitled delusion. No one, least of all you, has aim that perfect.

It may seem like extra work beyond what you should ever be asked to do to lift the seat up and down, but think of the world of difference you are making for those who come after you.

There’s a good chance that the person coming right after you will pee sitting – and who wants to sit on your urine?

There is another option.

3. Try Sitting Down

This is a fun suggestion. Seriously try it. You just might like it. Sitting doesn’t make you effeminate (and if it did, what’s wrong with that?).

It’s cleaner. There is less mess. That dribble effect at the end will not come into play.

Also, it’s better biologically. Squatty potties and the recent commercial with multi-colored unicorn stool have recently educated the masses on proper sitting positions while discarding of solid waste. Apparently, we’ve been doing it all wrong, causing great damage to our muscles in that region.

Similarly, a study found that peeing while sitting down may be easier on your prostate and allows for your pelvic and hip muscles to relax in a more neutral positions.

Another option is you can do a mini-squat and hover above the toilet to get any excess pee into the toilet bowl. It’s actually great exercise and good for your hamstring muscles.

4. Clean Up After Yourself

I’m about to switch gears into some pretty scary stuff here. You know what I’m talking about: cleanliness.

I don’t care what your relationship to cleanliness is – if you have been on this earth for at least more than a couple of years, chances are that you have come into contact with some of the most disgusting, aberrant, and downright nightmare-inducing images and smells in the men’s bathroom.

I will save everyone the horror of going into detail here.

Don’t contribute to the unfair and deeply misogynist standard that men shouldn’t have to worry about hygiene or about how clean they are.

There aren’t as many societal expectations for us to be clean. If people of other genders, especially women, don’t appear clean in their appearance or they’re disorganized or messy, people are much more likely to say something. Whereas we as men are all allowed to be less than perfect – if not congratulated for mediocrity.

Still, when in the bathroom, do everyone a favor and tidy up after yourself.

When you leave your stall, make sure everything is flushed all the way, and exercise patience for those stubborn toilets that require some extra time fiddling with the toilet handle.

If there is a clog anywhere, do everyone a favor and let someone know. You can say that it wasn’t you and that you were appalled to walk into the stall only to discover a delightful surprise. We all have seen those signs in the bathroom that say “alert an attendant if this bathroom is in need of cleaning.”

I used to be a lifeguard and had to clean the restrooms every day at the pool where I worked. When people alert you to messes as they happen, rather than half an hour later, it makes cleaning much easier.  

Having gender neutral bathrooms shouldn’t mean that we should expect the quality or the cleanliness of the bathroom to be any less. Go overboard to clean up after yourself.

This is a tip that can apply to anyone, regardless of gender, but it bears repeating for men, given the ways we are taught to not have to think about the consequences of the messes we make.

The Forest Service coined a useful phrase: “Leave no trace behind.” It’s amazing how well this translates to any bathroom situation.

5. Embrace the Sounds

Hopefully, we recognize as cis men that there is unearned value put on masculinity over femininity. This translates into different expectations put on people based on their bodies, identities, and expressions.

This is inherently flawed.

Women, femmes, and non-masculine non-binary people have a whole range of bodies that function in a variety of different ways. Still, oftentimes the gendered expectation is that men have a monopoly on natural bodily functions that, when inevitably expressed by feminine people, is often stigmatized.

This includes breastfeeding to menstruation to bowel movements to everything in between. Cis men, on the other hand, are able to display the full extent of their bodily function, without any self-consciousness, from burping to farting.

This is a double standard.

So in the bathroom, don’t be afraid of the sounds of people of different genders. It’s normal. Ever read that famous children’s book, Everybody Poops by Taro Gomi?

Not only is it a great read, but it’s absolutely true.

I remember feeling uncomfortable when first going inside gender neutral bathrooms, like I was invading people’s privacy, but I never felt this way in gender-segregated bathrooms. Sounds happen in the bathroom from people of all genders.

It’s okay. There are stalls in between you!

6. Wash Your Hands

Multiple studies confirm that fewer men wash their hands than women after they use the bathroom.

According to USA Today, 93% of women wash their hands, versus 77% of men. Other studies report different percentages, but the percentage of women who wash their hands remains consistently higher than men. Statistics for non-binary people are, unfortunately, unavailable.

We constantly interact with people all day. We shake people’s hands. We give people hugs. We are in close proximity to each other, so washing our hands goes a long way.

Don’t be another guy who doesn’t wash their hands. And don’t just wash your hands because someone else is there in the bathroom with you.

Do it when no one is looking. Do it because you care about gender politics in the bathroom and beyond.

7. Be Aware of Harm and Safety Concerns in the Bathroom

Lastly, and most importantly, we as cis men need to make a conscientious effort not to further harm or feelings of unsafety that folks from marginalized genders can experience in bathrooms.

This means respecting other all people and all genders in the space. It means not playing “gender police” and commenting about who sits down in a stall next to you or who stands up in the stall next to you – no commentary on what folks do with their bodies.

People do not have to perform either function based on preconceived gender stereotypes imposed on them.

It means being considerate. Don’t make folks feel unsafe or trapped by hitting on folks, following them in and out of the bathroom, or asking folks lots of personal questions.

On the flip side, don’t run in and out of a gender neutral bathroom because it makes you uncomfortable or you’re afraid to find someone of a different gender inside. There is no need to be afraid of a gender neutral bathroom, nor is there a need to interrogate anyone inside.

Respect others in the space and gauge your action appropriately. As a cis man, people may not want to interact with you because of safety concerns or harm they may have experienced in a bathroom setting previously, so it’s important to have an awareness of this.

Be aware of your impact and actions.

***

For so long the bathroom, has been a place of harm, harassment, and gender policing, especially for women, trans, and gender non-conforming people. For us cis men, I think it’s important to remember that people still experience oppression when going to the bathroom.  

Imagine having to wait to go to the bathroom, having to hold it for hours to find a single stall or bathroom where you feel safe – or even worse, finding a bathroom where you’re harassed because of your gender.

Now that people are tirelessly fighting for a world where all genders can feel safe in the bathroom, let’s do our part to make a smooth transition as men who want to be accountable.

The bathroom can be a place of liberation. It can be a place of cleanliness and peaceful relief if we all do our part to create that.

So, let’s not stall progress any further. Instead let’s us, as men, clean up our own stalls.

Vicente Garcia is a queer Latinx cis man from the Bay Area in California. He is currently in the midst of starting a production company called Future Narrative that will produce multimedia projects for social impact. An alum of VONA (Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation), he is a writer, science fiction fanatic, and an avid storyteller.