Thoughts on Bathrooms

I don’t talk about transgender legislation. I don’t talk about my feelings about gender or sexual orientation mostly because it’s controversial. I avoid conflict or even the very thought of conflict. And in general, I avoid conversations with people.

But today I’m going to talk about a specific topic that I cannot get out of my head. Bathrooms. I have always hated public restrooms. Not because of cleanliness or noise or lack of privacy, but because they are almost always gender specific.

There is a boys bathroom and a girls bathroom, and you have to choose which one to go into. For most people, it’s a pretty obvious choice. You simply go into the one that fits you without even thinking twice. But for someone who doesn’t fit, it’s like choosing between depression and anxiety, you don’t want either one but life might just push you into one anyway.

The worst is locker rooms. There is no privacy in locker rooms. And even though you go into the locker room that correlates to your body parts, you can never feel comfortable changing where you don’t belong. Even though I was threatened with detention every day I changed in the bathroom of the girl’s locker room, I still did it. I would rather be punished every day than be exposed every day.

For as long as I can remember, I have wished that there was another option. I wished that there was a middle ground where you didn’t have to choose between boy and girl, but could just be you.

I classify as gender neutral or genderless. I don’t associate myself with either gender or consider myself to fit into the categories of either boy or girl. I also classify as asexual, which means I feel no sexual attraction to either men or women. In a world of men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, being a gender neutral asexual person feels like being a rock in someone’s shoe. You just don’t belong, and you feel like you have no purpose and just get in the way.

I don’t expect you to understand. How could anyone understand if they have never felt like this? But I want you to know that I’m here, that I see the arguments. I see both sides fighting for what they believe to be right. I see my friends, most of whom have no idea how I feel, post about how wrong it is to choose to be something other than what you are.

I promise that I didn’t choose this. In fact, I choose to conform to what I am not every day. I choose to go into the women’s restroom despite the stares I get. I choose to go on the right side of the room when the teacher decides to divide everyone up by gender. I choose to wear a skirt even though it makes me feel gross inside.

I am not a man, but I don’t feel like a woman either. And I’m not sure I ever will. But I try. I try to fit into your world. I try to play along. I try to squeeze into the boxes I am expected to fit into. But please, before you post how wrong this is, before you tell the world to stop making things difficult, please, please know that for some people this has always been difficult. Please know that for some people, we would rather wet our pants every day at school than have to go into a restroom where we don’t fit in. And please, just please try to understand how hard it is to go through every day hating everything you are because no one seems to want you if you can’t be what they expect you to be.

Bathrooms

This is a post that I’ve been debating on writing for a while. I know that it’s probably necessary and very informational, but it’s not something people talk about very often. Hopefully you’ll learn something from this post though that helps you in some way. If so, then it was worth writing this.

Why using bathrooms may be hard for someone with autism:

1. It is a social situation.

2. It is a high sensory environment.

3. It is a germ-filled environment.

  1. ¬†Bathrooms are social environments. Whether you are at home using the bathroom or at work or at a park, if anyone else is in the vicinity, using the bathroom necessitates social navigation. If there is only one stall or toilet in the bathroom, there could be people waiting to use it after you. If there are multiple stalls, then there’s the added pressure of choosing a stall and the socializing that may happen with the other people in the same bathroom area.
    • If someone is waiting to use the bathroom, you have to decide what is a socially acceptable amount of time to take in the bathroom. If someone sees you go into the bathroom or knows you are in the bathroom, you still have to decide what is socially acceptable only without the added pressure of knowing they are waiting just outside the door.
    • If you are using a bathroom with multiple stalls, you have to decide what is an appropriate stall distance. Is it appropriate to take the next available stall or to leave a stall empty in between the one in use?
    • If you’re with someone, are they the type of person that tries to talk to you while you are using the toilet or do they like to converse while washing their hands? If you’re waiting for a stall, is it appropriate to have the same conversations you would have outside of a restroom or are there conversations that are inappropriate for bathroom areas?
  2. Bathrooms bombard your senses.
    • Bathrooms are often either the brightest or the dimmest¬†places in a building. Most bathrooms either have multiple lights or have large LED ceiling lights. If the bathrooms aren’t well maintained, some of the lights may not be working, making it very dim.
    • Bathrooms tend to be very loud. There’s the noise of toilets flushing, water running, shoes walking on tile, toilet paper unrolling and tearing, the door opening and closing, and then any noise that people in the bathroom are making. The sounds in bathrooms are often also magnified because the walls and tile tend to echo the noises inside the bathroom.
    • Bathrooms can often have strong smells associated with them. Sometimes these are the smells of cleaning materials or air freshener. Sometimes it’s the smell of feces or urine or mold. Sometimes it’s the smell of people that used or are currently using the bathroom. Sometimes it’s simply the smell of water or the walls.
    • Bathrooms are usually small, enclosed areas and so everything is very close together and can seem even more sensory invading because of that.
    • Then of course, is your own use of the bathroom. Whether you are using the toilet or washing your hands or taking a shower, these are all incredibly strong sensory experiences in and of themselves.
  3. Bathrooms are full of germs. They may not have as many germs as your kitchen sink because they’re not dealing with raw meat, but they’re still pretty germ-filled.
    • If you have a problem with the feeling of dirt or grime on your hands, then using the bathroom makes you want to scrub your hands for an inordinate amount of time sometimes.

So what can you do if your child has a hard time using the restroom?

  1. Emphasize that waiting to use the bathroom makes the problem worse. By not using the restroom when needed, you can cause constipation or make current constipation worse.
  2. Provide social skills and guidelines for restroom etiquette, how to respond if someone attempts to talk to you in the restroom, and how long is appropriate to stay in the bathroom and where/ when those guidelines apply.
  3. Normalize the use of the restroom. If kids see the bathroom as an anomaly or a nuisance, they’re less likely to want to use it when needed.