This is our truth, tell us yours
You stand there, determined not to shuffle your feet. You pretend it’s perfectly normal to be shoulder to shoulder with three or four other men, cock out, not looking down.
Once the line of men has settled after you take your place, ignoring the man taking for ever to wash his hands at a sink that has not hand towels, no soap, no hand dryer, you look for a signal. A glance, a movement of eyes, a hand movement that draws your eyes downwards to where a flaccid cock is being coaxed to semi-erection, the foreskin drawn back, slow-motion masturbation commenced. That’s to your right. To your left the man’s shoulder is turned away from you because he’s already wanking the man to his left in a surreptitious, back handed way.
In a world where private toilets were a rarety, communal urinals must have seemed like a step forward. Once some kind of toilet per house became the norm communal toilets became less of an essential and more of a private pleasure, almost a luxury. In the town where I live there were two classes of public toilets: the utilitarian ones on routes to workplaces like the pits, and the slightly smarter ones in the parks. Once the journey to work became a matter of travel on buses or cars roadside toilets became forgotten items, places where men could linger undisturbed until they found what they were looking for.
Local authorities are often backward looking organizations. They often build facilities that reflect past demand, not future needs. Public toilets are one example. They were built to address peaks of demand; 400 men walking past a junction in thirty minutes, on their way to start day shift in the pit. Someone, somewhere, took the calculated decision that more men could be processed through a toilet block via shared urinals than via private, discrete water closets. So they built a design of public toilets that became, by accident, the archetypal English cottage, a place where men lingered, looked and fumbled.
Communal, gendered toilet facilities may be, for some us, fun, but they’re a design that has outlived its time. I remember, with some amazement, the first time, three decades ago, that I wandered into a bar in Manchester that had ungendered toilets. They were clean, welcoming and friendly. They were everything men’s toilets weren’t.
In a world where American psychopaths are arguing for their right to police gendered toilets I can’t understand why anyone, anywhere, ever, pursues the argument for gendered toilets. They’re a throwback to another time.
What we need, now, is privacy, comfort, and universality, not gendered, demand driven facilities. Theperils of urinals is that they say, there are discrete ways ofbeing a man, or a woman, and nothing else. No matter how much I might have enjoyed a friendly fumble to my left or my right, it’s time to say that the rule for toilet facilities should be that one size must fit all.