UVic's co-ed washrooms are a big deal

So there are co-ed washrooms now in the University of Victoria's Student Union Building. Big deal, we might say. Toilets that can be used by both, or all, sexes have existed at other European and North American universities such as the University of B.C., McGill and York for some time.

This is a big deal, though, to UVic students who are transsexual and who can raise eyebrows, even abuse, if they walk into a "ladies" or "gents" where they're not expected or accepted.

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The wonder is, that in parts of the world where there aren't more pressing issues like war and famine, it's taking so long for societies to embrace all the diversities of those who make them up.

Ramps have been installed for those who can't use stairs. Elevator buttons are low for those in wheelchairs and with braille for those who can't see.

People aren't excluded from public lavatories, restaurants or beaches because of the colour of their skin or what their religion or ethnicity requires they wear.

Many churches, like Victoria's own Christ Church Cathedral, have made inclusiveness a creed.

There was a time in this country when women could enter beer parlours only with a male "escort," as if drink made ladies loose and in need of protection. Most men still seem to prefer barbershops to beauty parlours, but that's probably only because they're quicker and cost less.

Why, then, are washrooms the last frontiers of sexual inclusiveness?

Why must the human body's need to eliminate be frustrated by the availability of places to do so because of a societal fixation with sex that isn't supposed to have, really, anything to do with it?

The human body is a wonderful contraption. It comes, ultimately, in two sexes and seems made for mutual attraction - at least until it turns into an old wreck.

Sometimes the polarity is altered, and our Constitution, according to the courts, accepts that. That closet door has been breached. The love that had no name once proclaims itself proudly today.

But society has become aware only recently of those who are unsure of their sex or are moving from one to the other. Canadian parliamentarians came close to recognizing "gender expression" and "gender identity" under the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, until the last election intervened.

It would have allowed transsexuals to use whatever gender-specific public washroom they feel most comfortable in. Mixed-sex washrooms should be more comfortable for them.

We could all benefit from more comfortable facilities. I'm not suggesting a row of communal potty holes like those at Ephesus - the fourth from the right was the most comfortable, I recall - where great affairs of state could be discussed - by men, of course.

I think most people prefer the security of a cubicle with a door that locks. Even better is the solitude of the outhouse where one can read, listen to birdsong and watch the spiders. The outhouse is a place for deep contemplation, or practising the trombone, if you like.

What seems to me to be desirable is privacy - not simply from the other sex, but from anyone. On emerging from cubicles, though, why shouldn't those of all sexes be able to mingle in enjoyable surroundings with, perhaps, couches, soft music, candlelight?

It's odd that these embellishments are available only at restaurants that, basically, simply serve another vital function - eating and drinking. They encourage lingering, conviviality and conversation. Brightly lit tiled caves with mirrors everywhere and whirring hand dryers don't.

Some people seem to have a primitive, instinctual fear of transsexuals - probably because they don't know any. They aren't rapists or pedophiles any more than the rest of us are.

I keep quite well abreast of what goes on in the world and have never heard of anyone being attacked by a transsexual in a public washroom, men's or women's.

The segregation of the sexes in locker rooms and showers is even harder to understand. Mixed-sex or family change rooms by beaches and swimming pools are as common in Europe as the market.

Too much is made these days of what makes us different and not enough of what makes us the same.

cruachan@shaw.ca

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