Joe Preston, a delegate in the Virginia state house and a candidate for state Senate, is not a cultural warrior. Preston supports LGBT nondiscrimination laws and same-sex adoption, as well as extending some benefits to the same-sex spouses of state employees. But the Democratic delegate accidentally waded into a morass of mucky mores when he declared his belief that “gay people should have their own bathrooms” separate from straight people’s.
Preston stated this view in response to a question about trans schoolchildren. According to Preston, a child born one sex should have to use the bathroom matching that sex all throughout school—even if he identifies with a different gender. “At some point,” he explained, “their genitalia have to dictate who they are.” Preston then elaborated that, in addition to being “against people of different genders sharing bathroom,” gays and straights should also use segregated facilities. Just as a straight man would feel uncomfortable voiding next to a woman, he suggested, he might also feel uncomfortable voiding next to a gay man. Segregated bathrooms would neatly fix the problem for both parties.
I have a serious and sincere question for proponents of sex-segregated bathrooms who are aghast at Preston’s comments: Why is he wrong? The justification for bathroom segregation—which is, by the way, a modern invention—is that men might feel uncomfortable performing their bodily functions in close proximity to women, and vice versa. Why? Because most men and women are heterosexual, and people who could theoretically be sexually attracted to each other should not perform urinary or excretory functions in the same room.
This rule is traditionally justified by the fact that micturition and excretion involve, necessarily, the baring of our most private organs in a semi-public space. If men and women used the same bathrooms, women might leer at men’s genitals, and men might leer at women’s (difficult as that may be). That’s the fear that drives horrible bills like the Florida measure that would imprison trans people for using the bathroom. Legislators declared that if the strict rules mandating bathroom segregation were blurred, men would use the same facilities as women—and stare at them in a state of undress. The only solution to this perceived problem is to mandate that all people with the same set of genitals use the same bathroom.
If the core justification for bathroom segregation is to let both genders to void among people who could not be sexually attracted to them, then Preston’s proposal is perfectly logical. Gay men are attracted to other men; lesbians are attracted to other women. A lesbian using a women’s bathroom presumably presents the same threat that a man using a women’s bathroom does. If we, as a society, are really committed to maintaining bathroom segregation, we might as well take it to its logical conclusion. The current rules were invented long before homosexuality was openly acknowledged. Any honest update should either put gays in their own separate bathroom—or abolish this ridiculous segregation altogether.