A bathroom is just a place to pee and do drugs

Everybody is welcome to pee at Sunny's. Photo by Tim Donnelly/Brokelyn.
Everybody is welcome to pee at Sunny’s. Photo by Tim Donnelly/Brokelyn.

The biggest and most immediate rebuttal to the idea that a bathroom is some sort of magical gender island and not just a hole in the ground to collect your recycled Miller High Life happens in New York City bars every single night. It’s in the back of those bars in long lines of people desperate to evacuate their bowels and get back to the party that any concerns of gender roles break down in favor of the only gods New Yorkers believe in: convenience and speed. This has been the case for some time, and you’re seeing more and more bars give up the idea that anyone really cares about anything about the bathroom other than how long the line is.

A few months ago, I was standing in line for the restrooms at Sunny’s, Red Hook’s beloved bar at the end of the world, where the Saturday night bluegrass jam had drawn in its usual large crowd. The bathrooms at the time were labeled “His” and “Hers” in charming vintage lettering. But they’re single-occupancy rooms so I always use whichever one opens first. That night, the Hers room opened and I pointed out to the guy in front of me in line that if he didn’t use it, I would. His face glowed with revelation: “Yeah, I could right?! It’s 2016, right? I’m going for it!” This guy seemed to think he was making some enlightened, revolutionary stance. He was not. A bathroom is just a place to pee and occasionally do drugs in.

Sunny’s recognized this: it recently added the words “+everybody” (which I snapped the above picture of on Tuesday) to the signs to clear up any confusion, because who has time to care. Like most social debates that embroil red state America, New Yorkers are too busy to care about where you pee and do your drugs, so long as you’re not slowing them down. 

Market Hotel in Bushwick, the legendary former DIY venue that reopened last year after major renovations, has taken the approach to bathrooms that all places in New York (and the rest of the world) should employ: instead of labeling its restrooms by gender, it indicates which ones have stalls and which ones have urinals. This is the only pertinent information you need when choosing a bathroom, and the lines of people with full bladders eager to get back to the show are grateful for it. Friends and Lovers in Crown Heights has a sign on their bathrooms that says something to the effect of “this bathroom is for people of all genders (but please only one at a time),” which is a reasonable request.

I know that bathrooms have a special place for some people across the country and for good reason: they can be a place to hide out from a bad date, a room to cry in, a refuge in which to have a quick sidebar with your lady squad or just a place to take a break from your desk job and play Dots or lightly nap for 20 minutes. With Trump’s decision this week to rescind President Obama’s order allowing trans students to use whichever bathroom corresponds to their gender, bathrooms have taken on a status of social justice identity. A very basic, unremarkable human need has inherited the mantle of an act of protest. All these things can be true while still remembering: a bathroom is just a place to pee.

Treating it as anything else overstates the efficiency needed to operate a functional bathroom, especially in New York City. I’m using bars as an example of how any concerns about gender separation in bathrooms breaks down in the face of sheer urgency of needing to. Watching women skip a long line outside the women’s room to go into the men’s is nothing new; the trend has gone the other way too. I know I am a cis white straight dude writing this, so I am writing from the perspective of observation, not personal preference. And I have observed lots of bars in New York City.

Compare our thoughts about bathrooms in America to Amsterdam and other places in Europe, for instance, where you’ll see these public urinals in busy public areas (which mostly benefit guys, I assume) that give people a quick place to pee that nearly fully blurs the line between private and public urination. In America, we still expect our bathrooms to be fully functional mini rooms. So instead of public urinals, in America we pee in alleyways and subway tracks and in Starbucks. I don’t remember Amsterdam smelling any more like urine than New York does on the average day.

On Monday, me and Dave (above) were in Coney Island taking advantage of the weather with some friends, eating lunch at Grimaldi’s, where only one bathroom was working, so Dave ended up in a stall next to a woman. They realized this on the way out and celebrated with a high five. We can all appreciate the enthusiasm, but faced with only one working bathroom and a bladder full of Budweiser, they had no time to wait and no choice.

Here then are the observable standards of unisex public bathroom use in New York City today:

1) Use whichever bathroom has the shortest line

2) Do your business as quickly as fucking possible

3) Don’t splash liquids all over the damn place

4) If you must do drugs, do them as efficiently as you would evacuate your bladder. If you need to bring a buddy in with you and people are waiting outside, you’re pretty much the worst, and they will glare at you as such.

Here’s hoping every bathroom in New York City becomes unisex, or at least is only identified by stalls vs. urinals. The only thing people should get mad about when it comes to bathroom usage is how long it takes you to do your drugs, then all bets are off.

Follow Tim, who is retiring from Brokelyn today: @timdonnelly.

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