Today, we went to a restaurant called Portland for lunch to celebrate Geth’s birthday.
‘I wonder why it’s called Portland,’ I mused, questioning, whimsical.
‘Because it’s on Great Portland Street. They’ve also got one called Clipstone. That’s on Clipstone street. ‘
At half time I went to the toilets downstairs.
There were 3 cubicles.
One read Ladies, one read Gentlemen, and on the third was this:
Apart from disabled people and impatient people*, for whom is this cubicle intended?
People who are both genders. But wouldn’t this need to say Hermaphrodite & Disabled?
People who are neither gender. Is this actually possible? Scarlett Johansson had this sort of thing going on in Under the Skin, but she was an alien. Do aliens go for lunch on Great Portland Street? Maybe. But would they get bogged down in toilet terminology? Bogged down. Maybe.
Some other possibilities that might make this option clearer: No-sex & Disabled. Sexless & Disabled. Gender Free & Disabled. Genderless & Disabled. None of these work.
People who are transitioning between genders. But don’t they identify with one gender, or other, regardless?
People who might expect, or wish for, the inside of the toilet to be partisan to neither sex. No pink loo roll dollies. No copies of What Car?
People who don’t like to be defined by gender. But would the way they use the toilet be any different to the way they’d use one of the ones that had different signs on the door? (Same argument here for what is the point of having signs on individual doors at all.) Maybe not, but the option is a mark of respect for their choices.
But is the fact that some people dislike gender labels that sensitive of a subject on a generalised level that it needs to be reflected in toilet signs? There aren’t meat apologies on the menu to vegetarians. Or political disclaimers at the bottom of the wine list. And so on.
People who are disabled AND fit into one of the categories above. This is really quite niche. I’m not sure this is about emptying bladders at this point. This is now about agenda.
Why do Unisex & Disabled go together? Why can’t Unisex run alongside Ladies or Gentlemen, in a similar way, seeing as only one usage is intended to be accommodated at any one time?
Would disabled people (if you could group them together in such a way, which you can’t, which is surely somewhere in the ballpark of why a unisex option has been created in the first place) feel annoyed if they saw someone unisex coming out of what is traditionally, primarily their toilet, even though they knew they didn’t have the right specifically, seeing as this sign designates that particular cubicle for dual usage. Would they even know if the person coming out was unisex? Would they wonder what they had in common with them such that this group of people had been given a shared billing? Because I don’t think it’s an overclaim to say that disabled people are, generally, ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gentlemen’. Which is to say not that they fit into some sort of 3rd gender category, simply that they require better access/ more room/ different facilities etc.
Why would Unisex require any of the extenuating features (exampled above) demanded by disabled toilets, anyway? Might it not be more accurate to offer the title share to sub-sections of people who could benefit from the extras? Groups Of Drug Users & Disabled. Generously-Built People & Disabled. And so on.
Would disabled people feel that Unisex had been added to their cubicle in a minority dumping ground gesture? As if everything that comes under ‘Other’ can go in their cubicle, because the perfect primary male/ female differentiator can’t be messed with in any sense. I mean, purr-lease.
If the person leaving the Unisex & Disabled cubicle actually was both unisex (by any of the definitions above) AND disabled (a niche combo, we’ve established, but not impossible), would the disabled person suddenly feel like they had less of a right to go into the cubicle, or would they just be charmed by the absolute appropriateness, on this rare occasion, of the exiting person using this very specifically-labelled cubicle?
Might they even be moved to challenge them. ‘I say- cheeky- but I can see that you’re disabled. Are you also unisex?’ ‘Take a hike! Lots of women wear slacks these days.’ (That would be rude, because the person asking was just trying to alight upon something neat and very random- not only an irresistible combination, but one you don’t get much of in life.)
Of course, they might not be this rude at all. They might say, ‘Yes, I am. Thank you for noticing. But go ahead and use that toilet without feeling like it’s any the less for you. You’re totally welcome in that cubicle. I’ll wait here, so we can figure out together how to get back up these non-disabled access stairs.’ (The Unisex & Disabled toilet was downstairs, if you were wondering if that was just a tasteless joke.)
Would children come down and think, ‘I don’t feel well represented here’?
Babies would surely feel that, especially when they find out there is no changing bed thing for them in Ladies, Gentlemen, OR Unisex & Disabled. How bloody marginalised can you get, they’d think.
Anyway, the bathroom sinks were communal and had lovely Aesop hand wash and hand cream in I-trust-you restraint-free holders.
And the meal was really delicious.
*People who are impatient (ie. any gender) and (separately) disabled people. Gender matters not. Ah, yes. This is the one. Sweet irony…