I have a postcard on my bookcase I bought more than 30 years ago on a trip to New Orleans. It shows what appears to be a woman in a short dress, wearing high heals, standing at a urinal, using it like a man. The man next to her is giving her a look. I bought it because it was funny and it relates to the plumbing world.

Looking at the postcard, you don’t know if it is a man or a woman, although he/she appears to be holding the male anatomy while using the urinal. If it is a man, he could be a transvestite, a transgender person or someone dressed up for Mardi Gras. There is no way to tell. I guess that is what makes the postcard so funny; it confuses you.

The postcard seemed to have more meaning after the Bruce Jenner interview regarding his transition to becoming a woman. The buzz word became transgender.

I must be getting old because I wasn’t sure what the world meant by the word transgender. Is transgender a fancy new term for transvestite, or does it mean an individual who went through a sex change operation? After looking up the definition, it would include both and more. The definition states it is a person who does not associate with a particular sex.

If you are wondering how this affects the plumbing profession, the question you must ask is, “Where do transgender individuals use the facilities?” If a person has female anatomy but associates more like a man, should that person use the men’s room? Similarly, if a person has male anatomy but associates as a woman, should that person use the ladies’ room?

While you may want to be cynical, these are issues that impact transgender individuals, as well as other individuals using the same facilities. It becomes an even bigger issue if it involves locker rooms with showers. This is something that we as a profession must address.

The week before the Bruce Jenner interview, the International Code Council had a code meeting discussing changes to the plumbing code for the 2018 edition. One of the topics of discussion was regarding single-occupant toilet rooms.

Currently, the building code requires family or assisted-use toilet facilities for certain buildings. These have been identified as unisex toilet rooms. The concept is to allow men and women to enter into single-occupant toilet room together. This is typically done to assist either a disabled or temporarily disabled person using the water closet.

The family toilet rooms typically have just a water closet and a lavatory; however, they also are permitted to include a urinal. Use of these facilities is growing. If you happen to visit Disney World in Orlando, Fla., you will find family-assist toilet rooms throughout the park. These toilet rooms also allow parents to provide security for their children.


Proposed changes

A number of changes regarding single-occupant toilet rooms were proposed at the plumbing code hearings. One change was submitted by the Transgender Law Center. The proponent also was representing the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Center for Transgender Equality. The concept of the proposal was pretty good, in that it would not require single-occupant toilet rooms to be identified by sex. In other words, any individual could use the room if it was available.

I recently saw a facility similar to this in Michigan. There were 10 individual toilet rooms, each with a water closet and lavatory. They were identified as toilet rooms with the symbol for both men and women. Rather than five water closets in the men’s room and five water closets in the ladies’ room, there were 10 separate rooms for anybody to use. It worked quite well since I was attending a wedding reception and anyone could use any toilet room.

This was part of the concept of the code change from the Transgender Law Center. Similarly, the American Institute of Architects had a change submitted to expand the use of single-occupant toilet rooms. They used examples similar to what I experienced at the wedding reception in Michigan. The architect group pointed out that individual toilet rooms do not add any expense since there is a more economical use of space and you remove all the toilet compartments. It seemed to make sense.

One of the other changes proposed was to identify the single-occupant toilet rooms as gender-neutral toilet rooms. This was proposed by the University of Puget Sound. At first, the term seemed confusing. But, if you think about it, a toilet room for either sex is gender-neutral as opposed to gender-specific.

With all the discussion on gender-neutral, unisex and family-assist toilet rooms, it made for some interesting dinner conversation. One woman at our table said it would be gross to use a toilet room that was just used by a man. “Men leave the bathroom so disgusting,” was her comment.

That got the men going at the table, saying that any public toilet room has to be maintained, whether it be a men’s or ladies’ room. Finally, someone said, “You use the same water closet at home.” But of course, that’s different.

I also thought about the use of a porta-potty at major events. I stood in line for the porta-potty at the Kentucky Derby behind a group of women. A man was behind me and then more women. We were using the same gender-neutral porta-potty. So why not expand the concept to inside the building?

There was some interesting testimony on the single-occupant toilet room concept. However, in the end, all the proposed code changes were recommended for denial. That doesn’t mean we have reached the end of the line. Another hearing is to be held in October to discuss this same issue. However, the next hearing will not be decided by a group of men; the audience will be mixed.

I think it is time for us to consider the rights and feelings of every individual. If unisex or gender-neutral or whatever you want to call the single-occupant toilet rooms can solve some of our societies’ concerns, than we should be open to the concept. In the long run, plumbing is plumbing. Everyone should have equal access, equal privacy and equal waiting times.