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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms + Friendship

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Who's to predict the future of gender-neutral restrooms? How teens can be a best friend to their friend in trouble, were questions to Didi Lorillard this week at Didi's Manners.

Restrooms for everyone

Q.  As a department store, we've been advised to neutralize our restrooms for costumers and staff in 2016. However, it seems that people are afraid of gender-neutral bathrooms and we're experiencing resistance. My question is two-fold: how to designate how transgender people will access the restrooms? By the person's biological gender that defines them in terms of chromosomes and sex at birth or let them go where they feel the most comfortable? And secondly, would we be setting up situations that could create sexual violence? For instance, what if a predatory man follows a young girl into the restroom, which traditionally has been a safe haven for women?  Name withheld

A.  There are no statistics that I know of that indicate that public restrooms are any more sexually dangerous than any other public spaces, such as locker rooms, parking garages, alleys between buildings, and staircases inside public buildings. It's true that restrooms in subways, bus stations, and parks can be risky. Renovating your restrooms into multi-stall bathrooms, with high dividers, and simply labeled "Restroom" could well be your best solution. Especially when there is the option of a single-stall bathroom designated as gender-neutral -- the sign on the door would say "Single Stall" -- which should be easily accessed.

This more private "Single Stall" would include (besides a toilet) a changing station for babies, a chair/bench for a mother to sit while breast feeding or pumping her milk and handrails for those in a wheelchair. Public restrooms may be the only everyday social institution remaining (aside from single-sex private clubs and schools), which aren't public spaces where genders are forced to separate. It may well be the last war on gender itself. For well over a hundred years public restrooms have reflected our sexual politics. First making it normal for a woman to be out in public going to school and working (while still needing her privacy when she relieves herself), and now that we are progressing toward assimilation it is no longer a big deal to share a restroom. Federal, state and municipal codes are slowly changing. If you've been advised to go with the times, why not try truly public Restrooms that include a Single-Stall bathroom accessible to transgenders, folks in wheelchairs, and parents or caregivers.

How to be a better friend

Q.  My friend has a lot of troubles. I want to help her, but I'm a teen myself with stuff going on in my life, too. How can I be a better friend to my best friend?  AK, Cranston, RI

A.  You aren't your friend's therapist. You are not responsible for her bad luck, her bad days, and the troubles that have surrounded her. Her problems are not yours. You can, however, be her friend by continuing to listen to her. Really listening means not only hearing her words but watching her body language, and also capturing the tone of her voice. Does she sound as though she feels like crying? Ask her if she cries a lot. Is she experiencing a huge disappointment that she wants to talk about, such as her parents' divorce or the death of a classmate. It is altogether possible that she needs a confidante, someone to confide in about her fears and anxieties.

If you feel that your friend is having dark thoughts and is depressed, and may be hurting herself, isn't eating, or is talking about killing herself, you need to immediately tell someone like your mother whom you can trust. A school councilor, teacher or coach would also be ideal, although you would have to bring your friend along so that the adult can access the situation for herself. You need to understand that depression is a sickness. Ask about how she is feeling just the way you would ask about her sore throat, if she has a bad cold.

Let your friend know that you are willing to talk about sad things as well as happy ones, in order to give her permission to express how she is really feeling. Most importantly, ASAP talk to an adult whom you know will follow through in assisting your friend in finding the professional help she needs.

Didi Lorillard researches etiquette at Didi's Manners.


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