Over at his fine blog, Malcolm Pollack has posted some thoughts from John Derbyshire (I've made my opinion of Derb known on several occasions) regarding the current "bathroom war," which is being fought over the issue of whether transgender folks have the right to use the public restrooms they sexually identify with as opposed to the bathrooms whose labeling best corresponds to their chromosomal makeup.
I find Derb unsavory at best, but he and I agree on this:
"I’m still having trouble taking this seriously. How on earth did we get to the point where restroom usage is a major national issue?"
Of course, my own reason for thinking this is a non-issue is very different from Derbyshire's: when you're at home, all bathrooms are used by all sexes, and no one makes a big deal of it. It's a short hop to translate that sensibility to the public sphere. Why make a big deal at all if, say, all public restrooms were to become unisex—in terms of access if not necessarily in terms of function (e.g., women, by their anatomical nature, would never use stand-up urinals)?
Fiction has portrayed the unisex scenario countless times; for example, both 1997's "Starship Troopers" and the mid-2000s's "Battlestar Galactica" showed coed showers and bathrooms. What's the big deal? People can get used to anything, just like horny teens who frequent topless beaches and become blasé within a day. Rape-y scenarios aren't the immediate or necessary consequences of putting all sexes in the same room together. Thinking that way is what leads to the absurd mindset that contends burqas are a good thing. Anti-feminists have written millions of column-inches rebutting the "all men are potential rapists" fallacy; why not take that rebuttal seriously and restructure our restrooms accordingly?
Titillation often depends on a "forbidden fruit" factor. Derb writes, "That was a rule-governed society, a society in which there were right and wrong ways to behave." I'm certainly not anti-rule, but one famously unintended consequence of rules, distinctions, and any sort of dualistic border is that they breed misbehavior by creating forbidden fruit. Conservatives are normally sympathetic to this notion when they complain about the overabundance of laws and the over-regulation of commerce: when there are too many laws, everyone inevitably breaks some—sometimes on purpose. Here's the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 57 (which I've quoted before):
The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.
The first two and final two lines are particularly right-friendly, I think: rules might be made to prevent rule-breakers and promote social well-being, but they often end up creating rule-breakers and diminishing well-being. Same goes for social taboos. A woman among men in a public restroom will create a public outcry only until people get used to such situations.
So my solution is, I think, consistent with the conservative notion that too many restrictions are stifling: just make all public restrooms coed/unisex/pansexual/whatever, endure the public outcry for a year or so, then watch everything settle into a new normal once the excited flapping and squawking are done. If you don't freak out about unisex bathrooms at home, there's no reason to freak out about them in public: you're already familiar with this reality.
ADDENDUM: Kevin Drum offers a bathroom-war timeline and commentary.