The Restroom Dilemma

Your bladder is full. Are you a pointer or a setter?

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Sometimes I go into the wrong restroom. This problem is exacerbated if I’ve had a few drinks.

It’s not that I spontaneously lose certainty of my gender when I approach a public restroom—that’s an occasional internal debate that I save for other scenarios. Rather, it’s a cognitive issue I have with clever signage. I can’t always make instant sense of nonstandard images or terms for male and female, and my ability to think works inversely with the fullness of my bladder.

Take “lasses” and “lads,” for example. Several Irish pubs use this terminology on restroom doors, and although I’m female, I don’t immediately identify with “lasses.” In fact, to a buzzed American of a certain age or pop-culture saturation who is focused on finding a toilet, “lasses” brings to mind Lassie, the heroic dog of TV fame who saves little Timmy from drowning in a well but never pees. That’s not me.

More than once I’ve stood in front of the restroom entries at Big Dog’s Brewing Company, bladder awaiting brain, and looked at one door, and then the other, and then back at Door No. 1, and tried to remember—am I a “Pointer” or a “Setter”?

This is not a problem with my understanding of anatomy. After the fact, I recognize that it’s not that tricky, and that I’m not likely to find this question on the Medical College Admission Test. But my confused-by-urgency logic has occasionally taken this route: Big Dog’s Brewing / Dog Breeds / English Pointer or Irish Setter … Damn it! Am I more Irish or English? My mom’s dad was from Spain, I think? What if I’m a mutt?

After another beer, I may forget that I’m in a dog-themed bar, which should solve this problem, but instead leaves me pausing to be horrified at the grammatical issues posed by “setter.”

This is starting to sound more like a drinking problem than a restroom problem, so let me further explain that it doesn’t only happen in bars. At a community pool: Gulls and Buoys. At a marina: Inboards and Outboards. At Outback Steakhouse: Sheilas and Blokes. At my office: “Vag” and “Penis.” Sure, that last pair is anatomically distinct, but because the bathrooms are not side-by-side, a woman must initially walk through the halls looking for a restroom and decide to enter the random door tagged “Vag.” It’s pause-worthy, believe me.

Some restaurants or stores offer “Family Restrooms,” but I never know if I’ll be scorned for using this without a family in tow, so I steer clear.

None of this should be difficult. And thankfully, some places are reliably less concerned with whose toilet is assigned to whom and by what clever name. I don’t have these problems in gay bars—I’ve been in several women’s rooms with drag queens, and skipped into the men’s room myself to avoid waiting in a line. But once, at a concert in California, a police officer asked me to leave the giant, empty men’s room—it was Lilith Fair, an event overrun by women, and the line for the ladies’ room was 6 miles long, but the security team wasn’t having it. I was escorted out after the fact. Totally worth it.

This issue may be becoming a thing of the past—UNLV has several “gender neutral” bathrooms, and some states and municipalities are making laws to allow transgendered people to choose their appropriate bathroom. Fine by me—one less label to worry about, one less not-that-clever sign to interpret. I mean, at the risk of sounding like I have to pee, who cares? Can’t we all just share some standards and keep a restroom clean and safe? Such idealism. Lest we forget, many a coffeehouse and restaurant have the standard unisex bathroom. And I’ve never met anyone who gender-divides their home bathrooms.

But if you really care which bathroom I use, at least make the sign clear.