I lived in West Berlin for about 5 years just before the Cold War ended, and when I first moved there, I was struck by the concept of gender neutral toilets. They weren’t found everywhere, but they weren’t exactly uncommon either. I visited East Berlin once in a while and noticed they also had some gender-neutral facilities.

Compared to American restrooms, at least, they always seemed to sparkle with cleanliness.

In the East, that was understandable given that public restrooms usually had paid attendants — almost always women. This was the case even in sex-segregated facilities.

So at least in the East, a men’s room always had a woman waiting to clean up after.

I don’t know what all this means, only that as an American, I found it all pretty shocking, although I quickly got used to it. Is it possible that our Anglophone toilet gender squeamishness is less universal than we suppose?

As to the cleanliness issue … I suppose it’s a sort of tragedy of the commons, and that men are more given to suppose that people will look after or clean up after them than women are.

Not a flattering thing to say, but I feel some truth in it.


Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com

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