A.C. Snow

Snow: Privacy is still prized by many

Sexually integrated toilets in public buildings? Yeah, the idea sort of boggles the mind. But then our current culture, restless and unpredictable, is often in itself mind-boggling.

Some changes are just too innovative for the general public, including our state legislature, to routinely accept.

This time it was the Charlotte City Council that stirred a hornets’ nest when it passed an ordinance that would allow transgender men and women to use whichever gender restroom they felt comfortable with in public buildings.

The ink on the ordinance was hardly dry before the state legislature galloped into Raleigh and undid what Charlotte had done, in effect, declaring “No, no! Not by the hair of our chinny chin chins are we gonna allow that!”

As a result, the legislative action has become a nationwide issue.

Many of us have experienced momentary violations of traditional restroom privacy.

At a baseball game in Burlington, I was using the “facility,” when a woman walked in. Instead of silently retreating, she stood there apologizing for her mistake for what seemed at least five minutes, while I kept calling over my shoulder, “Ma’am, it’s OK. I understand. Ma’am, It’s OK!”

On a cruise ship in Europe, I was similarly occupied in a restroom on the top deck when a woman walked in and asked, “Is this the place where we get the wine?”

“No, ma’am,” I replied calmly. “This is the place where we get rid of the wine.”

On still another occasion, at a rest stop in Italy, a gaggle of giggling young women burst into the men’s toilet and headed straight for the stalls. We men were startled as well as amused.

When I was a student at Mars Hill College, I became good friends with a just-married Raleigh couple who lived near campus.

Gene frequently stopped by my dorm, and we would walk to the classroom together. One day, he said with a sigh, “Well, the honeymoon is over. This morning, Alice used the bathroom while I was shaving.”

Although I grew up in a large family, personal privacy was practiced.

When my brothers and I were out on the farm together, we always stepped behind a tree or a barn to respond to nature’s call.

However, that was not the case with our city cousins who spent the summers with us on the farm. They liked to indulge in contests of who could urinate the highest or the farthest.

When we went swimming naked in the nearby river, we rural boys were inclined to stay in the water while the city kids did a lot of prancing around on the bank. Such excessive exhibitionism gave birth to the term “bank walkers.”

World War II, of course, ended the age of modesty for millions of men serving in the military, as we were thrown together in an all-male culture that was stripped of any semblance of privacy. We adjusted.

Adjusting was painful for some. At the Fort Bragg induction station, in a roomful of naked men, one big fellow from the foothills sat on the floor in a corner of the room, covering his genitals with his hands.

His total misery was reflected on his face.

Transgender people who feel uncomfortable utilizing the facilities designed for their birth sex seek to use restrooms that correspond to their mental concept of their sexual identity.

Meanwhile, many of their counterparts undoubtedly feel just as uncomfortable surrendering their privacy to members of the opposite sex.

This conundrum of course clashed with the prevailing sense of inherent sexual propriety, prompting the legislature to call a special session to pass a state law overriding Charlotte’s city ordinance.

But rest assured that voiding the Charlotte ordinance is only a temporary setback for the transgender community as the controversy continues. Its eventual victory is not long away.

When that happens, as many European countries have discovered, it won’t be the Waterloo of social adjustments in a world of ever-changing lifestyles.

Snow: 919-836-5636; asnow@newsobserver.com