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Rolling in the Deep: It’s a funnel old world — plumbing the depths of omnisex toilet etiquette

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Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

A ‘Go Girl’ offers women a way to stand and pee, which we’ll need when sharing the privy with men.

Anyone with plumbing that requires squatting on a toilet will understand there are times when standing up while urinating is far more convenient – and necessary for survival in some cases.

Like the occasion out on a hike in an Eastern Cape forest when the guide whispered audibly with a clearly tightening throat that a hot steaming pile of rhino dung was “right here”.

There you were, modestly behind a tree, buttocks centimetres off the ground and an ecosystem of crawly creatures, pants coiled around ankles while balancing your weight on one wrist trying not to hit your open bush sandals.

Which is why, some years ago, the “Go Girl”, with the tagline “don’t take life sitting down”, found its way into the market. This is a portable device that “allows women the convenience of standing up to go to the bathroom”.

Hallelujah!

The pink pamphlet – because pink is a colour to which women are drawn like mosquitoes to an eardrum – advertises that the device, shaped like a funnel, can be used for a “variety of lifestyles”.

While there might be some argument as to why those who squat on the household toilet count more than those who stand, it is best not to get into this territory.

These include “bikers, brides, hunters, businesswomen, campers, climbers, concert goers, hikers, marathon runners, missionaries, skiers, travelling women and more”.

Missionaries? Who knew?

The device, the manufacturers guarantee us, “is portable and discreet” and can be slipped between cup and lip when no one is looking, apparently.

Made of flexible, washable rubber, it has a “unique splatter-free tip design and easy-to-aim spout”.

Free to pee

Aside from imagining a bride taking a leak next to the garden gazebo or a hiker higher up on a rockface letting rip, it is the businesswoman who hoists her skirt alongside the CEO at the urinal that would be fun. See who aims best.

The “Go Girl” certainly would be great for those Sting concerts where the queue for women’s toilets looks like that at a Home Affairs office on any given day.

The last instruction on the product pamphlet announces that it comes “in a small plastic tube with two tissues and a small bag for storage and disposal. Once cleaned you can roll it up and put it back in”.

Back in where they do not say.

Unisex toilets

Which brings us to uni/omnisex toilets.

Most humans have lived at some point in our lives, yes even nuns, with people who have external plumbing. In other words, boys and men.

In many households, grandmothers, mothers, sisters and wives have inculcated in our fathers, sons, uncles and brothers the absolute 11th commandment: “Thou shalt flip down the seat when done.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bathrooms are political: how gender-inclusive toilets can combat indignity and violence

While there might be some argument as to why those who squat on the household toilet count more than those who stand, it is best not to get into this territory.

Those who stand should not only do the seat-flip movement, but also check the floor around the bowl, as it appears that splashback might be a problem for some.

In the 1970s… this writer was often mistaken for a dude in women-only toilets. Pearls were clutched, eyes were averted.

Hence the line “splatter-free tip design and easy to aim spout” on the “Go Girl”.

Anyone who has ever jolled in a gay nightclub in Cape Town will know the toilets have been omni­sexual for years. That is why so many dread using them. They look like a collapsing municipal ablution in the Free State.

Mind you, most of what passes for toilets in nightclubs where alcohol is served, music is played and troubles are danced away are no-go zones as the night seeps into early morning. This we know.

Spare more than a thought for the cleaners. Say a prayer.

Seat politics

Obviously not every man’s mother-figure has mind-controlled her son to put down the seat or aim for the centre.

While the politics underlying the use of gender-­neutral toilets makes intellectual sense, the experience so far, for this squatter, has not been pleasant.

Men are brutal in their soiling.

Enter most men’s toilets, as we who squat sometimes must do because of the queue, and the smell is often overwhelming, as are the moist floors.

In the 1970s – that age of dim habit and impulse – this writer was often mistaken for a dude in women-only toilets. Pearls were clutched, eyes were averted, some shouted “you are in the wrong loo”. This was before Boy George or David Bowie.

The blow dryer stare bouncing off the mirror where ladies were fluffing their hair or touching up make-up made dude-y me feel like Joan of Arc on a flaming pyre.

There were times, I shall confess, when I did pull up my top to reveal a Woolworths sports bra with cleavage.

The hostility was palpable and the anxiety some trans women feel must be pee-stopping. Trans men using exclusive women’s facilities would feel the same heat. And then shame for having to use the men’s when no unisexes are available.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rolling in the Deep: The evolving tragedy and triumphs of being a Mandela

The biggest issue is not who uses the toilets, but how they use them.

There is no doubt there are millions of people with outside plumbing who themselves are neat, clean and hygienic in their toilet habits. They too know the horror of the public men’s urinal.

The solution, as we South Africans become more accustomed to gender-neutral toilets, is a mind shift. It will require of thoses with hoses to learn better stream-splash-and-clean control.

As for the “Go Girl” and its efficacy?

Let’s just say anatomy and a snug fit can be a bitch – like finding a lid for a Tupperware – to say nothing about in which pocket or purse to conceal your funnel. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page

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