Third comfort room

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Thursday, July 31, 2014


I HAVE a beef with how establishments that cater to the public, such as and especially hotels and restaurants, label their comfort rooms. They’re not friendly to the visually impaired.

Not so long ago in an uptown hotel, I felt the need to empty my bladder and rushed to where I knew the rest rooms were located. Each had a picture that was supposed to identify the men’s room from that of the ladies but because I am near-sighted and the pictures were quite small, I stepped into the wrong room.

An elderly woman had just gotten out of one of the cubicles and was readjusting her underwear when I got in and I can still picture the surprise (terrior?) on her face when she saw me. I was so embarrassed that I rushed out of the room without being able to even mumble an “I’m sorry” and headed straight home. I did not want to risk being confronted by the woman in front of hotel security.

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Whatever happened to the easily distinguishable markers, “Men” and “Women” or “Male” and “Female”? Nowadays, when women wear pants and men sport long hair and earrings, it’s difficult to determine which gender goes to what room, based on pictures alone.

It turns out that my problem is nothing compared to that of the members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community who are not allowed to go inside the comfort room of their preference. It’s an old problem but it has not been discussed very extensively in public until recently when a former “Queen of Cebu” openly complained of discrimination.

Maki Gingoyon went to Fitness First to enroll in a wellness program but backed out when he was told that house rules forbid him from using the ladies’ room even if he dresses like a woman, acts like a woman, looks like a woman and feels like a woman.

Maki felt offended especially after he was asked if he had undergone a sex-change operation. “It’s a very personal question,” he said. I agree that the question is particularly embarrassing. It’s just like a guy, who wants to use the gym’s spa, being asked if he has been circumcised.

But you can’t blame Fitness First for keeping a house rule that determines use of which rest room according to the user’s existing sexual organ.

They have to protect their other customers. Do you think the “straight” women would be comfortable sharing their rest room with someone who still carries the most important trace of his former manhood?

Secondly, there is a safety issue involved here. Maki may be harmless and does not pose a real threat to women because she feels like one of them. But what if a man pretends to be gay to gain access to the ladies’ room and prey on its occupants?

The local management of Fitness First said they welcome Maki’s complaint (which he first aired in the Internet) because they can use it as a guide in formulating new guidelines. The matter has been raised to their head office in Manila, they said.

A couple of years ago in “Frankahay Ta!,” when we had guests from the local LGBT community, the matter of which comfort room they should be allowed to use was discussed. All the guests agreed that their use of either the men’s or the ladies’ room would have awkward consequences.

One of them then suggested, as a way out of the dilemma, to establish separate comfort rooms for the members of the so-called third sex. The suggestion was well-received even among the public, many of whom texted to express their support for the idea of a third comfort room.

I do not know what happened to the suggestion but I would not be surprised if owners of commercial establishments rejected it because of the cost involved. But as Maki’s case has shown, the issue may have died down but it has not and will not go away.

Maybe, they should start constructing a third comfort room now and label it accordingly for the sake of the visually-impaired. I suggest “Theirs” to distinguish it from “His” and “Hers.”

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 01, 2014.

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