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Fear of Restrooms | The Nation

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Fear of Restrooms

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I don't suffer from fear of flying--it's fear of airports that cripples me. Anything could happen to you in an airport: You could be apprehended by the TSA, the DEA, and,, as we just learned from the Larry Craig case, by the vice squad. I'm at the point where I'm beginning to develop subsidiary phobias--to Cinnabon, Sbarros, and, most recently, airport restrooms.

About the Author

Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has...

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I don't know whether lesbians hook up in airport ladies' rooms. Judging from my lesbian friends, they don't hook up at all. They fall in love, move in together, and start devoting themselves to home improvements. But if they do, on occasion, cruise airport restrooms in the manner of a US Senator, what signaling techniques do they use? And could I have inadvertently been employing them?

Because, face it, how many of us knew that the way to attract a fellow male stall-dweller was by tapping your foot and swiping your hand along the floor? Just three days ago, in DFW (Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport to you infrequent flyers), I was in the ladies' room performing the well-known automatic-faucet-activating gesture: frantically waving my hands, palm down, under the faucet, hoping to activate the sensor. Then, just before screaming, "Why don't they let us turn on our own damn faucets?" I realized that the hand-waving could be a signal and that the lady at the adjacent sink could be an officer of the law. I hastily abandoned the effort to wash.

Once--and I admit this with some trepidation--I even consciously communicated with the occupant of an adjacent stall. What I said was: "Could you pass me some toilet paper?" Then I reached down under the partition separating us to collect the proffered paper. Now I realize it would have been wiser to leave the restroom unblotted, because a hand reaching into one's stall is surely a Craig-like signal.

For the last six years, between September 11 and today, my main airport worry was that I might look or act like a terrorist. No dangling earrings or dark lipstick, was my rule, though I had no hard evidence that female terrorists prefer them. No anxious glances at the uniformed personnel. No reading Guns and Ammo; instead carry Real Simple and Martha Stewart's Living. No tantrums when the TSA confiscated my eyeliner. But now I see that my efforts to look less like a terrorist might have made me look more like a, heaven forfend, lesbian.

Short of some undisclosed evidence that the 9/11 killers were closeted Wahabist gays, you may wonder, as I do, why--with the "threat level" at an ominous orange--agents of the law are being deployed to detect people of alternative sexualities. Larry Craig was apprehended by a man apparently consigned to spend his entire day on the can, watching for errant fingers. Possibly this fellow has some intestinal issues which made this a necessary posting. But, sphincter control permitting, could he not have been more usefully employed, say, interviewing passengers as to their willingness to blow themselves up to score some theological point?

This is what El Al, the Israeli airline, does, and it's believed to have the tightest security in the world. Its security people no doubt take bathroom breaks, but they spend a lot of their time on their feet too, interviewing prospective passengers: Why are you traveling? Who will you be seeing? Why aren't you carrying any tourist books? El Al doesn't rely on interviews alone of course. They also confiscated my baggy of peanuts, though who knows what havoc you could wreak with them.

The official justification for the security measures that have made air travel so scary is that they keep us safe--and, beyond that, free. But I'd feel safer and a whole lot freer if I didn't have to worry about accidentally impersonating a gay person. I'd feel freer still if I knew it didn't matter, travel-wise, whether I was gay or straight. If lesbians want to cruise the ladies' rooms for quickies, which I very much doubt that they do, and if one of them should hit on me, which I find even more unlikely, I can always say, "Uh, not right now, I've got a plane to catch."

As for the fellow who unintentionally revealed the presence of the sex police in our airport restrooms: I'm hoping Larry Craig comes back and comes out. This will no doubt involve a tearful public renunciation of his past homophobia and a lifetime membership in the Log Cabin Republicans. But he'll meet plenty of guys, and in the end it will be so much easier not to have to pretend to take a leak every time he needs a little loving.

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