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Let’s End The Toilet Wars and All Start Leaving The Seat Up

Can't standers and sitters all get along?
June 3, 2015, 6:46pm

Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

I recognize the absurdity of a dude suggesting everyone leave the toilet seat up.

Decades of Sitcom Dads fumbling at personal awareness and Sitcom Moms upset about falling through the bare bowl in the dark of night have led us to a reasonable orthodoxy: the toilet seat should always be down.

The notion has received a frankly hilarious level of intellectual attention.

In February, Vox summarized several academic hot takes on the matter, with lenses of efficiency (everyone should always leave the seat in the position it was in when they finished using it), physical safety (the seat should always be down), and fairness of incremental labour cost (standing pee-ers should lower the seat exactly half the time), each yielding different prescriptions.

The presumptions are narrow enough to be useless, each hypothesizing a two-person, male-who-stands and female-who-sits coupling, both of whom relieve themselves exclusively within their home.

Though gender is the square peg we habitually apply to discussions of where the toilet seat should live, let's use a more useful distinction here: sitters and standers.

Among those capable of peeing standing up, many choose to sit for a variety of reasons. People who would call themselves sitters or standers each count both female- and male-identified members.

At home, the calculation is pretty simple: don't be gross. At best you'll have to clean it up; at worst the next occupant will (rightly) judge you forever while they're wiping off a toilet seat.

But most public washrooms are a bit different. The toilet stalls inside men's galleys get more use than outsiders would imagine, mostly from standers who decide they can't wait for a urinal to open up. The results aren't always pretty.

Many users of women's washrooms employ a complex, practiced routine to excise any previous occupant's visible or invisible presence. For some valid and many invalid reasons, not everyone is great at taking a concise leak.

Yet the clunky multi-stalled, gendered washrooms we've grown accustomed to (surprisingly recent and decidedly Northern inventions) seem to be falling out of fashion.

Though fixtures of dusty shops and small restaurants for generations, an increasing number of the restrooms we use outside the home are marked as unisex (though I'd argue omnisex is an infinitely better word): typically self-contained, locking rooms available to anyone who wishes to use them. These private lavatories now grace everywhere from bars, to workplaces, to corporate behemoths like Starbucks and Tim Hortons.

As a metric for urban-Canadian saturation, the curmudgeonly Toronto Star picked up on the swell as early as 2011, and the configuration has surged from trend to norm in the half-decade since.

This may be for a number of reasons: smaller commercial footprints with less room for stacked facilities, updated building codes that no longer require gender-separated washrooms or low-barrier efforts to synthesize a laissez-faire social aesthetic.

More substantively, some of this shift undoubtedly reflects an emerging sensitivity to the comfort and security of patrons whose gender identities lie outside the binary. Comprehensive legal protections across the entire Human Rights Act and Criminal Code would be an infinitely better solution, but those are unlikely to come soon: Bill C-279, passed in the House of Commons back in 2013, appears destined to die on the Senate's pre-election order paper.

The shift isn't perfectly utopian. Many lament that these types of facilities often don't include amenities like repositories for menstrual products (in some cases, not even trash receptacles), while multiple-occupancy washrooms, and women's washrooms in particular, have for years functioned as a populated but segregated space for people to quietly escape others they find threatening.

Whatever the reasoning behind the increasing popularity of omnisex washrooms, the effect of these spaces is that sitters and standers are increasingly using the same toilets, and, as such, maybe it's time to consider a different set of rituals than Chandler Bing might advocate.

One idea is pretty simple: When using these universal facilities, the default position for the toilet seat is up.

If it isn't already, standers make sure the seat is up before they perform their horn solo (ideally the seat would already be raised), and leave it there after they're done. It's an easy way to show consideration for the experience of the next potential sitter, and correct for the libertarianism of Stand Paul in line behind them.

Sitters lower the seat (unsullied by the previous stander's four-hour-old Labatt 50) before they begin and replace it when they're done, again minimizing the damage from a subsequent stander and/or providing peace of mind for a less-splashy Sitt Romney (or any other good 2016 Republican bathroom puns, including Rick Can't-pour'em, Knarly Peeorina, Marco Pubio).

It should be lost on no one that this a risk-management model, one where sitters inherit excess labour for the sole purpose of minimizing the collateral impact of those isolated, fleeting moments of perceived dominance when standers decide they can piss wherever they want without consequence. It's difficult not to note how much of our world is structured that way.

An ideal dynamic would have the Stand Pauls of the world instantly gain the contextual sentience to think about the experiences of those around them.

So instead, let's call it hacking: a small, counter-cultural gesture to keep people from pissing all over our toilet seats.

Follow Seb FoxAllen on Twitter.