The house taco.
The house taco. Tacos Chukis

Tacos Chukis, the hole-in-the-wall taqueria joint above a head shop and nail salon on Broadway, quietly opened its fourth location recently, this one in the Central District. The latest spot is on the ground floor of a gleaming new apartment building, just down the block from an electric bike dealer, and has little of the charm of the original, with its exposed brick walls and line out the door. Still, it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood, at least by me, a regular patron of the Broadway locale.

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The menu is small (there's no chips and salsa or steaming plates of fajitas to be found here) but the flavors are mighty. Each taco comes with a choice of carne asada, grilled cactus, chicken, beans, or marinated pork, and is topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole (cheese is extra, and worth the 50 cents). Each taco comes with two tortillas (as it should), and I like to take one off and let the excess goods from my taco spill onto the spare tortilla, giving the illusion of doubling my meal. The place is regularly called the best taqueria in Seattle for a reason.

If the first Tacos Chukis on Broadway were not so good and so cheap, the fourth location would be more impressive. Alas, its parent location has something intangible that the fourth lacks. The new walls are too white, the lights are too bright, the prices slightly higher, and for the first time ever at a Tacos Chukis, my tacos (one frijoles, one nopales, and two house tacos with a healthy chunk of pineapple atop) needed salt. My companion and I kept trying to vocalize what was off about the food, but we couldn't quite name it. But something was different. We could taste it.

This is to be expected. Has the second, third, or tenth location of any eatery ever lived up to the first? Even the first Starbucks, at one point, had charm. I'm not saying Tacos Chukis, Central District edition, was bad (it was certainly not), but given the choice between the original location and the offshoots, I'll go out of my way for the first.

The new location, however, does have one thing that the old location lacks: mixed sex toilets. There are two bathrooms, and on the door to each, there are the culturally approved symbols for both man and woman—one stick figure in pants and one in a skirt.

Bathrooms have become a cultural flashpoint in the U.S., thanks to largely conservative efforts to impose "bathroom bills" that require trans people, and everyone else, to use the bathrooms assigned to their sex at birth. (And, just this week, the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services under Trump is attempting to limit trans peoples' rights to identify as their prefered sex.) One way to circumvent the gendered bathroom issue is to get rid of sex-segregated bathrooms entirely. Sometimes it's done very well: The bathrooms are the best part of Optimism Brewing, which is otherwise a place where parents and people who really love dogs go to drink. There's an array of stalls down a long hallway, and each one is a little room of its own, with walls all the way to the floor. There's also one long, gleaming sink than anyone can use, and the bathrooms are functional, private, and clearly designed to be a thing of beauty. Or take the bathrooms in Japan, which are frequently their own little rooms, complete with heated toilet seats and sound effects to mask the noise of your bowels.

The bathrooms at Tacos Chukis, however, are less artful, with the standard operating toilet stalls that go to roughly mid-shin if you're hovering over the toilet. There's one sink, which is outside the stalls, and with the exception of the sign on the door, it could be any bathroom in any fast food joint in America.

The owner of Tacos Chukis didn't immediately return a request for comment, but I assume that making the bathrooms gender-neutral was an effort to be inclusive to people who are trans, nonbinary, agender, etc. And good for him, if that's the intent. It's commendable to look out for marginalized members of society. I personally think that trans and other gendered people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice, but some conservatives and radical feminists argue that this puts women in danger. The data, however, doesn't back this up.

Trans people are not actually attacking women in toilets, no matter what Jeff Sessions happens to think. And, with rare exceptions—for instance, the jogger who was attacked in a public bathroom at Golden Gardens last year—men aren't really attacking women in bathrooms either. Most people just use them to piss. Plus, as a woman who is frequently mistaken for a man (especially in airports, for some reason), I have sympathy for what it feels like to be misgendered, especially in bathrooms. It's uncomfortable for a stranger in the women's room to mistake you for a man and suggest, either politely or not, that you're in the wrong place. I think its largely a sign of progress that businesses are trying to help eradicate situations like this, and in queer spaces in particular, mixed-sex bathrooms are almost the norm. (I would, however, be curious to know how this trend has impacted bathrooms hookups...)

And yet. Despite, in theory, supporting gender-neutral bathrooms, as I walked into the toilet stall at Tacos Chukis and saw size 13 boots parked next door, I felt a little bit weird. Not scared—I don't think I'm going to be attacked in a bathroom just because the symbol on the door is wearing pants—but still weird. And then I felt weird about feeling weird. It seemed so prudish, so... Victorian, to object to emptying my bladder next to a man. It's not like his fart could blow off the stall walls. Besides, for most of human history, privacy wasn't exactly common. People shared sleeping spaces as well as shitting spaces with many of their kin and other community members. A private space to wipe your ass just wasn't a thing. In Ancient Rome, for instance, public toilets were multi-seat benches with holes in them. You could reach out and hold your neighbor's hand if you felt so inclined. (Most public facilities at the time, however, were male-only. This meant women had to either improvise, avoid eating and drinking, or just stay home.)

According to Sheila L. Cavanagh, a professor of sexuality and gender studies at York University and the author of Queering Bathrooms: Gender, Sexuality, and the Hygienic Imagination, sex-segregated bathrooms date back to 18th century Europe. "The segregation, first implemented by the Parisian upper classes, was intended to accentuate sexual difference and to project its difference onto public space," she writes. "Gender-segregated lavatory design in public was, in its original intention, meant to indicate class standing and genteel respectability." Sex-segregated bathrooms, as well as sex-segregated waiting rooms and other public places, Cavanagh argues, were also used to enforce social boundaries and gender stereotypes.

Public sex-segregated toilets spread with the adoption of indoor plumbing, and for most of us living in the U.S. at this moment, they are as much as part of life as using the toilet itself. Outside of the home, almost all bathrooms are either sex-segregated or single-stall. Perhaps this is, as Sheila Cavanagh argues, a norm based on the oppression of women, but it's also the setup I suspect that most people are most comfortable with. We're just used to it. Bathrooms are intimate spaces—and not just because they are where you shit out your lunch.

While I can't speak to the particular rituals of men's bathrooms, women also use bathrooms as places to do beauty stuff. They check their hair, apply their makeup, gossip with their friends about whoever is back at the table, and, sometimes, use it as a reprieve from men themselves. There's something about this space that seems so private—and yet Sheila Cavanagh would argue that sex-segregated toilets just keep us all in the cis-hetero-patriarchal trap.

The size 13 boots were still in the stall and the occupant silent as I washed my hands and headed back to my table. I wondered briefly if he was holding it until I left, and told my companion about the setup when I got back. "Jesus," she said. "As if women's toilets weren't filthy enough." A few minutes later, I overheard the three men at the table next to us talking about the bathrooms too. The consensus? They were not fans of sharing that particular space. "How am I supposed to shit next to a girl," one of them asked. "Hold it," his buddy said back.

I decided to do some investigation and went back towards the bathrooms to observe. A girl, maybe in her teens, walked into the bathroom and then immediately walk back out. A second later, a man exited the same bathroom, looked at the sign on the door, and shook his head. Obviously, my brief observation at Tacos Chukis was hardly a representative survey, but no one I saw seemed comfortable with this setup. But why? What makes us so awkward about sharing this particular space? Humans, after all, are just animals, and animals, despite the guilty look on your dog's face, don't feel shame when they shit. Chimpanzees and bonobos don't have separate facilities for males and females, boys and girls. They don't have facilities at all. What makes us humans so different?

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Culture, of course. Some of our taboos are innate (see: incest), but others, like sex-segregated toilets, are clearly more a product of nurture than nature or they'd be more than a couple of centuries old. I doubt our early human ancestors felt the need to segregate when they shat, but now it's such a part of our culture that tearing down that barrier, even in the name of inclusivity, feels strange. Not bad, at least to me, but still odd.

After we left Tacos Chukis, I kept thinking about how my grandmother would feel about using a toilet next to a man. She'd hate it, I'm sure of that, although she died before gender-neutral toilets made a resurgence in American life. So then I started asking other people—coworkers, friends, family—and not one person (cis or trans) was really into this idea. "I'm a man," a trans guy told me. "And while I can see how this might be helpful to people who don't pass, I personally would feel more comfortable just using the men's bathroom." More than one woman told me that they'd be fine with stalls that went to the floor but for some reason, that extra foot of free space makes a difference. Others, both men and women alike, said that while they weren't particularly comfortable with mixed-sex toilets, they can see why businesses decide to adopt it. And I can see why too. They're trying to do the right thing. They may be making more people uncomfortable in the process, but that's how change often is.

I just hope that if this system does see widespread adoption, everyone will finally learn to put down the seat.

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