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Steinberg: On lemons and ladies in the men’s bathroom

a sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom

Columnist Neil Steinberg says to the Japanese neither going to the bathroom nor scrubbing toilets are sexual acts. | AP file photo

Hiroshima is known for its lemons.

Well, not known here. In the United States, we know exactly one thing about the city: An atomic bomb was dropped on it.

But once actually in Hiroshima, as I was earlier this month wandering its pleasant arcades with their vaulted glass roofs, you see they have a big lemon thing going on — Hiroshima is to lemons as Florida is to grapefruit. Enough that I bought a jar of Hiroshima lemon curd at the train station.

When it came time to fly home, acting out of an old mindset — don’t let a glass jar shatter in your checked luggage — I unthinkingly packed it in my carry-on. The jar was noticed by security at Kumamoto airport. They were very apologetic, enough so that, before my lemon curd disappeared into the trash, I was bold enough to ask if I could taste it and that mercy was granted to me. I dipped two fingers.

Bitter. To get the taste out of my mouth, I purchased one of those cans of milky iced coffee that the Japanese adore and waited for my flight. Nature took her course and, an hour later, I visited the men’s room.

There I was greeted with an unexpected sight. A lady, wearing a yellow smock and pink rubber gloves, scrubbing the urinals.

OPINION

I deftly detoured into a stall, where I conducted my business in semi-privacy, glancing over my shoulder at the woman. She seemed unperturbed. By the time I was washing my hands, another traveler, a Japanese businessman, arrived and, showing none of my squeamishness, planted himself next to the woman.

I exited, musing on how we’d handle that situation in America — seal off the bathroom with cones and signs, allow the cleaning staff to work without treading upon anyone’s finely honed notions of gender correctness.

The Japanese way is better. Neither going to the bathroom nor scrubbing toilets are sexual acts, though this will be news to people here in places such as North Carolina, a state which, like all states, has actual problems its lawmakers might theoretically address. Yet there they were, in emergency session Wednesday, approving a bill banning transgender people from bathrooms that don’t match their birth gender.

The hasty session was a response to the city of Charlotte passing an anti-discrimination ordinance. The state law trumps such local efforts.

Meanwhile, last week Georgia passed its own law designed to pave the way for state officials to snub gay couples wishing to get married, and supporting businesses that would deny them service based on “sincerely held religious belief.” How does that qualify as an excuse in 2016? Were not the bombers in Brussels also acting out of “sincerely held religious belief?”

The world changes. Most accept it, but some frantically try to pat the dissolving old way into a mound of familiarity and hold it together with a plaster of law. There’s no actual harm North Carolina is trying to address. Any rational person would shoo Caitlyn Jenner into the girls’ room, where she can be quizzed at the mirror about what shade of lip gloss she’s applying. But if you take changing society as a personal affront to yourself and, of course, to God, then you rush to the legislature to try to stem the tide. No law nor bomb — and they are flip-sides of the same coin — can do that. On Wednesday, I heard from more terrified people cowering under Donald Trump’s coattails than I ever hope to meet in person. Maddened by fear, they lash out at anyone standing between them and what they hope might give them comfort.

It isn’t that liberals aren’t afraid — I find both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz fairly terrifying. It’s that we don’t mistake our fear for divine guidance.