Bathrooms

And now comes the dreaded bathroom post. I’m sure many of you were expecting this one!

Bathrooms can be a major problem, and I’m not referring to the numerous sanitary issues we all face in there. When you walk towards the restrooms, you see two doors with two signs, one with a little stick figure with pants, one little stick figure with a dress. There are only two doors, two categories, two options. It is at this point society abruptly forces it’s binary gender system on innocent gender variant individuals.

In order to do something as simple and basic as pee, transgender individuals must consent to be put into one of the binary gender categories. They are either men or women. If you aren’t one of those two, you cannot use the restroom at all.

For some of us, this is a physical problem. In my case, after about 8 or 9 months on hormones, I literally had no clue what bathroom I was supposed to use on campus. About half of the school knew me as Ashley, half by my old name. I wore women’s pants, but mens shirts; women’s socks but men’s shoes. I had breasts, but I had facial hair. The bathroom was a nightmare. If I went into the men’s room, people stared at my chest. If I went into the women’s room, people stared at my face. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I would hold it for 7+ hours while on campus just so I could avoid the bathrooms. This, by the way, is not healthy.

This also puts us transsexual individuals at risk of abuse and violence. Imagine a group of drunk, rowdy men enter the bathroom at a bar and find this small, androgynous individual standing in front of the mirror. Upon looking closer, the men see the curve of this androgynous person’s hips, the bump from their binded chest. They decide to prove this androgynous person is a woman. They attack him, strip him, and prove he is a she.

Unfortunately, that story is all too real, and all too common. Many cases of violence like that are reported throughout the country every year. Male, female, transgender, transsexuals, are all often put into danger in situations like this. While this overt anger and transphobia is incredibly disturbing, even lesser cases, having to deal with being stared at, questioned, insulted, is a constant drain on transgender individuals.

Many people are uncertain how to help this awkward situation. The answer is actually quite simple: Gender-Neutral Bathrooms.

For single stall bathrooms, it is not only extremely simple to implement,  but it makes perfect sense to most people. When guests come to your home to visit, do you tell the men they have to use the restroom upstairs and the women have to use the ground floor? With a single stall bathroom, there is no threat to privacy or sanctity. There should be no need for a urinal in a single stall bathroom.

The cost of switching two male/female single stall bathrooms into two gender-neutral bathrooms is only the cost of replacing two signs. The benefit? First, transgender individuals immediately feel  more safe and are no longer forced into difficult decisions and dangerous situations. Next, individuals who need assistance due to a physical injury/impairment are greatly benefited by this sort of bathroom if their helper is the opposite gender. In those cases currently, a grown adult of the opposite sex would either need to go into the bathroom with the person who needs assistance, or that person would have to find a way to do it themselves. The gender-neutral bathroom completely negates that issue. Last, if you add a changing table mounted to the wall, the gender-neutral bathroom becomes a family restroom, which solves the eternal question “How old is too old for a mother to bring her boy into the woman’s room with her?”

Multiple stall/urinal bathrooms are a much more complex issue though. Many people feel nervous about having someone of the opposite sex in the same bathroom as us. I personally feel it stems at least in part from people being self-conscious about noises made in the restroom, not wanting the opposite sex (who you are trying to protect) to hear. We are all indoctrinated on how men and women need to use separate restroom, and that makes us instantly jump to be upset by this idea. The cost of removing urinals and adding more stalls (possibly removing walls as well) would be high, but if this is planned early in renovations, there should be no cost.

But really, what is so scary? Especially in a college atmosphere, the amount of gay/bi people is higher than usual. You have a decent chance that someone else in a crowded restroom may be gay, and may be checking you out. Also, for people who do prefer same-sex partners, gender neutral bathrooms don’t really change much. Honestly, there is no real danger in peeing next to someone with different parts than you. Also, there should be no reason you are less-than-dressed outside of a stall in a bathroom, so that should not be an issue either. If, as many women fear, there is some creepy guy who is willing to step on the toilet to peek over the top of the stall, I really question whether the stick figure with a dress at the door will be enough to keep the peeping tom away. Not to mention, as of 2009, there were no reported cases of a transgender individual in the bathroom with a cisgendered person that the trans person was peeping or harassing the cisgendered person. It simply does not happen.

For you folks in GSAs and other activism groups, there are several steps you can take in order to get your campus/company/building on the right track towards gender neutral bathroom. First, get in touch with whichever department/group is incharge of planning the renovations. Try to get in touch with the HR/social equity department as well, so you have support when you approach the planning group. Ask first to change single-stall bathrooms to gender neutral. The fact there is little cost, little risk, and great benefit will make this the most likely to actually happen. Once the campus has seen these bathrooms cause no problem and create great benefits, they are much more likely to consider taking big steps towards unisex bathrooms throughout the campus/company.

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