An article by Jo Boon, the founder of Label, about the importance of gender neutral bathrooms and creating safe spaces for people of all identities.
Gender neutral bathrooms come as a sign of progress and their absence marks a lack of awareness about accommodating people’s needs and respecting their identities. It may seem like a relatively trivial issue but it is an important part of building a society that allows people to be confident in who they are.
Bathrooms are typically segregated into ‘male’ or ‘female’ and you have to choose between them. This buys into the idea of a gender binary which, increasingly, people are uncomfortable with. Anyone who is transgender is faced with a choice between adhering to the gender that you have been incorrectly assigned, or the correct gender.
This choice may seem simple but remember we live in a transphobic society. If someone who is incorrectly identified as a woman walks into a man’s bathroom or vice versa, there is a high chance they will be corrected, laughed at or even harmed. This creates a bizarre situation where using the bathroom of your choice becomes something brave. I admire all whom make that choice but please, let’s make it a little easier for people to be comfortable in themselves.
Similarly, if you are agender or gender fluid then this choice may not be straightforward for you and may even come as a painful reminder that you have been assigned a particular gender and are being asked to adhere to it. Do not underestimate how difficult this choice can be for people! Private identities are being brought into a public space and labeled, confirmed or denied. Instead, let’s imagine a world where we let children grow up as they are and don’t divide them by a gender binary.
This is not a trivial issue because it is part of a broader pattern of what society accepts or rejects. It is not important to anyone cis- gendered because they do not have to think about it. However, just because it is not an issue for you does not mean it is something that should be trivialised. For many, this segregation (as with changing rooms and other such spaces) comes as a reminder that your identity is not respected, or even considered, by wider society.
We have gender neutral bathrooms in our union but they are lacking from most other spaces at our university. Personally, I would like to see gender neutral bathrooms in every hall of residence and lecture theatre. In a few cases this may require building work or a re- distribution of space, however, in many cases the solution could be found in a simple re- distribution of signs.
This isn’t a case of getting rid of gendered bathrooms but simply adding another option. Naturally, many people will feel safer in an all- female or all- male space but we should extend those choices so that everyone has an option they are comfortable with.
Speaking of the signs, I would like to briefly draw attention to how completely ludicrous they are. Most commonly the male sign looks like the shape of your average human, while the female sign is differentiated by the addition of a skirt shaped as a triangle. I do not identify as a triangle. If I were to be shown these two shapes I would assume that I was supposed to identify with the neutral human one and only know differently because I have been taught to think otherwise from birth. Not to mention the fact that many men wear skirts (we are in Scotland after all!) and most women wear trousers. These outdated clothing rules are as ridiculous as the signs that attempt to segregate us by artificially constructed gender identities.
Creating gender neutral bathrooms is an investment well worth making by our university. It allows students, staff and all those working at the university to feel confident in their identity and validated by their community. It is an issue that could be solved for the most part in a reallocation of signs and would show that the university and union have the student’s interests at heart.