Toilet use is a staple of our daily lives. Whether you’re staying at home, working, or studying at La Trobe one commonality is that we all need to access and use a toilet during the day.
For most people the choice to use the men’s or women’s toilet is a simple one; just use the toilet of your assigned sex at birth.
For trans and gender diverse people, however, the choice is not so simple. Some of us either don’t look as though we fit assumptions of what a man or a woman looks like, or else are non-binary (having an identity outside the gender binary). For this part of the population toilet use can be a daunting task.
If I’m out at university or work and need to go to the toilet, I have to go through the following questions before entering that door:
Do I look feminine enough to use the women’s toilet today?
Am I wearing a dress or something that’s unambiguously feminine?
Are there likely to be lots of other people using the same toilet?
Is there a gender-neutral toilet or other toilet I know to be safe or welcoming I can use?
Am I mentally prepared for the possibility of being questioned over my access, harassed, abused or assaulted?
Do I really need to go that badly?
What I worry about in gendered bathrooms is nothing minor – I fear verbal harassment or even assault. I fear people questioning both my gender and my right to access the space, or I fear actually being physically assaulted by someone angry at what they see as an intrusion.
A study from the Williams Institute (Jody Herman, 2013) in the USA reported that of surveyed transgender and gender-diverse participants, 70% of respondents had been verbally harassed, questioned or ridiculed for using a bathroom in Washington DC, and 9% had been physically assaulted. The National Centre for Transgender Equality’s 2015 survey reported an average of 9% of its respondents had been harassed in or denied access to a bathroom in that year; with 26% of the respondents reporting similar incidents in the previous year.
This pressure excludes trans and gender-diverse people from public life – with many admitting they avoid attending public events rather than deal with potential hostility in gendered bathrooms, avoid drinking in public or hold their bladder all day – which can cause more than an unpleasant day – it can lead to permanent kidney problems.
This is why gender neutral bathrooms are so important to trans and gender-diverse people. They offer a welcome space free from the gender-policing or harassment which are a constant threat in gendered bathrooms. They are a safer space that offer not just a chance to pee, but a lifeline back into public life.
Unfortunately gender-neutral bathrooms are all too rare in our society. The idea of bridging one of the few public facilities still segregated by gender is either abhorrent or merely alien to most public planners in Australia. Frequently it falls to trans or queer people to fight for their inclusion in buildings, institutions and public spaces.
As a trans woman I am so glad to see La Trobe’s (multi-stalled) gender neutral toilets opening around the university. It eases my mind of the worries which usually accompany toilet use, and goes quite a long way to making the space feel more welcoming and inclusive of trans and gender-diverse people.
Of course, we’re not going to see the disappearance of gendered bathrooms in our society any time soon. Hopefully, however, we will see a large increase in the number of gender neutral bathrooms available in public places in Australia.