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Piss Politics: The Problems With UCLA’s “Gender-Inclusive” Bathrooms

On the eighth floor of Bunche Hall, I stand baffled before one of the twenty-five or so “gender inclusive” bathrooms on campus, except this bathroom doesn’t seem very inclusive at all. There are two signs with sliding parts on the door. One slides between “Vacant” and “In Use” – simple enough. The other sign is significantly more troublesome. It bears the ever-recognizable figures, “male” and “female,” the little stick figure with the dress, the other which has no discernible clothing, the two of them standing side by side between a line. Underneath these figures sits a small arrow, meant to be slid back and forth to indicate the identity of the person behind the door. The line is white, raised, and perhaps a quarter-inch thick.

This is the space that I am given. One quarter of an inch.

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I appreciate the effort, really, I do. So I slide the sign to “In Use,” I slide the arrow beneath that quarter inch of space, and I go inside to pee. Then the trouble really begins. The non-binary nature of my gender continues to confuse those around me, even when I do my best to fit within the quarter-inch that I’m offered.

Students and staff at the LGBT Campus Resource Center have been fighting for gender inclusive restrooms for years now , and some success has been had. However, a quick look at the UCLA bathroom map shows that the majority of gender inclusive restrooms on campus are clustered in South Campus, and that there are no gender inclusive bathrooms on the Hill. Not one. I don’t live on the Hill, and I was shocked to find this. A student who prefers to use gender inclusive facilities but lives in the residence halls will either have to walk to Drake Stadium or be, well, shit outta luck. What if it’s the middle of the night? What if the student is ill? Some single-stall facilities that could be made gender neutral remain bafflingly gendered. On its first floor, Young Research Library has at least four single-stall bathrooms with “male” or “female” designations. I’ve used all of them, and they’re exactly the same. Why bother with gendered signs?

UCLA has made an effort in the right direction by offering gender-inclusive restrooms, but they failed to really consider the needs of those who might prefer such a bathroom.

Twice, men have mistaken my arrow and assumed that I meant to slide it all the way over to the male side. Were I being honest with my signs, my arrow would fall toward the “male” side of the line, but this is just a bathroom, not a conversation about the gradients of gender identity or the subtleties of my labels. I’m not sure why we can’t all pee together — me safely tucked away in the stall, them standing before the urinal. They do not seem to agree.

The first man that walks in does so casually. I am in the stall, peeing. I assume, perhaps naively, that he’s understood my indication, my arrow, so I come out and wash my hands. I see the color of his shirt in my periphery, though I am polite: I do not look. I think nothing of it. As I stand in front of the elevator waiting to ride down, that shirt passes me, and the face of its wearer bears a snarl. It is clear that I have overstepped.

The second time, I wait inside the stall until the man has left.

I wait because I don’t want another nasty look. I don’t want another misunderstanding.

The infamous Bunche facilities are on the eighth floor. Anyone who spends a lot of time in Bunche will know how long it takes to get up there during peak times. Running between classes leaves very little time to seek a bathroom, and because there are significant portions of North Campus with no gender-inclusive restrooms, sometimes I’ve ended up in some pretty damn uncomfortable situations. Learning to “hold it” for unbelievable stretches of time is an art that many of us who require such facilities have mastered.

Having twenty-five gender-inclusive facilities on campus may seem like a significant number, and compared to many places, it is. However, how many binary-gendered restrooms are there? Any multi-floor building at UCLA is guaranteed to have binary restroom facilities on nearly every floor. But anyone who requires a gender-inclusive bathroom is lucky to be in the same building as one, and even luckier to find those facilities clean. Many of the gender inclusive facilities that are easily accessible are also over-used, and there have been many times I’ve turned around and chosen to use my special ability to hold it rather than wade through a questionable puddle to reach the toilet.

Women are gentler. They knock. One says, “Excuse me, are you male, or female?”

I do not know how to respond. I hesitate. I say, “I don’t know what to tell you. I’m genderqueer.” She laughs. We pee together. I don’t mind.

But then again, it’s never me that minds.

Adam Winkler, a Law professor at UCLA, published a piece in 2013 saying that the “bathroom issue” could be solved if transgender people were simply allowed to use the restroom that accurately reflected their gender identity. And while I appreciate that sentiment, it misses the point in a rather significant way. Yes, people should be legally allowed to use whatever bathroom matches their gender identity. But what about issues of safety? Transgender people are attacked in bathrooms all the time. Over half of the respondents to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey had been harassed in restrooms, and ten percent of them had been physically attacked. Clearly, just using the right bathroom for your identity isn’t always an option for transgender people.  Non-binary identities pose an additional challenge to Winkler’s idea. For transgender people who do not identify with the binary, there is no “correctly gendered” restroom facility. Though the exact number of non-binary people on campus may be small, it seems contrary to UCLA’s policies that our numbers be used as an excuse to ignore our existence.

For a restroom to be gender inclusive, it must be inclusive of all genders.

One time, I arrive at the bathroom door. The arrow sits firmly under the line. The sign says, “In Use.” I flounder. I agonize. Has someone else adopted my system? Is there some other queer who found themselves trapped with a quarter of an inch and no good way to say, “It’s just me, I don’t mind?” Or did someone perhaps make a mistake? Should I knock? I don’t want to ask “Sorry, but what’s your gender? Is it indeterminate? Illegal? Do you mind peeing at the same time? Should I wait outside?” So I agonize, and I wait. Eventually, I realize there are no noises coming from within the bathroom. I peek my head inside. Silence. It’s empty. I sigh in relief. I think that this will be another charming anecdote to share.

I sit down and there’s a knock. Feeling bold, I say, “You can come pee, I don’t care!”

The door slams. I shrug. It isn’t until I wash my hands and leave that I see it; the arrow, emphatically and entirely pushed all the way to the left, unambiguously indicating that I am FEMALE.

I say, out loud, “No.”

I move the arrow. My cheeks are burning. My head spins. I wonder if anyone heard me. I slink to the elevator and press the button. I wait. And then I see him. He was hiding around the corner, waiting for me to go away. He changes the sign and enters the restroom. I am angry, because I refuse to feel humiliated. I vow to start voice therapy, but I can’t afford it. I vow to download an app. But voices aren’t so easy to change. There’s only so much I can do without hormones.

These days, when I have to pee in Bunche, I just lock the door. I don’t need two stalls and two urinals to myself, and frankly, I’d rather share the space since we’re all in a hurry, all just trying to get to the next responsibility. But I’d rather not answer the voices who call, “Are you male, or female?” from the door, I’d rather not respond to the knocks, I’d rather not have anyone hear the tone and timbre of my voice and make an assumption regarding so much of me, of who I’ve fought to become, of who I am still fighting for. I’d rather not be reminded while I sit with my pants pulled down that I am an object to which others affix labels based on the curve of my chest, the sound of my voice, the socialization that’s taught me to lilt my voice up at the end of words in order to seem unthreatening.

I can handle these things a little more gracefully when I’m walking around, fully clothed. But sitting there on the toilet in Bunche, occupying a quarter inch of blank white space between the monoliths, pants down, separated from the world by a few thin sheets of metal…I’d really rather just pee in peace.

I’m sure to anyone with a binary gender identity, the little sign on the Bunche bathroom seems ingenious. Men can pee with men, women with women, everyone can indicate on the door, and no one suffers. Right? And I’m grateful for the restroom up there on the eighth floor. I’m grateful for the fact that it’s there, it’s usually reasonably clean, I’m grateful that I’m given a quarter inch of space. When I have to respond to nature’s call, I just want to get in, do my business, and see myself out. I don’t want to be asked to define my gender, I don’t want some man-around-the-corner putting my arrows here or there, I don’t want anyone, regardless of their intentions, telling me who or how to be.

I just want to take a piss. A piss without politics.

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