Graphic by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
*This article is a modern analysis of the themes and content of “Unisex Bathrooms: Convenience or Safety Measure?” (Winter 2002), the fifth installment of our From The Archive series.*
Transgender people feeling unsafe and being subject to harassment in bathrooms, and subject to cisgender people’s irrational fears, are problems that have prompted a call for gender neutral bathrooms. Providing access to gender neutral bathrooms is a great step toward a more inclusive world, but doing so in reaction to harassment or fear of harassment is quite the opposite.
The article noted that there are dangers with transgender students going to the bathroom aligned with their sex assigned at birth. Not only did the statement in the original article use the outdated term “transitioning women” (as opposed to simply, “men” or “transgender men”), but this danger would not exist if transgender students were allowed to comfortably use the bathroom that matches their gender.
Advocating for unisex bathrooms is a wonderful way to mitigate the issues of comfort and safety mentioned above, but seems to, in a way, alienate the people who use these restrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I support the concept of gender neutral, unisex bathrooms, but is there anything else we can do? Anything? Is the implementation of single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms the only solution?
The articles notes the way in which transgender people are perceived to be using the bathroom for sexual gratification, and the way in which their mere presence in the bathroom that aligns with their gender scares cisgender people, it makes me wonder, what can we put in place to avoid getting “real ugly, real quick”? Would it be enough to educate students on gender identity, perhaps at orientation, or perhaps as a general curriculum based in K-12? Would it help to advocate for cis people to communicate with the trans individuals at hand, rather than resorting to the already known-to-be racist, sexist, and transphobic entity that is law enforcement? I see there’s an issue when choosing either the bathroom for one’s gender, or the bathroom that aligns with one’s sex assigned at birth, and with that I wonder if there is a better solution.
The proposed solution is single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms. But is the solution really changing the protocol based on the acts done by others? This is not truly advocating, or trying to make the situation better for transgender people. Calling for gender neutral bathrooms because of the threat of police violence only means the victims will have to change and accommodate others to avoid harassment. It isn’t bettering the situation from the root. It would be like instead of asking people not to bully, we simply put all bullied children in a separate classroom and on a separate playground. Encouraging a victim to accommodate to avoid being victimized is not the way to go. This very concept of accommodating for the aggravator was seen in the case of Fricke v. Lynch (1980), in which a gay student was denied bringing a same-sex partner to prom for fear of the other students acting out because of it. The gay student won the case, exemplifying that this method is not the way to go.
As mentioned in the article, providing sessions to police officers regarding the LGBTQ+ community in order to educate them and allow them to better respond to calls from scared cisgender students is a wonderful option and quite needed in 2022, where Texas Governor Greg Abbott has put into action an executive order which qualifies gender-affirming care as child abuse. It seems that education is one step to better this issue of not understanding the situations faced by transgender individuals, and the LGBTQ+ community at large, but education can only go so far when there is a societal refusal to learn about or accept people who differ from themselves.
As was mentioned in the original article, and as is still the case, the specific size of UCLA’s transgender community has yet to been determined, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a population of students (and visitors, and staff, and faculty) on campus who would benefit from the adoption of gender neutral bathrooms. Not to mention that in California, 24% of LGBT individuals have children, a number that does not differ much from the overall number of households in California with children at 33.4%, which adds another need: changing tables! Although they’re typically only placed within women’s restrooms, because of course, only women can change diapers (sarcasm), all parents are in need of changing tables for their children, and the adoption of gender neutral bathrooms would allow for this need to be met. There is also the consideration that younger children may be scared or nervous to go to the restroom alone, especially when they’re out with an opposite-sex parent; coming with said parent into the opposite-sex bathroom may be frowned upon, just as it would be frowned upon if the opposite-sex parent went into the bathroom matching the gender of their child.
With that in mind, I advocate for the implementation of all bathrooms to be gender neutral. A radical concept, I know! But let’s consider the creation of sex-separated bathrooms to begin with. Some may think it was because of safety concerns, or perhaps from the differing needs for different genders (e.g. trash cans in the stalls of women’s bathrooms for the disposal of menstrual products). We know that latter point is null and void, because there are also transgender men who menstruate and, well, anyone can use a trash can. Plus, like I mentioned, things like changing tables would benefit all parents. In fact, it is actually neither of those reasons, Rather, it is rooted in… drumroll… sexism!
The adoption of sex-separated bathrooms in the United States was done to provide a “comfortable” place for women to use the bathroom while at their jobs. Women were viewed as needing to have a place that was comfortable, similar to how the home was for them before they were given the ability to work. This notion that women needed a place that was nicer and more comfortable (with couches even) is one that has stuck around, with men’s and women’s bathrooms still being separated everywhere a bathroom is, not just at work. The idea that the women’s bathroom is more comfortable than the men’s is also an idea that has stuck around, with the general consensus being that the women’s restroom is typically maintained much better than the men’s restroom. Whether this is true or not… I cannot say myself, but I can say that when I have been in gender neutral multi-stall bathrooms, cleanliness wasn’t an issue I noticed. What I did notice was that I didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom like I usually do when using multi-stall women’s restrooms or single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms.
Ultimately, it is important for us to think outside the box when it comes to issues like this. Although single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms have their benefits, making all bathrooms gender inclusive would have an even greater benefit for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, and the LGBTQ+ community at large. By changing bathrooms from sex-separated to gender inclusive and gender neutral, there would be a removal of the issue of cisgender people feeling uncomfortable and resorting to calling the police when they see a potentially transgender person in their multi-stall restroom. With gender inclusive bathrooms, there is no need to differentiate between people being in the supposed “right” or “wrong” bathroom, providing a safety net for transgender people that doesn’t currently exist. Destigmatizing seeing people who don’t align with preconceived notions of gender in bathrooms has the ability to greatly reduce violence and harassment for transgender people. Giving all people the ability to change their baby’s diaper in private, and giving all the ability to not have to wait in a several-person line to urinate, helps well, all of us, including the younger children who are nervous to go alone.