Beyond the Binary: Question Nine

June 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

Panel bios here.



Question Nine:

Do you think NB people can be considered equal in a bathroom situation where all NB people are allocated one gender neutral bathroom, whilst binary people each get one attributed to their own gender? Is it fairer to JUST have neutral stalls?



CN: I’m not quite sure how ‘fairer’ fits into this conversation – surely the fairest way for public bathrooms to be designed is for them to be accessible, safe, clean and private? I find it very confusing that some people seem to equate ‘gender neutral/unisex toilets’ with ‘toilets only/specifically for gender neutral/genderqueer (etc.) people’. I certainly support a move towards more gender neutral facilities – not, as it happens, primarily because of my own gender situation, but because I’ve been a carer to someone of a different sex to me, and gender segregated toilets can be more than an inconvenience in that situation – they can be downright dangerous (which isn’t to deny how dangerous strictly patrolled ‘single sex’ spaces can be for people judged outside of designated parameters). It seems like increasing the number of gender neutral public toilets would make life a lot easier for those taking care of others (whether they’re adults or children) and for people who cannot (or cannot safely) choose between male and female. I haven’t been convinced of the ‘safe space’ argument for segregated facilities since my time as an undergrad at King’s London, taking a course at SOAS – rape alarms had been fitted in the female toilets because of a number of sexual assaults that had taken place there (committed by a man). I’ve been to so many venues in London and New York that already have gender neutral facilities – they seem to work out fine.



GrrlAlexNeutral stalls would be nice but that feels like a big change for society and the desire to change among the broader community poor.  Beemyn & Rankin 2012 cover this in looking at US college communities.




Jennie: Personally, I’ve always seen toilet use as a safety issue. In many contexts just having gender neutral toilets is fine, e.g. in Sweden where people are used to it. For me as a disabled person, almost every toilet I use is gender neutral. But in some contexts male behaviour means that there is a safety issue and then it’s useful to have a distinction – essentially, a toilet that is for men and a toilet that is for everybody else.



Nat: Personally my priority is to have guaranteed safe access to toilets I can use in public places. If a building has no other way to provide gender neutral toilets than to convert a gendered set into being open to all, then I think that’s a sensible compromise.

In many situations there’s no toilet available to me at all and I have to choose between the threat of harassment in a gendered toilet or using the accessible toilet, which should have priority to those with mobility needs. Equality isn’t a strong priority in such situations, it’s basic access.



Hel: I find this concept kind of bizarre – are you envisaging one bathroom for genderqueer people, another for neutrois people, another for gender-fluid people, and so on…? I now have visions of a row of bathrooms with twenty different names and gender-symbols on them! So: I’m emphatically not interested in having separate sets of bathrooms for all the different identity terms that people under the genderqueer and non-binary umbrellas might use. I don’t think that’s a useful gauge of equality. I think a far more useful gauge is, “can people of all genders access public bathrooms in peace without harassment or violence?” – and obviously we’re not there yet. So would gender-neutral bathrooms be a way to achieve that goal? Maybe. I’m in favour of gender-neutral bathrooms being available, certainly – as far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason whatsoever to have gendered single-stall bathrooms, and I think that any organisations which do have gendered single-stall bathrooms in their buildings should fix them as soon as possible.

However, I have more mixed feelings on the removal of gendered bathrooms altogether. These are primarily to do with the idea of women’s bathrooms as “safe space”. I know this is a tricky one to invoke, because it’s something that’s been used against trans women, in ways which are (obviously) disgusting and wrong.  I know that the little dress-wearing figure on the door doesn’t have magical powers that can prevent dangerous men (or dangerous people of any gender!) from entering. And I know that the idea of the women’s bathroom as a “safe space” is an idea that only functions in our current messed-up gender system, with its unequal dynamics of power between men and women, and the way that so often ‘predatory’ male sexual behaviour is at best taken as a given, and at worst actively encouraged.  For example, having a women’s bathroom allows women to duck out of the way of a threatening guy at a pub/club, and for it to bevery obviously weird/socially inappropriate for him to follow them in – while this clearly wouldn’t put off every potential threat, in my experience sometimes it’s enough. I want a world in which this shit doesn’t happen at all, but – until we’ve built that world, until the gender dynamics in our society have been altered beyond recognition, I think there remainsgreat value in any form of women-only public space, and as such I would be unlikely to support a call for all bathrooms to be gender-neutral.

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