The absence of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus sets back progress

Navigating campus as a genderqueer student showed me institutions have a long way to go to create safe spaces

Image supplied by: Michelle Zeng
Michelle details how gender-neutral washrooms affect their identity.

When I was a first-year student getting a tour around the Bader College residence, none of the staff mentioned where the gender-neutral washrooms were. It took me a minute, but I gathered the courage to ask where they were in front of everyone else.

“There’s one just down this hall!” was the answer I received.

We were on the first floor, but my room was on the second. I contemplated what it would be like walking downstairs every time I needed to pee, all for a single-stall washroom that would likely be occupied more often than not.

“What about the gender-neutral showers?” I asked. I got a blank stare in return.

On main campus, my experiences were similar. In Stauffer Library, where I liked to study, there’s only one single-stall gender-neutral washroom located on the first floor, though men’s and women’s washrooms are available on every floor.

In Kingston Hall, where most of my classes took place, there aren’t any gender-neutral washrooms in the building—not even in the basement.

Trying to locate the sparsely available all-gender restrooms amid the sprawling maze of campus proved to be both frustrating and time-consuming. Though a list of gender-neutral restrooms at Queen’s exists, it doesn’t help much when many locations on campus lack gender-neutral restrooms in the first place.

In the end, I found it easier to just use the women’s washrooms. The alternatives were to either avoid using the washroom whenever I was on campus, or not go to campus at all.

Society—as cisnormative and binaried as it is—often doesn’t have space for me. I was lucky that the people I met were largely accepting and affirming of my queerness, but the same couldn’t be said of the structures surrounding me.

When there were no gender-neutral restrooms available, I found myself obliged to choose between the male and female restrooms.

Choosing either felt awkward at best. At worst, it felt unsafe. I often asked myself: Am I presenting too masculine for the women’s washroom? Is my face too feminine for the men’s? Every time I had to choose a side, it felt like I was being forced to declare myself something that I wasn’t, opening myself up to the assumptions and scrutiny of others.

I feared I would someday run into someone who decided I had chosen the “wrong” restroom, and was scared of how they might react to me.

Discovering I was genderqueer marked a turning point in my life. For the first time ever, I was discovering what it was like to be comfortable in my own body.

My appearance was no longer something I had to tolerate; I was allowed to love the way I looked. I cut my hair short and felt lighter than air. I wore the clothes I wanted to and felt empowered.

But as I entered university and grew more comfortable with experimenting with my gender presentation, my joy was tempered by the reality of what it’s like to exist as a gender-diverse person in public.

Whenever I was able to use a gender-neutral restroom, my fears were alleviated. I didn’t have to overthink or deny any part of my appearance or identity—I could simply go about my business without worry.

As gender-diverse people, we deserve to exist safely and comfortably everywhere in public. The inclusion of gender-neutral washrooms marks an important step in making this possible.

Although institutions like Queen’s are slowly taking the steps to make their spaces truly welcoming for all people, there are still gaps to be filled.

Gender-neutral washrooms remain too far and few between, available only in a handful of locations. This is both an accessibility issue and a health issue.

For transgender and gender-diverse people, the simple act of using a public washroom can be a fraught, uncomfortable, and even dangerous experience. A survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality shows up to 60 per cent of transgender Americans avoid using public restrooms for fear of confrontation or harassment.

Gender-neutral and all-gender restrooms can provide safe and affirming spaces for trans, gender non-conforming, and non-cis folks to use the washroom without having to risk or sacrifice their identities or safety.

Many people like myself don’t fit neatly into the gender binary of male and female. For many non-binary folks, having access to a gender-neutral washroom frees us from the burden of having to pick a side.

Similarly, binary trans folks should be free to use whatever restroom fits them best—but not every trans person may feel safe in doing so. Until the day comes where we can rid our society of transphobia, an all-gender washroom can act as a queer-friendly alternative for folks who don’t want to be harassed while they pee.

In all honesty, I sometimes question why we have gender-separated restrooms at all. It’s not like a gender-neutral restroom is an entirely new and radical concept—your own bathroom at home is an all-gender bathroom too.

It wouldn’t really be so different to repurpose gendered, multi-stall public restrooms into neutral spaces that can accommodate all genders.

Using the restroom should be a straightforward affair without dividing people into arbitrary boxes based on whatever genitals they have. But somehow transphobes seem constantly determined to raise a fuss about knowing what’s in everyone’s pants.

A common argument used against gender-neutral and trans-friendly restrooms is that they could constitute a safety risk. Specifically, transphobes claim that sexual predators could pose as trans people and seize the opportunity to assault people in washrooms.

However, there is zero evidence of any danger caused by protecting the right of trans people to use the washroom that fits them best. In fact, studies show that the ones most at risk for being assaulted in restrooms are transgender and gender-diverse people.

The campaign against all-gender facilities and protecting trans people’s rights to use the restroom isn’t a safety issue. It’s an issue of allowing transgender and gender-diverse people to exist in public, visibly, and unapologetically.

Transphobes aren’t interested in protecting the safety of women and children in washrooms. They are interested in eradicating transgender people’s existence, never seeing or acknowledging us at all.

This past year, the rights of trans people have increasingly come under attack by legislators. Too many people are becoming comfortable with saying transgender and gender-diverse people shouldn’t exist.

Though it can’t and shouldn’t be the end-all method for combatting transphobia, ensuring the availability of all-gender restrooms everywhere sends a message to trans and gender-diverse people like myself that we’re accepted for who we are. It tells us we have a right to exist in public. It tells us that you see us as human beings.

Transgender people are just that—people. We deserve to live. And for the love of God, we just want to use the restroom in peace.


LGBTQ+, Postscript, Pride month

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