Recently at the Yorkdale Mall, Toronto, I walked into a bathroom and I felt a bit uncomfortable, a bit embarrassed. Something was out of sync. It was a gender-neutral bathroom. A young girl and a boy walking out eased my apprehensions a bit. Reading a board, explaining the need for a gender-neutral bathroom calmed my nerves.
Have you ever thought about why bathrooms are gendered? Or what it would be like if you could not use gendered bathrooms?
Many trans-folks face harassment and are told that they were in the wrong facility, ridiculed, told to leave, verbally threatened, or gawked at and some were sexually assaulted for going to a gender segregated bathroom. This is an important aspect that limits day-to-day activities of trans-folks. Many avoid using public bathrooms, which can result in health conditions ranging from urinary tract infections to kidney problems.
This bathroom at the Yorkdale Mall looked akin to what it could have been in a sci-fi movie – with colourful lighting and modern sanitary fittings. For a man used to ‘Men Only‘ bathroom, the main difference was the absence of a pee-pot. This bathroom has ten stalls with a commode. It was one of the best public bathrooms I ever walked into,
The mall has several gender-segregated bathrooms dedicated to serve men who prefer to relieve themselves in the company of other men and women-only washrooms for women who prefer to wait in a long line for their fellow woman to finish using the toilet and looking in the bathroom mirror disapprovingly.
How come that gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t that common around the world, even in developed and progressive nations? Gloria Steinem, American feminist journalist and social political activist said, “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”
The core of this issue is transphobia coupled with social/ religious myths. Having gender-segregated washrooms have not deterred a predator in their tracks so also the peeping Toms.
Single-stall, accessible washrooms are a viable solution for businesses, schools, and municipalities. These bathrooms can be accessible to differently abled and marked as gender neutral, as was the case at the Yorkdale Mall.
Its that the men do not want to lose access to private male-only spaces. Its an inherent fear that integrating women into men’s bathroom space will result in a loss, not of privacy for women but of the privileged status of men-only spaces. Its no different in the militaries world over.
A US Army study concluded that there is a severe discomfort among men sharing toilet and team spaces with women. There is an increased women’s willingness to use such men-only spaces. There is an urgent need to address the underlying logic of sexism, not only in male-dominated professions but in all walks of life.
Just as inaccessible bathrooms act as a barrier for differently-able people, segregated bathrooms are a barrier to trans-folks. To truly make society inclusive for trans-folks, gender-neutral bathrooms need to become a priority in all public spaces.
Toronto police, and members of the public, can now use a gender-neutral bathroom at the service’s headquarters. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) have installed gender-neutral bathrooms. The Toronto District School Board and many other school boards in Ontario have rolled out similar washrooms in schools across the province.
These gender-neutral bathrooms has not only helped trans-folks, but also other customers who have conflicts over which bathroom to utilise due to the following circumstances – at least one or more with which many of us can identify with:
- Dads with daughters.
- Moms with sons.
- Parents with differently-able children.
- Adults with aging parents who may be mentally/physically differently-able.
It is a big step forward for welcoming trans-folks into greater society and fostering acceptance. There is no need to distinguish between men and women bathrooms at all. The minds of the people must grow and not fall prey to theories that ‘Because God said so,’ ‘It’s unnatural,’ ‘It’s just wrong’ etc.
Aren’t the bathrooms at our homes Gender-Neutral??
Images courtesy Google