Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Call For Gender-Neutral Restrooms

By Ryan

I've been thinking a lot of restrooms lately -- public restrooms, in particular. It's such a strange topic: it's completely innocuous to some, yet it's absolutely a source of anxiety and tension for others. For me, it's definitely the latter.

There are so many reasons why restrooms are so stressful for a lot of trans folk and gender-nonconforming people, but I'm not trying to speak for anyone other than myself. Personally, it's not as though there's a particular gender-specific restroom that I want to use. I realize that for many people, using a particular public restroom is hugely important -- using the "women's" room or the "men's" room is essential -- but that's not the case for me.

I don't generally have too many problems from other people when I use public restrooms. I've been approached by someone who thought I was in the wrong restroom; I've been handed the key to the men's room when I had thought I was presenting as a woman (and I was with people who only knew me as a woman) -- but I've never had any real confrontations. And since there are so many people who face harassment and violence every time they try to use a public restroom, I recognize that I'm lucky. Knowing what I could be facing, knowing how much worse it could be, puts my problems into perspective. Still, using a restroom shouldn't be a source of anxiety for anyone, no matter who small the problem. We all deserve to use public restrooms safely, without fear.

Gender-specific restrooms really stress me out because they force me to pick one side of the binary or the other. And because it seems safer -- by which I mean less likely to get me in trouble -- I typically choose the women's room. And that, in turn, messes with my head because I am not a woman. I don't want to be a woman. And choosing to identify myself as a woman, even for something as brief a trip to the restroom, is really upsetting. I feel this sense of embarrassment, almost bordering on shame, as I push open the door, hoping -- praying -- that no one will see me so that I pretend it never happened.

I would love it if there were more gender-neutral restrooms. Gender-specific restrooms -- and the policing that goes on with them -- cause so much harm to so many people. And it's so unnecessary. What's the big problem with allowing people to use the restrooms they wish to use? I don't understand. Especially with single-stall/single-occupancy restrooms -- I just don't get the fuss. They lock; there's only one person allowed in at a time. What is the point of separating them by gender?

Having the option of a gender-neutral restroom would eliminate that dread of deciding which to choose. It would diminish the feeling of self-loathing that comes with choosing the women's restroom. It would lessen the fear that maybe, just maybe, today will be the day that someone takes exception to the restroom I choose -- I know that others have been assaulted or arrested just for using the restroom, and I can't quite shake the fear that someday it will happen to me.

We deserve safe restrooms, and we deserve the right to use the restrooms of our choice. Who's with me?

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