Bathrooms: A Big Gendered Deal
Originally Published: June 30, 2014
Revised: March 28, 2019
This past spring, I went to Storrs, Connecticut to attend the True Colors Conference—a conference all about supporting teens of different sexual orientations and gender identities. All of the bathrooms at the conference were transformed into “all inclusive” bathrooms, which meant that anyone could go into whichever bathroom they pleased. I always head into the ladies’ room. This is a privilege I have because I live as a cisgender woman. In other words, I live as a person whose concept of self and identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth. The bathroom has never intimidated me; in reality, I find it comforting. But I learned the act of choosing which bathroom to use in a public place can be intimidating for some because the typical bathroom provides only two options that not every person is always comfortable choosing between. When it comes time to choose a bathroom, it can be hard to find oneself in the room labeled with the man wearing his pants or the woman in her poufy dress.
The world is populated with people who express different gender identities than just cisgender male and cisgender female. There are identities such as transgender, meaning a person’s idea of self and identity does not match the gender the person was assigned, or agender, meaning a person’s idea of self and identity does not match either female or male identities. For those who are not cisgender, it can be difficult to decide which bathroom they feel safe in. The mere act of choosing a bathroom is not the end of the problem; there is also concern about the treatment they will receive behind those bathroom doors. Many trans people are harassed, told that they do not belong in the bathroom of their choice or physically attacked in bathrooms.
It’s important to ensure that all people feel comfortable choosing and using whichever bathroom they prefer.
Forced to Choose a Bathroom
As a cisgender girl, choosing a bathroom had never been an active choice in my life. At the conference, it didn’t faze me either; I had mistakenly thought that the bathrooms were no big deal. As it turns out, I was wrong. I chose a different bathroom than I usually go into: the men’s room. There were urinals—real urinals. But I was brave. I went into a stall to do my business. No big deal. When I came out of the stall, there were other people in the bathroom. These other people were using the urinals. I may have blushed, but I reminded myself to keep an open mind. I went to the sink to wash my hands, as if this experience was one I was accustomed to.
Above the sink, on the mirror, there was a sign. The sign told me to note how I was feeling and that any discomfort I felt was much like the discomfort any person who isn’t cisgender feels every day. So I regained my composure, washed my hands and left the bathroom. The event was uncomfortable at first, but it caused me to sympathize with people who face that struggle every day.
Choose Where You Belong
I am not the only one realizing that I need to be more understanding; the world around me is becoming more sympathetic to non-binary people as well. It seems that the United States has started to slowly shift away from its attachment to a strict gender binary. Laws and rulings have appeared across the country intended to protect an individual’s right to use whichever bathroom he/she/xe feels comfortable in. The first notable law came out in California and allows students to choose which bathroom, sports team and locker room they feel at ease in. In Maine, the courts ruled that excluding fifth grader Nicole, a transgirl, from the female bathroom was a violation of human rights. Nicole has identified as transgender for most of her life; her desire to use the girls’ bathroom isn’t anything new. The court’s ruling is a big step for transgender people everywhere.
No matter where you are, or what gender you identify with, it’s important to ensure that all people feel comfortable choosing and using whichever bathroom they prefer. As a cisgender girl, I do my best to be an ally to those who are not cisgender. I’ll never give a weird look to someone because I feel they don’t belong in the bathroom. It’s not my right to choose where someone else belongs; it’s theirs.
Rachel Kisken is a contributor from Connecticut.
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