I have never had to worry about what bathroom to pee in. I have the privilege of both identifying with the gender I was assigned at birth, and appearing to society as that gender. I have the comfort of never worrying if there is a safe bathroom for me on campus—something not all students have.
Last year, UR boasted about installing dozens of all-gender bathrooms across campus. The declaration was loud and there was immense pride, at least in my circles, about this progressive initiative.
Along with the pride, there was significant tangible progress: All-gender bathrooms did, in fact, pop up around campus. An interactive map of all-gender bathrooms was created, and more students had a safe place to pee. Along with the all-gender bathrooms, UR openly asserted that on our campus, individuals may use “the restroom of the gender with which they identify.”
Students of all genders can use the bathroom safely on our campus. That’s so important.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network reports that 84 percent of LGBT students are verbally harassed in school, a number that’s likely higher among non-cisgender LGBT students. Trans and queer students frequently report avoiding bathrooms at school altogether, often resulting in major health issues. There are “bathroom bills” across the country, widespread violence against trans folk and particularly trans women of color, and transphobic national political platforms. With this as our national backdrop, I recognize the significance and progress of UR’s actions.
I am proud of our school for taking a step. And yet, when I first saw these bathrooms, I was unimpressed, angry, and disillusioned.
The dozens of all-gender bathrooms we were boasting about weren’t, in fact, anything new. These were single stall bathrooms—single stalls that already existed, and often were already not gendered—merely with new signs added to them.
It’s important to note that for many trans and queer students, the new signs were affirming of their identities—affirming of them as people. This is a change we want to see: affirming identities, affirming humanity, and allowing for safe bathrooms.
Yet, I’m still disillusioned that I expected so much from my University and my community, and a new sign on a single-stall bathroom was all we could do.
All-gender, single-stall bathrooms alleviate many problems related to single-gender bathrooms, but there’s still so much more to do.
While they give students of all genders a place to pee, single-stall, all-gender bathrooms don’t address the problem of exclusivity in bathrooms on and beyond on our campus. While single-stall, all-gender bathrooms may have started a conversation, they seem like an easy cop out to me. They keep us in our comfort zone—stalled male/female bathrooms, and single stall for “other.”
Multi-stall, all-gender bathrooms, in my eyes, are a way bigger step. Rather than stigmatizing and “othering” non-cis students, it creates a space for all students. It pushes the norms of our community just a little bit further. It questions our binary system.
Multi-stall, all-gender bathrooms push back against the transphobic rhetoric that breeds fear in society and individuals. To me, it’s a statement opposing that rhetoric; it says we don’t buy it, affirming that we will resist and grow. Multi-stall, all-gender bathrooms break down the gender binary that our patriarchy so badly wants to hold onto.
The other day, I walked into the new multi-stall all-gender bathroom in Rush Rhees Library, near Evans Lam Square, and I was inspired. This is an all-gender bathroom. This is the pushing back of our cultural norms that we so badly need. This is the place where all students can pee—where trans students are not pushed into solitude.
Single-stall bathrooms labeled as all-gender are safe, easy ways to put up the image of inclusivity.
This new bathroom, however, seems less like an image and more like genuine progress. Our University has so much progress to make—both the progress that I think and stew and lobby about, and the progress I can’t yet even imagine.
For today, I’ll take this gesture, and I’ll appreciate the feeling of real change, instead of just something to boast about. For tomorrow, there’s much more to do.