Let’s Talk: Gender Neutral Bathrooms


Have you ever felt panicky over something as simple as using the bathroom in public? Scared to make the choice between which one to use? Maybe this isn’t a problem for you, but gendered washrooms are a source of strife for many genderqueer people, myself included. This is why I think there should be more gender neutral bathrooms in schools and other public places. Our everyday experiences are different than those of cisgender people, and it’s long past time that everyday facilities reflect that.

When it comes down to it, gender is a social construct. It exists not in objective reality but as a result of human interaction, and must be taught rather than inherited. While this is true about gender, that’s not to say gender it doesn’t exist all together. In today’s society, what it means to be “man” or a “woman” is becoming more individualistic as gender roles bend, but many people still don’t know the difference between sex and gender, which contributes to ignorance and stigma towards genderqueer people. Sex is dertermined by someone’s biological sex organs at birth, while gender is determined by an individual’s internal sense of self based on societal constructs of gender. When someone’s gender and sex do not align, they are known as genderqueer.

My mixed gender friend group has firsthand experience with feeling apprehensive about using gendered bathrooms. The non-binary, trans-masculine, and trans-feminine among us fear transphobia from strangers who discrimate against us without even knowing us and our personal stories. We have found ourselves going to the bathroom in a group even if only one of us has to use it, just to protect a friend who may not “pass” as the gender that the bathroom is assigned. “Passing” is when genderqueer people are perceived as the gender they indetify as instead of the sex they were assigned at birth. To avoid the stress of passing, many genderqueer people prefer single-user washrooms. However, when there is a family or gender neutral bathroom, often it is located far from the main bathrooms, and hard for the people who actually need them, to find them. Advocating for, and implementing gender neutral bathrooms is a vital stepping stone on the path to making genderqueer people feel included and accepted in our society. 

Despite this, more importance is still placed on the comfort of cisgender people rather than the inclusivity and comfort of genderqueer people. Transphobes like to perpetuate the idea  that when genderqueer people use a bathroom not corresponding to their birth sex, that they are being a predator, a serious and unsupportedclaim that greatly hurts the genderqueer community. In reality, it is the genderqueer people who are being preyed on, having to endure stares, snide remarks, and in extreme cases, physical violence just for using the washroom they feel comfortable in. 

Gender dysphoria refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. This sense of unease may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety that have a harmful impact on daily life. 

Gender neutral bathrooms have been proven time and time again to reduce gender dyphioria in genderqueer people. In a study done at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about Transgender youth, they found that “the most positively evaluated bathroom use experience shared in the focus groups happened in a school that publicly recognized gender identity as being more than the forced binary of male or female.” Additionally, “access to single-user bathrooms is important in conjunction with efforts to normalize their use for all students, so that transgender students are not singled out for discrimination.” So while single-user bathrooms may draw attention in some cases simply by being “different”, they are still an important resource to have available.

Something else that many cis people don’t think about is that trans-masculine people who menstruate don’t have access to proper disposable methods in the men’s bathroom. Gender neutral bathrooms eliminate the struggle trans-masc people experience when having to choose between using the men’s washroom and feeling distressed about the lack of such disposable methods, and using the women’s washroom and feeling dysphoric and out of place. In both cases, they may be discriminated against for being trans, which only adds to the discomfort of the whole process. 

Trans-feminine people may feel safer in a gender neutral environment because of the overwhelming number of cases of trans and specifically trans-feminine targeted violence. 2020 was the worst year on record for transphobic violence with 44 trans-targeted murders, and 98% of the victims being trans women. A perpetuator of Trans-feminine discrimination are TERFs. “TERF” is an acronym for “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist” that descibes a group of feminists who want to exclude trans women from women’s spaces, and are opposed to transgender rights legislation. Their views help create unsafe spaces for trans-feminine identifying people. 

It is my belief that for every pair of men’s and women’s bathrooms, there should be a gender neutral one to accompany them. This incorporation should begin in schools, where many genderqueer people begin their transition. Eventually, every public space should adopt this concept. As they become more common, it will create more progressive, inclusive, and accepting environments. The more gender neutral bathrooms we see, the more comfortable cisgender and genderqueer people alike will feel and the more we will grow as a society.