Going to the toilet is a basic human right. Bathrooms are an amenity that everyone should have equal access to, surely? In recent years, public toilets have become gender identity battlegrounds. LGBT+ activists and groups have been tirelessly pushing for gender-neutral toilets. So why do we need these facilities?
It’s important to understand the difference between sex and gender.
Sex is the biological and physical characteristics that a person has – the reproductive organs, genes and hormones. Gender is a set of culturally defined concepts, that may relate historically to femininity, masculinity, non-binary people, or social norms.
So why do we need to make them gender specific? Labelling individual toilet stalls by the amenity they provide (e.g. if there are urinals) instead would bring us one step closer to removing the gender binary from public spaces and ultimately towards having a more inclusive society. Currently, the familiar but outdated silhouettes of a man and woman, that we use to mark public toilets, promote the restriction of gender identity to the clothes we wear and the way our bodies are. They fail to acknowledge non-binary people, and further propel outdated gender stereotypes and expectations.
We need gender-neutral toilets across all of our university campuses. Samuel James Mann, the LGBT+ Open Place officer for this academic year, agrees with this and, upon enquiry, said, “it is extremely important that we lobby the University for a greater number of gender-neutral toilets. This was included in my manifesto, and as such, I will be working this year to ensure that a greater number are seen across Singleton campus (which currently has a distinct lack of gender-neutral toilets).”
Members of Swansea University’s LGBT+ community have been faced with this issue for many years.
Daisy Welham, a trans woman and former Swansea University student, had this to say: “I think gender-neutral facilities are especially important for transgender people because they get us out of a dilemma…if a transgender woman uses the men’s room, she misgenders and outs herself. If she uses the women’s room and does not ‘pass’ as cis, she’s in danger of being accused of being a predator and getting yelled at. Gender-neutral toilet facilities prevent this, as by removing the gendering of the facilities, all of those problems are circumvented.”
This dilemma is one that Trans and non-binary people face on a daily basis. It’s 2018, and we as a society are still restricting freedoms and supporting an outdated need for gender conformity.
When asked about the impact this has had on Daisy’s university experience, she said, “It’s one of the main reasons I lived on campus for all three years at university. I’d much rather be able to quickly go home to Preseli, Penmaen, or Caswell than to brave gendered public toilets or have to travel to Fulton to use the accessible toilet there. It also made me late to lectures a few times – going back to my flat to use the loo takes much longer than just heading to one in the same building as my lectures”.
No student should have to feel uncomfortable exercising one of their basic human rights – going to the toilet – due to fear of violence or their well-being coming under threat. The costs may be high, and perhaps it will only benefit a small segment of society, but the wider message that this will send is what makes it crucial: that we accept and acknowledge that gender is a non-binary concept; and that we want everyone, irrespective of what their gender identity is, to feel safe and comfortable while studying here at this university.
by Zoya Chishti