Hey. Hi there. I’m a trans person, and I go to uni with you. We’ve probably been to the same classes together, walked past each other in the campus centre, tried to navigate the ever-changing maze of construction together. Turns out we have a lot in common. We study (ha), go to Sir John’s (procrastinate) and do try to decide exactly which of the myriad of meal opportunities to grace with our presence (procrastinate!) together.
You see, while we do a whole bunch of things together, my every day is very different from yours. When I wake up in the morning, I have to decide how many double takes I can manage throughout the day, whether I’m ready to #bemyself or if I’m going to take a time out and ‘fit in’. Not many of my TIGD (Trans, Intersex and Gender Diverse) peers have that choice. Some of us are hypervisible, and some of us are perceived as utterly invisible – which does not make us any less TIGD than our peers. Crash course: TIGD includes anyone who is gender diverse, transitioning, non-binary, genderfluid, genderqueer, occupies space in a myriad of different genders that exist in different cultures all over the world or is overall just not cisgender. ‘Cis’ = people who identify with the gender assigned to them as a tiny shrieking infant by the doctor that helped birth them. (Turns out that the soul-crushing cuss word that Piers Morgan – cultural icon and treasure of a generation – fears the most is actually just a really benign descriptor.)
I’m trying to figure out whether or not I should change my name, and whether it is worth the hassle, the strange looks, the confused asides and sometimes even the outright hostility. I usually go through my day trying to consider whether it is worth correcting people when they misgender me (Are they going to be cool? Weird? Angry?) and deciding whether it is worth arguing with those who know my pronouns but choose to ignore them anyway. I prepare my bottled smiles for the friends who do know but slip up sometimes (it’s ok) and how to fish them back out of the dark hole of self-flagellation they fall into when they do misgender me.
I’m used to being talked about like a hypothetical, mythical, far away unheard of concept rather than a real being of flesh and bones that walks amongst you every day, sits with you in tutorials, swears under their breath with you when Boost is full to bursting. And when you’re used to being talked about, talked over, or talked to as if you didn’t really, truly exist, it takes a toll. I’m trying to find the right balance between earnest and endearing without coming across as bitter and flippant.
So, as I have covered in my charming monologue above, living as a trans or gender diverse (in any way) person in our society is not easy. There are, however, ways to make the hardships a little less painful, at least until society actually finally manages to understand and accept us. One of these is the whole reason I am writing this article on Gender Neutral Bathrooms.
I was a part of a long line of students who worked really hard with the Ally Network and so many others to make this a reality. Particularly, the hard work put in by both Diversity and Inclusion and Buildings and Property was paramount in seeing these works through. Nevertheless, this took up the majority of my headspace last year. So yes, while you were going about your day I was probably thinking about toilets – and while this may seem like carefully crafted glib aside, it’s the only way I know how to introduce something I am forced to think about more often than I should. In truth, I start my day the same way a family with small children starts a road trip (Has everyone gone to the bathroom? Yes? Go again, just to make sure!). This is because I try my damndest not to have to go into a gendered bathroom during the day, for many reasons I’ll go into.
You may have noticed that there are a couple of gender-neutral bathrooms dotted across campus now, the most significant one being in Sir John’s (I’m choosing to maturely ignore all the potential toilet humor in that one). With all this change going on, I’m here to explain what exactly is happening and most importantly, why these bathrooms are needed so much.
As the name may hint at, all-gender bathrooms are bathrooms that people of any gender can use – and this finally includes any gender identity that isn’t covered by the binary definitions of just (cis) male and/or (cis) female. The moment this gender binary is the only framework we use, not only do we exclude a whole bunch of people who just don’t fall into that category (a very bitter me) but there is suddenly an expectation of how those who use the female bathrooms present as well as those who use the male bathrooms. We suddenly push a whole lot of presumptions on people who just want to use the bathroom!
Now, to properly highlight how much these bathrooms are needed, let me paint you a picture that so many non-cisgendered folks go through every day:
When gender-neutral bathrooms aren’t available, going to the bathroom to simply pee (or poop. Both. Like a champ.) is an activity fraught with second-guessing, emotion and anxiety. Every time I choose one of two doors, I feel like I suddenly need to either choose to hide my transness and do what is ‘expected’ from someone who looks like me or whether I should put myself in a position that will be either highly uncomfortable or even dangerous.
Trans students often have to endure a whole range of reactions when entering gendered bathrooms. Results may vary from the person who attempts to politely stare us out of the room as they wash their hands, to the friends trying their least to hide their laughter from us. Let’s not forget the helpful pal who tries to redirect us to the ‘correct’ bathroom and let’s really not forget the ones who use direct, outright hostility, anger, threats and violence to remove us from where they think we don’t belong. That’s a lot of payout for simply wanting to use the bathroom. In fact, TIGD people are more likely to experience disproportional vilification and violence in a bathroom. And even if it doesn’t happen that one time or even that day at all, the threat is always there. I can never approach gendered bathrooms with ease or without worrying if today is another day that entering a door is seen as an act of aggression from me.
There is also the problem that walking through one of those doors is suddenly a public statement. I can see the ‘female’/’male’ sign. So can you. And everyone else around you. As such, the moment I take one of those doors, I am either lying to myself and others about my gender for their comfort (in turn, affecting mine) or outing myself when I wouldn’t be perceived as belonging to the gender of the bathroom I’ve dared to breach. So even if everyone in the bathroom is lovely and I don’t have to worry about their reactions (or I have the bathroom entirely to myself and can poot as freely and loudly as I want to) I am still coerced into publicly declaring something about myself. Now, if we also think about how there are many wonderful people out there who don’t identify -anywhere- along the gender binary (Also me. Turns out gender is complex!), suddenly they have the choice between a lie, and another lie. Non-binary peeps *don’t* have a bathroom if there are only two gendered ones. Can you imagine not having a bathroom?
Now, the only way to help us out and avoid this whole shitstorm (heh) is to give us bathrooms we can use safely. Having all gender bathrooms at Monash is not only an issue of inclusion, but also one of safety and wellbeing for gender nonconforming students. With the current discourse on bathrooms reaching a terrifying, trans-antagonistic crescendo, it makes a huge difference to actually have the choice to go somewhere where I won’t have to experience any of the above consequences for being a human. While I am writing all this from my perspective, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that the majority of this ‘discourse’ is transmisogynistic – it affects trans women disproportionately and is antagonistic in a way that is so specific to a group of people that already undergoes an inordinate amount of both symbolic and actual violence in society both historically and in the present.
However. None of this means that these should be seen as the ‘other’ bathrooms. Anyone who is cis, please do still use these bathrooms. In fact, we go right back to how using certain bathrooms is outing if these bathrooms are only ever used by gender diverse people. Let’s not do that. These are not suddenly the bathrooms that people who aren’t cis have to use. Part of the reason we worked so hard for these bathrooms is to normalize this concept and have more gender-neutral bathrooms around the place. We want these to be normal bathrooms. Speaking of normal – we still fully promote people being able to go to the bathrooms they should have access to. For example, trans women should be able to use the women’s bathrooms without fear. And anyone who tries to say differently is entirely full of shit.
Note: This article is written from only one perspective with input from many people. Not all of our experiences are the same, and not all experiences can be covered with the depth they deserve in a short article.
We are a diverse, wonderful group of people who deserve respect and safety in the same way you do, and these all gender bathrooms go a way to achieving that.
The MSA Queer Department runs an autonomous TIGD Caucus – if you would like to be added, get information on how to navigate Monash as a TIGD student, or simply meet others and share your experiences please get in touch with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/MSAQu/ and for more information regarding LGBTIQ matters at Monash refer to monash.edu/lgbtiq.
This article could not have been written without the valuable input of Theodore Murray, Justin Jones Li, the Queer Affairs Committee, TIGD Caucus, the Ally Network and so many more amazing Queer Peers.