The discussion about introducing all gender bathrooms at Monash has been going on for years. Indeed, it’s a conversation that’s been happening everywhere.
We’re finally getting somewhere.
For trans, intersex, and gender diverse people (TIGD), the everyday act of going to the bathroom can be way more stressful than it needs to be. It isn’t as simple as just using the bathroom with your gender on the door. Those whose genders are misread are at risk of weird looks at best, or outright violence at worst. Trans men may need access to facilities where they can change their pads or tampons, and be afraid of making rustling noises where cis men can hear. A further segment of the population simply never sees their gender written on a bathroom door, because they are of a non-binary gender, and thus don’t fit into the traditionally enforced dichotomy of male and female at all. This issue is immensely personal to many students and immensely urgent, myself included; I am not going to pretend otherwise. I’ve been asked if I was in the right bathroom or change room numerous times. Someone screamed, once. Sometimes it’s hard to say which is worse – the dread of upsetting people, or knowing that if they’re not upset, it’s because they think I’m something I’m not.
One solution is to make bathrooms that simply don’t restrict access based on gender. Cubicles provide enough privacy that it ultimately shouldn’t matter, bathrooms ought to be clean and safe regardless of who uses them, and there is no real need to ever assume the gender of a stranger. Requests for such facilities have been made many times to Monash over the years, but despite numerous recent and ongoing renovations of the campus centre, including the toilets directly beside the queer lounge, there are still no specifically designated all gender facilities. When there are gender neutral bathrooms, it’s usually because they’re the one or two accessible bathrooms in the building, and it seems wrong for an able-bodied person to use a bathroom which is not meant for them, even if it is the only one they can comfortably use. What we need, and what we’ve been asking for, are all gender bathrooms. We have spent far too long without adequate bathroom facilities at Monash.
So what’s happening about it?
It’s finally looking good. The Monash Ally Network is working on it. When contacted for a statement, they said they “are committed to providing safe and inclusive bathrooms for our staff and students including those who are trans and gender diverse”; that short term goals include identifying facilities which are or could easily be all gender bathrooms, and that in the long term they are looking at ways to “best incorporate these facilities into our built environment in a way that is best-practice”. Excellent, but also vague. How short is short term? How long is long term? Are the pre-existing all gender bathrooms just the unisex accessible ones, which able-bodied people really don’t have much right to be using? Or does this goal include relabelling some gendered bathrooms to make them inclusive, and if so, which? Which of these never-ending renovations is finally going to improve inclusivity and accessibility? How long do we have to keep waiting?
Nevertheless, despite anxiety about the remaining wait, it is absolutely certain that the Ally Network is working well. I had concerns that even if some plans were in motion, there’d be risk of it being put into place without adequate consultation of relevant groups and would somehow fail to address our needs. But the Ally Network is currently “consulting with student organisations, Buildings and Property Division and other stakeholders such as Transgender Victoria and will work with MSA Queer Department (MQD) et al through the process”. (To further remind me of Monash’s good intentions, they also noted that Monash has backed marriage equality and the Safe Schools Coalition.) The Queer Officers have assured me that the Ally Network is being very communicative, doing their best to find out what the Monash TIGD Caucus wants on this front, and that while at this stage the MQD doesn’t have much of a role in the process, it’s because the Ally Network is doing all the work, and keeping well in touch about it.
It’s looking good. My hopes are high.
Last semester, I did an exchange at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England which happened to show me exactly how easy and wonderful gender neutral bathrooms could be. In addition to having an easy to find list of every other gender neutral bathroom on campus on the union website, their equivalent of the campus centre had recently been renovated, and the bathrooms had been converted into one large gender neutral bathroom for all students to use.
It was beautiful. You entered a double-sided doorway to see a few accessible cubicles in the centre, with more cubicles extending to either side. Every second cubicle had a sanitary bin in it, and there were stickers saying which had them on the door. There was plenty of mirror and sink space. People came and went without drama or hassle. It was clean. It was spacious. I have never felt so comfortable in a public bathroom.
Wandering around campus, to my amusement I would overhear random bystanders expressing their surprisingly immense satisfaction with these toilets. One person said, “I was pretty doubtful of the gender neutral bathrooms, I’ll admit; I just thought everyone would have sex in them. But they’ve turned out to be pretty great! Yeah, I’m surprised, I really like them.” (I assume they were cisgender but honestly there’s no way to tell.)
That’s not to say everyone was immediately comfortable with the arrangement. Nobody is going to automatically be comfortable with everything they’ve been taught to fear and/or shame, and issues such as cissexism, stigma around menstruation, and gendered violence are not going to disappear overnight. But you know what? Neither will gendered bathrooms. Pretty much every other building in the university still had gendered bathrooms. There are still ample opportunities for using facilities designed for restricted genders if that’s what makes you more comfortable, and in the meantime, people get used to the idea of sharing a bathroom with all genders, and (hopefully) not demanding knowledge of a stranger’s genitals. Most people seemed to get pretty comfortable pretty quickly.
I would never have expected this to be such a highlight, but when I remembered I would have to come back to Monash and misgender myself every time I needed to use a basic facility, I was filled with dread. Surely something so simple can’t be that hard? Why couldn’t we have such facilities? Why couldn’t we have nice maps and lists of where to find them?
Now, it looks like we can. At long last, the end is in sight. Perhaps we’ll all be able to use the bathrooms in peace and comfort soon.
We’ve waited long enough.