Speaking from personal experience, Chloe Maguire Sedgwick, highlights the reasons for gender neutral bathrooms.
Transgender (trans) is an umbrella term for anyone who’s gender doesn’t align with the gender they were assigned at birth, non-binary people fall under this umbrella. Non-binary people are anyone whose gender is not exclusively male or female.
On February 22nd 2018, UCD’s Gender Identity and Expression Policy was launched. This policy puts in place a number of measures to make life easier for trans people on the UCD campus. It is now possible to change your name and gender marker on any university documents without a Deed Poll or Gender Recognition Certificate. The measure that seems to have caught the most attention is the introduction of gender neutral bathrooms across campus. Along with a series of single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms being rolled out, there will be an accompanying map of all the buildings showing where each gender neutral bathrooms is.
Firstly, you might be wondering why gender neutral bathrooms are so important to trans people. Well, when you are a non-binary person like me, walking into a male or female bathroom just does not feel right. Every time that I need to use the bathroom, I am inadvertently forced to misgender myself. Misgendering is an issue because it makes trans people dysphoric. Gender dysphoria can result in anything from mental health problems like depression and anxiety, to physical symptoms like chest and stomach pains. While each trans person has different experiences with dysphoria, it is generally unpleasant and can have quite harmful consequences.
Secondly, safety in bathrooms is a key issue for trans people. For a lot of trans folks, we do not look how people would expect us to. If people aren’t able to look at you and definitively assume that you are a cis man when in a men’s bathroom, or a cis woman when in a women’s bathroom, they do not always react so well. As a result, it can be quite unsafe to use the bathroom. You risk harassment and often violence by using specifically gendered bathrooms. So, gender neutral bathrooms do not just help trans people like me who don’t feel any ties to being male or female, they help all of us at various points in our journey of transness. In an ideal world, people would just let everyone pee in a male or female bathroom if that’s what makes most sense for them, but unfortunately we do not live in that world.
Through both not wanting to become dysphoric and a fear of harassment or violence, a lot of trans people avoid using the bathroom where they can. This has lead to there being a ridiculously high number of trans people getting serious kidney and bladder infections. So, not only does it have an emotional toll knowing there isn’t a place for you to safely access a basic human right, there is also a physical toll.
So, we know why trans people need access to gender neutral bathrooms. I now want to clear up a few misconceptions about the introduction of gender neutral bathrooms.
Firstly, none of us want to get rid of gendered bathrooms at this moment in time. There are a lot of people out there who would be uncomfortable in gender neutral bathrooms and the aim here is for more people to be comfortable not less. We just want there to also be a space for us. To put it simply: we just want a safe place for us to pee.
Secondly, these bathrooms are not just for trans (or specifically non-binary) people. Literally anyone can use them. No one is losing access to bathrooms. If anything, cis men and women are gaining access to more bathrooms as now they can access both the gendered and gender neutral bathrooms.
Even just people who feel uncomfortable hearing other people pee, and being heard pee benefit.
Thirdly, gender neutral bathrooms don’t just benefit trans people. That might be the motivation behind introducing them, but there are plenty of other people who benefit here. Parents with children where there’s a mix of genders benefit. People with certain disabilities who have carers where there’s a mix of genders benefit. Also, due to the fact that they will specifically be single-stalled gender neutral bathrooms, people with anxiety benefit. Even just people who feel uncomfortable hearing other people pee, and being heard pee benefit.
All in all, this is an amazing step forward by UCD. They are continuing to make strides to accommodate the trans community within UCD. Gender neutral bathrooms are beneficial to all of us in one way or another, and aren’t taking away from anyone else’s rights or needs. I myself am looking forward for when these bathrooms start getting rolled out.