Washroom Wars: Yay for Gender Neutral Bathrooms; Nay for Ignorant Buffoons

by Ruwani Dadallage. Ruwani is a volunteer at Women Against Violence Against Women and an all-around kickass feminist. 

I never thought I would write about washrooms on a feminist blog. But an incident that happened at work made me realize how important feminist advocacy is no matter where we are.

My colleague, a smart, politically correct woman we shall call A, brought up the need for at least one gender neutral bathroom in the building we occupy. Since anyone outside the hetero-normative archetype has an increased risk of rejection, judgement, mistrust, bullying and assault, the idea was proposed in an effort to create a safe and comfortable environment in the building for anyone transgendered, gender non-conforming, gender queer, and anyone of all gender identities and expressions.

Seeing how we occupy a historic Vancouver building, and how we would probably need permission from the gods and a sacrifice to get approval to renovate, the easiest solution was to assign the existing men’s single stall restroom as our new gender neutral washroom. Open and shut case. So we only needed approval of our boss to take down the old sign and replace it with a cool gender neutral sign. We were so pleased with our resolution and pat ourselves on the back for being such great allies. However, in my feminist bliss I sometimes forget that not everyone thinks of inclusive solutions.

Enter colleague B. First he guffawed. Then added that this was one way we were attempting to increase the number of washrooms for women (okay, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, women always have to wait in line), and no way was he going to share a restroom with everyone. He didn’t want to go into a washroom after a girl has taken a stinky dump!

I wished he stopped rambling there. He also believed that transgendered persons would have to learn to face the harsh realities of the world, and get used to there not being spaces like this for them. He went so far as to say that even in the more progressive public spaces the gender binary is still clear, with respective washroom stalls for men and women. Then concluded by saying picking which washroom to go to would be the least of worries for a transgendered person.

I had steam coming out of my ears. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this rubbish. This is a professional, adult male, spewing forth blatantly myopic, male privilege beliefs. By not taking the time to understand these concerns it is easy to overlook how much violence and discrimination someone would face because of their transgender identity or gender non-conformity. A transgendered person could be in danger of experiencing transphobic/homophobic slurs, harassment, violence in relationships, physical abuse, sexual assault or murder.

These experiences are particularly grave for trans women due to transmisogyny. Many cisgendered women have the misconception that they would be in danger if allowing transgendered women in a shared restroom. They are expected to prove that they are “real” women. The number of cases that are reported of a trans woman driven out or assaulted just for wanting to use a washroom are far too many, and these assaults are carried out by other women as well as men.

Colleague B apologized the next day for his behaviour and the way he held onto his beliefs. Nonetheless, he still stood by what he had said earlier and did not apologize for thinking that way.

In the midst of supportive colleagues it only takes one person like this to bring me back to reality to remind me of the palpable tyranny that exists, of the oppressive patriarchal dogmas and why feminist advocacy is so important. We may have won the battle this time with the newly installed washroom, but there is a long war ahead of us.

- Ruwani Dadallage xx 

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