Gender-neutral bathrooms should be the norm, not the exception| September 29, 2019
As I walked a first-year friend up the numerous flights of stairs to her dorm room at the top of 1937, she made an offhand comment about a relatively mild inconvenience that stuck with me. The dorm room assignment gods had not looked kindly upon her floor, and somehow my friend had been stuck on a hall where there were “seven-plus girls using one bathroom that only had one stall, one shower, and two sinks.” The designated “men’s” bathroom on the hall, on the other hand, was shared by just two boys.
My friend shared that she and the other girls had pondered the idea of making the bathrooms “gender-neutral” to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in the “women’s” bathroom, but for some reason, after asking, they were shut down. Our conversation then returned, of course, back to the normal banter about Wilson’s sad lack of AC, cockroach invasions, and other residential college inconveniences.
Going back and reflecting on her comment a little longer raised some questions for me: why would it be such an issue for cis-gendered people to convert the bathrooms on their hall into gender-neutral versions, or why would it feel like such an issue?
Often, the push for gender-neutral bathrooms remains labeled as an issue solely for the LGBTQ+ community and their allies — particularly those who are genderqueer, non-binary, trans, or otherwise gender-nonconforming — which places the entire burden of their struggle to safely enter bathrooms that match their identities on actors who have already been systematically, societally disempowered and pushed aside. In reality, however, though gender binary bathrooms directly and aggressively harm members of the LGBTQ+ community, gender binary bathrooms often present a serious nuisance to cis-gendered people as well.
These nuisances can range from mild inconveniences of overcrowding to more serious issues for both genders, and particularly for women. It is safe to say most everyone has, at least once, waited in a long line outside the binary bathroom their identity corresponds with, and due to major plumbing codes in the U.S. that result in more men’s facilities than women’s, this inconvenience disproportionately affects those who use the women’s room.
For menstruating people who may need access to products or bins located all too often only in women’s bathrooms, long lines for the women’s bathroom can become pressing. Less serious issues for both genders present themselves even when there are single-stall, gendered bathrooms side by side. Problems arise, like when one side goes out of order or experiences other unforeseen issues.
Social behavior such as adherence to rules, general awkwardness, or matters of identity stop certain people from entering the opposite gender bathroom. More serious issues can then spawn out of this, like when a parent needs to help their child of a different gender in the restroom and there are no family or gender-neutral restrooms available.
It is also important to note that Princeton University defines gender-neutral bathrooms as “single occupancy, lockable bathrooms” — notably not multi-stall — and there are no gender-neutral, multi-stall bathrooms on campus. Avant-garde attempts to convert multi-stalled bathrooms on campus into gender-neutral versions have been met with University disapproval, with nods to Title IX problems that could arise if the University are not the ones to instigate change. Only having single occupancy gender-neutral restrooms does nothing to prevent problems with lines and flows of people, and in many cases when such restrooms are present, that restroom is the only gender-neutral bathroom in the entire building.
Arguments against gender-neutral, multi-stalled bathrooms (exemplified by the anti-Hero ads back in 2016) often focus on safety concerns, especially for women. These arguments often use scare tactics, referencing things like male sex offenders being in the same spaces as small girls (like in this article by the Family Research Council). To counter this, and to be quite frank, one has to ask, where do you think these criminals were committing these crimes before? Horrible and atrocious people have existed and will continue to exist, but the location of their crimes is not a key factor into whether or not the crime occurs, and making bathrooms gender-neutral does not make it easier for potential sex offenders who would commit the crime anyway.
I am not saying that all bathrooms should be gender-neutral and multi-stalled. For those with religious concerns or who are uncomfortable in mixed gender situations, an option should still exist for them to find — whether that is a single-person bathroom or whether that means keeping some gendered multi-stalled bathrooms about.
But I believe these people will find themselves in a high minority. Gender-neutral bathrooms becoming the norm instead of the exception would be a tremendous stride for equality in the queer community, and the practical benefits of gender-neutral bathrooms for cis-gendered people reveal that inclusive bathrooms are really a good for the majority of people.
When a careful implementation of gender-neutral, multi-stall bathrooms that still provides a separate space for those who may not be comfortable is taken into a consideration, the remaining arguments against inclusive bathrooms are left inherently queerphobic, misguided, and heteronormatively classist.
Anna McGee is sophomore from Paducah, KY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.