This post is part 2 in a series about some issues that are on the minds of a lot of non-binary people. Part 1 was about why I prefer male pronouns. Today I’m talking about bathrooms. Part 3 will be about legal designations / filling out forms.
I am someone who is inhabiting a space in this world, in between genders. There is a growing language, subculture of sorts, and political agendas surrounding this experience. In theory, I am on board with all I’ve seen (and let me clarify that what I’ve seen is almost entirely online at this time, and not reflected in the world I actually live in). But in actuality, not every part of it appeals to me personally. Which is OK – I can still support it while simultaneously getting the word out that not all non-binary people have the same needs, preferences, and agendas.
In general, I use the women’s restroom. The reason for this is: because it is where I would rather go, despite the fact that I see myself in more masculine terms, overall. No need for a further explanation – no need to try to align different areas of my life into one gendered idea of myself (even if that one gendered idea is “gender neutral,”) if I don’t feel like it.
If there is a single stall / gender neutral one available, I would prefer to use that bathroom. But usually there is not, and it is not something that I am personally concerned about. I feel comfortable enough in the women’s restroom. I don’t have any anxiety about it. I don’t second guess it. I’ve rarely been confronted (I keep my head down, avert my eyes, I don’t linger, etc. I am aware I don’t completely belong, so I wanna be as inconspicuous as possible, and so far so good.)
(I wrote an earlier post about my experience with bathrooms, here, at Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective.)
However, many non-binary and transitioning people do not feel safe and/or comfortable in either the women’s or the men’s restroom. Indeed, they are often made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable. There has been a push for more gender neutral bathrooms in public places, over the past few years, particularly at schools and on campuses. Why schools and campuses? I’m not sure exactly, but I can make an educated guess. People in their teens and early twenties are at these places en masse. People in their teens and early twenties tend to be going through changes – they may be focusing on their identities (including gender identities) more so than the general population, so it makes sense they would want to change the spaces where they spend the most time, in order to feel more safe and comfortable.
I hope this movement spreads beyond schools, to include government buildings, corporate chains, every place, really. I think that it will, or, at least, I think this agenda will gain more traction than the push for gender neutral pronouns, which is, comparatively speaking, somewhat nebulous. changes in language are more about changing people’s perceptions and notions on a large scale (potentially very difficult). Bathrooms are about physical spaces, with a direct request that involves a straightforward solution.
New buildings can go up with this floor plan in mind, without much more money or labor. Existing buildings can be remodeled and reorganized. (Something that happens frequently anyway.) Often it’s just a matter of relabeling existing layouts (at no additional cost). For example, if a restaurant has a single stall restroom for men, and a single stall restroom for women, how much work would it take to get that restaurant to just change them both to gender neutral bathrooms? Hopefully within the near future, not much convincing work at all!
Until this is happening anywhere and everywhere (I hope I see the day!!!!), here is an amazing website resource: Refugee Restrooms.
All you have to do is type in your city or location, and it is a database that lists where there are single stall handicap accessible and/or gender neutral restrooms in that area. The database is only as big as everyone makes it, so if you know of bathrooms in your area, go ahead and type in the locations now! I started adding some for my city; let’s spread the word!
I spend a lot of time in both men’s and women’s public restrooms. Or more accurately, girls’ and boys’ restrooms – I clean toilets, and I work at an elementary school. There are also a few gender neutral bathrooms, for staff, which is pretty great. For a tally, there are 3 girls’ gang bathrooms and 3 boys’ gang (That’s really how they are referred to, which totally conjures images of ruffians scribbling graffiti all over the walls and pulling all the toilet paper off the rolls. Oh, and smoking and fighting and stuff.), 3 gender neutral bathrooms for staff, one women’s room, one men’s room, and 7 bathrooms within classrooms (also gender neutral).
For my first half-hour of work, kids are still in school. I like to get a head start on some areas I can access before they leave for the day, and gang bathrooms are one of the places I can start. But only if I’m sure no kids are in there, and they’re not likely to come in. Especially for the boys’, because technically I am female. This is very serious.
Before I labor over that point, here’s a little back story about my take on which bathroom I personally should be in: Over the holidays, I got to hang out with two out-of-town friends who are both trans*. They were both describing dreams they’ve had where they went into an unaccommodating bathroom, like stalls were missing or it was more of an open locker-room vibe. And they asked my partner and me if we’ve had public restroom anxieties, and we both replied, “No.” And in that sense, it’s true. I strongly feel myself to be non-binary and genderqueer (and my sense of self is closer to male than female), yet I really have no questions or reservations about which public restroom to use. If a gender-neutral or family one is available, I will use that. Otherwise, I will use the women’s room. And if people are doing a double take or wondering if I should be there, that’s kinda their problem. Because it’s the bathroom I feel more comfortable in. I didn’t always feel this way. I used to always feel very anxious about the whole endeavor of going into the women’s room. Honestly, I’m not sure what changed, other than the fact that I’d rather be in there than in the men’s room, and I’d rather feel calm than anxious?
What if, though, I were just a few degrees closer to feeling male and presenting masculine? And/or I felt more comfortable going to the men’s room, but looked the way I look now? What would that mean for me at work? The whole system of safety according to separation of genders would be breaking down. Like, what if I were out at work, and asked for male pronouns and used the men’s / boy’s room? Would there be a lot of upheaval and confusion? Or would everyone be accepting and cool with it? I really can’t make that call in advance, but it’s interesting to think about, even on this basic level of which bathroom is it “safe” for me to be in at the same time with children?
Daily, I have to be in and out of both bathrooms. And as of now, f I get a call that there’s a problem in a boys’ room, I gotta get out wet floor signs and yell into the doorway, “Anyone in here?” (I do this for the girls’ room too, even though I don’t technically have to.) If I’m already in there and a boy walks in, I have to make a huge deal out of the fact that we are both in there. And I have to walk out immediately. This happened just yesterday in fact. I knew I was taking a chance, starting to clean the bathroom before school was out. A first-grader came in, and I had to be all, “Wait one second. Let me leave and then you can go in.” He was really flustered and turned right around and was really hesitant about going in at all after I walked out. I had to repeat a couple of times, “You can go ahead now.”
Why all the paranoia????? I follow this protocol because people can loose their jobs over shit like this. And a part of me understands it, from a safety standpoint. But at the same time, we are instilling and reinforcing really irrational fears and gender rigidity into kids! The situation is anxiety provoking, all around!
During the majority of my shift though, I walk in and out of bathrooms without any hesitation because my co-worker and I are the only ones in the school. (There are evening activities most days, but everyone needs to go to designated bathrooms at those times. They can’t just wander around the school.)
This may sound kinda weird, but bathrooms are a good place to kill some extra time. I like to practice peeing standing up, without an STP device. (Basically because I don’t have one; I’m thinking about getting one.) Interestingly, I do this still in the girls’ room. I never actually use the boys’ bathrooms (it’s been ingrained in me too). Also, bathrooms have mirrors, which used to come in handy when I was just starting to get into doing drag. I’ve spent countless work hours listening to my mp3 player and practicing lip synching and dancing, in front of mirrors in the public restrooms. I like to use the mop handle as a microphone stand. It’s pretty fun.
Bathrooms end up being a microcosm for people’s anxieties surrounding gender. And I don’t totally get it. But I can attest to the fact that it is indeed taught and reinforced at a very young age. I can also attest to some differences between genders, based on the different states I find the bathrooms in or just trends and differences between the two, but that’s sort of a different topic all together. And some of it is just plain gross.