Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gender politics and the bathroom

Brought to you by the letters A & Hole. Rich with sarcasm.

Look, I know sexual/gender politics is a touchy subject. People get all uptight when we start talking about naughty bits, and all confused when you bring up the idea that maybe their idea of 'normal' might not be the only option. 

Today we discussed the subject of toilet choices appropriate for transgender persons. Because of a newspaper article quoting a guy who thinks the idea of letting transgender people use the bathroom of the gender they feel themselves to be is wrong. See here.

This article was specific to schools - and as a parent I can understand why these things are worrying to parents. The idea that we might screw up our kids is a constant dread. This particular subject seems very straightforward to me - and I'm 100% positive my daughter would agree entirely. A trans-girl is a girl and if there is a gender specific bathroom she should be able to use the GIRLS bathroom. The same applies for a trans-boy. They are a BOY. Gender is in the brain, and I count myself fortunate that the gender in my brain matches the genitalia I have been provided with. It is not so simple for everyone, and why the hell does everyone have to get so bloody uptight about it? I'm really at a loss to untangle the reasoning behind the concern. When you go to the bathroom do you also worry that there might be someone gay in there with you? If you do, you probably need to get over yourself a bit. Is there some kind of weird distortion in your head (and trust me, it's in YOUR head) that tells you that people who are outside your limited version of 'normal' are somehow creepy by default? Boys, is it about someone who might have a vagina potentially seeing your penis? Because besides the urinal I'm not really sure where what you have in your pants is actually relevant to the bathroom experience. I'm not there for the contents of YOUR undies.

In the bathroom I am generally not there to look at peoples bits. And if I am I probably have more to worry about than who's bits I'm looking at, also the fact that I'm looking is MY problem not the person I'm looking at. If you're worried that someone is looking at you in the bathroom then report them - it still isn't their gender that is the issue. 

A lot of men's bathrooms have urinals - I can see where this is causing an issue for some people, disconnecting yourself from the idea that the trans-boy maybe has a vagina and is somehow going to be obsessing over your penis while you're having a pee could certainly be a problem, FOR YOU. Try coming to grips with the idea that he's a boy and probably isn't that fascinated by your penis - unless he's also gay, but again it's not his GENDER that's the issue there, and any number of other men in the bathroom could also be gay AND have a penis. I suggest you just stop thinking about it, it'll make you blind.

I like the idea of Unisex bathrooms. I don't see the need for separating the genders as much as we do. I think we would go a long way further towards genuine equality in this and so many other things if we just stopped separating so much stuff out. What if we just stopped having a mens bathroom and a womens bathroom, we just have one big bathroom. Scrap the urinals, all cubicles. Sanitary disposal in each and every one. A reasonable number of wheelchair capable stalls. And baby change tables. Tampon/pad dispensers right out there in the open where people can learn to deal with the idea that menstruation is just a bodily function. A few people argued that kids might be 'confused' by the idea of a unisex bathroom. How? No seriously, in what way is this confusing? Do they use gender specific bathrooms at home? Probably not. Kids know what toilets are for better than adults do. It's adults that tend to do things in them that aren't actually toilet specific. My experience of children is that they are far more open to peoples differences than adults are - kids develop their hang-ups as a result of growing up. Growing up without them seems like a much better plan to me.

One of the reasons I'm so passionate about education is that I believe that most of the worlds ills can be solved by making a better job of raising the next generations. If we raise our children to respect each others differences, to have tolerance for others opinions, to be willing to listen and discuss not just stick their fingers in their ears and expect their way all the time then maybe we can all make some better decisions. So I think Unisex bathrooms is a good plan.

If it's all happening in a cubicle what difference does it make who's in there? 

I can see where changing rooms are more of a problem. I don't think they should be, but that's a whole other discussion. They are a problem and they will be a much trickier one to solve. But transgender is not the ONLY issue with changing rooms - many people are uncomfortable with changing in front of other people anyway. I've seen some pretty spectacular meltdowns in changing rooms because someone was uncomfortable about stripping in front of others and some staff member was utterly insensitive. So shouldn't we ALREADY have some private cubicles? Because mental health and wellbeing is important. If there's IS an option for people who are uncomfortable with changing in front of others, then just extend that to people who would otherwise have to change in a room that either isn't appropriate for them OR makes others uncomfortable by their presence. I want the universe to grow up, but I'm realistic about this happening overly quickly.

So here's what I think the answer is. Not what I expect the answer to be, but what I, personally, think the best solution is. Unisex toilet facilities, utilising ALL stalls (no urinals) with full length doors (those fucking short doors in school toilets are unbelievably demeaning - try sending an adult to one of those and see how they react) since adults seem to want real privacy in the bathroom why aren't kids granted this? And yes I mean it about having sanitary item dispensers in all bathrooms. This one came up for me on a discussion of the news article where someone suggested that women needed more privacy in bathrooms, because periods. Seriously. Because periods. I buy tampons and pads over the counter at the supermarket from both complete strangers and people I know quite well from my neighbourhood. I bleed once a month like most women do. Sometimes I need to change a tampon or pad in a public bathroom, and I have never felt in the least self conscious about the idea and since it's all in a cubicle - who bloody cares?? Yes I know that some people are more self conscious about it, and that girls are sometimes a bit embarrassed when Aunt Flow first comes a'calling but again I'm pretty sure this is a product of social conditioning. It doesn't have to be awkward, and I actually think young ladies are getting less and less concerned about such things - I think teens in general are getting far more upfront and unconcerned by all sorts of issues, which I think is bloody fantastic. Do guys get embarrassed about shaving? Then piss off, I'm not getting embarrassed about bleeding. 

Maybe we should ask teens what they think about all this. Because they're actually closer to the issue than us elderly folk, and attitudes HAVE changed. From what I hear from both my daughter and her friends, and from my own transgender friends the majority are not terrifically worried about the issue, at least not enough to actually say or do anything horrid. At my daughters school what might be considered as the disabled toilets have been more sensibly tagged as 'unisex' and anyone can use them. Though from what I hear the trans girls use the girls bathroom and the trans boys use the boys bathroom and no one seems very worried about it. 

At the same time, leave the changing rooms as they are, have private cubicles for those situations that warrant it, that are completely separate from the gendered changing rooms (yes this matters - otherwise the shy or trans or whatever kids STILL have to go into a choice of room and are still stigmatised), and I'll keep hoping for a day when we don't need to segregate anymore. 

Peace. Out.

* Another post I made about transgender issues a bit over a year ago here


  1. Just for the record, I've been told that it's considered impolite to use transgirl or trans-girl etc, rather than with a space (trans girl) as it defines the person by their trans status. :)

    1. I'm somewhat aware of there being numerous issues with naming conventions, though there does not seem to be a consensus on which option if any is the best. Point noted however, and I will look into preferred notation further.