You may not have realised, but every time you relieve yourself in a public restroom, you do so with the public acceptance of your gender. Popping to ‘the ladies’ or making a dash to the ‘little boy’s room’ appear innocent phrases at first, but behind them lies the raging politics of the gender divide. Let’s face it, we all do the same business, so why does society dictate that toilets should be gender specific?
One answer to this troublesome question is the introduction of gender neutral toilets in public places. Accessible for a person of any gender or gender identity, a gender neutral toilet does exactly what it says on the tin, with no unnecessary gender ties attached. Importantly, for members of the trans or androgynous community, this removes the often uncomfortable male-female categories that even intervene over where you can go to the bathroom. Gender neutral toilets also provide more ease for parents with young children who may be too young to use single sex toilets by themselves, and for people with disabilities whose carers may not be of the same sex. They seem to provide many benefits, so why do we not have more gender neutral toilets?
Talk to most people about same-sex toilets, and you’ll witness a grimace at the thought of sharing a toilet with someone of the opposite sex. Half of these responses are concerned with the discomfort of performing such a sensitive act in the presence of the opposite sex. If it’s a question of comfort, then simply avoid using gender neutral toilets. Yet the more pressing issue against using gender neutral toilets is the concern over the seemingly ideal ‘opportunity’ for rape and sexual assault.
Although it is difficult to discuss the topic with sensitivity to both the trans community and victims of rape and sexual assault, it is essential that we realise the underlying problem is not the dangerous ‘opportunities’ gender neutral toilets present, but the common assumption that rape only happens between strangers of the opposite sex. Rape and assault can and does happen to all genders, and is not exclusively perpetrated by a male attacker. Statistics from Rapecrisis reveal 85% of reported rape cases involve victims that knew their attacker prior to the incident, which in many cases was a current or former partner. With this in mind, the precautions against using gender neutral toilets reflects incorrect assumptions rather than an acknowledgement of reality. Unfortunately this does much worse by enforcing the belief that such a space would result in rape being inevitable rather than possible.
This is not to say we ignore the safety of those who use the toilets, but proceed with necessary precautions, such as a number of individual gender neutral toilets in one location rather than a set of shared cubicles and urinals. A safe and secure gender neutral restroom space would provide ease for all members of a community, including trans and androgynous people alongside rape and sexual assault victims.
Quite frankly it would be nice to live in a world where universal bodily functions did not require gender exclusive facilities. Safe gender neutral toilets can only be a positive impact for a more accepting and liberating society, but we have come to an age where the gender divide has become so deep, that even the concept of bridging the gap has become feared rather than embraced.