Q. Do “gender neutral bathrooms” mean we have to let men into women’s bathrooms or locker rooms?
A. No. This does not mean that people who identify as men will start using women’s facilities, or that women will use men’s facilities. Instead, during Gender Neutral Bathroom Week, we are temporarily converting some bathrooms into universal bathrooms. This is an opportunity to learn that some people’s gender identity does not perfectly match societal expectations, to learn about a struggle that is invisible to many of us. Some men are more feminine than others, some women are more masculine than others, and some people live in a gender different from what was assigned to them at birth. Washington law requires that all people who identify as women be treated as women, and all people who identify as men be treated as men in public accommodations. Gender Neutral Bathroom Week has the goal of raising awareness that we do not all meet societal expectations, but we all need to use the bathroom.
Q. What if I go in the bathroom, and a man/woman (someone unexpected) is in there?
A. Short answer: use the bathroom as you always do. Also, do not stare, say anything, ask if they saw the sign, or otherwise verbally or physically harass the person. They know where they are, and are there for the same reason you are–to go to the bathroom.
The long answer has two points: first, we do not anticipate this will happen very much. In general, people will use the bathroom with which they are most familiar; for most people, very little will change during Gender Neutral Bathroom Week. Only some of the bathrooms on campus will be made universal, so for most people, it will be “business” as usual.
Second is the reason for the event: ask yourself why that matters. From where is your discomfort coming? People go to the bathroom to do just that–go to the bathroom. Why do you assume anything else? Perhaps that person does not meet with your expectations for gender. Perhaps that person does not look like you, or anything you would choose for your own gender expression. Does it matter? Do you really need to respond with a stare, a comment, or violence? Or isn’t it okay to give people the benefit of the doubt that they chose this bathroom, well-knowing it is the best option for their own safety and comfort.
For people who conform with gender expectations, Gender Neutral Bathroom Week will not disrupt their routine very much. For people who do not meet with societal expectations for their assigned gender, however, this week may be the one and only time they can go to the bathroom without fear, or having to organize their day (even monitoring their liquid consumption) around avoiding bathrooms.
Q. If we have gender neutral bathrooms, will women be less safe?
A. Of course not. And this is for several reasons.
First, this is our second year hosting Gender Neutral Bathroom Week, and we had no incidents last year. The vast majority of students, staff and faculty that gave feedback last year had overwhelmingly positive responses to the events. Many, many people came out of the woodwork to share their stories of being harassed, or threatened, for not conforming to gender stereotypes, or for accessing bathrooms with a child or elderly parent of another gender. We received an incredible amount of thankful responses, and were honored to hear so many stories. Many people felt MORE safe because of this event.
Second, a sign on the door that labels a bathroom “male” or “female” (as you see most of the time) does not actually provide any type of physical barrier or protection for the people using the bathroom. If bathrooms are unsafe places, the label on the outside will not make a difference. In reality, the risk of assault in a public facility like this is far, far smaller than the risk of being assaulted by someone you know. If someone did have criminal intentions, and chose to find a bathroom in which to attack someone, the gender-segregated signage would more accurately point out where to find women.
Most importantly, this question points to some pretty terrible gender stereotypes–that all men are predators, and all women are damsels in distress. We think more of each other.
What we want is bathrooms to be safer for everyone. Not just those of us who conform to gender, and have no children or aging parents of another gender.
Q. Why should I have to go out of my way, when I am in the majority?
A. Creating an environment that is more affirming for ALL of the members of a community is always going to come with some growing pains. As a society, we have gone through this numerous times and while growing pains can hurt, in hindsight you get to say you are a bigger person because of them. Right now, there are bathrooms on the WSU Vancouver campus that are considered “gender neutral” because they are single stall, or have no gender specification. They are not located in convenient places, and require travel time. For gender non-conformers, or anyone who has experienced harassment or discomfort using gender-segregated bathrooms, they have to cross campus, or go well out of their way, or organize their schedule around being able to get to one of those few bathrooms. The alternative is to “hold it” which puts them at risk of further discomfort or bladder problems. This week, we want you can get a small feel for what that is like. We want you to have the opportunity to experience what it is like to go out of your way, just to perform basic bodily functions.
Q. Will gender neutral bathrooms will make some people uncomfortable?
A. It is true that for people who are used to using gender-segregated bathrooms, using gender neutral bathrooms may feel strange or uncomfortable. Often times, social change that increases access for an excluded group and eliminated discrimination requires a reform of social practices that makes people who have not been negatively affected by the existing arrangements uncomfortable. However, discomfort or modesty, when compared with the inability to engage in basic necessary biological functions at work, school, and in public spaces, cannot be prioritized. As we make changes to increase access and reduce discrimination, we must all commit to adjusting to those changes. As with most societal changes, we will likely look back in a few years and marvel at the discomfort we felt.
Q. What about women who are survivors of sexual violence? What if they are triggered by using the bathroom with someone with masculine body parts?
A. Safe spaces to accommodate the needs of survivors is essential. Victims of sexual violence come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, and have survived different types of oppressions. These experiences can sometimes leave survivors with misconceptions and biases about each other. Giving into misperceptions of transwomen as not “real women” or as predators does not protect cisgender women, but does increase the oppression and discrimination transwomen face. That makes the bathrooms even less of a safe space. Not all people with masculine body parts are predators, and only being in a space labeled “for women” does not ensure safety. We can do more to reduce violence by looking at systemic issues of inequality than excluding certain body parts from women’s bathrooms.
Q. Will men and women be using the bathroom at the same time during Gender Neutral Bathroom Week?
A. Last year we found that the vast majority of people have continued to use the bathrooms they usually do. We anticipate it will be the same this year. The idea is not to use a new or different bathroom, but to raise awareness of how some people are harassed for not meeting gender ideals in gender-segregated facilities. We do not expect you to change much about your routine, unless your routine includes harassing people for looking differently than you expect. If gender neutral bathrooms present you with a moment of discomfort, think about what this must be like each and every time some people want to use the bathroom. They have to choose between “holding it” and risking stares, comments or even violence–is that the type of campus, or community, we want?
Q. Is WSU Vancouver going to change their bathrooms to gender-neutral?
A. This is not the expectation, or goal of this event in any way. We want to bring awareness at the damage being done to students when gender is policed in the bathrooms. We do not want token bathrooms in faraway parts of campus, we want all bathrooms to be safe for people, no matter their gender identity or expression. We want this campus to be a place that attracts the best and brightest students, staff, faculty and administrators. To do that, we need a campus that is safe and affirming of all of our differences.
Q. How can I support Gender Neutral Bathroom Week?
A. You can support the program by:
Q. What if I disagree with Gender Neutral Bathroom Week?
A. We invite you to respectfully dialogue with us by commenting on the blog, or by emailing us.