Trans Rights: Why The Government Shouldn't Choose A Restroom For You

by Hanna Mallette

Most would agree restroom use is a human right, since urination and defecation are bodily functions we can't control.

While many may not think twice about running to the nearest bathroom to relieve their needs, those who identify as disabled, LGBTQ or genderqueer are vulnerable to scrutiny, ridicule and even violence in these places and spaces.

Bathrooms that are intended to cater only to males or females are sometimes not entirely mindful toward the various necessities people may require when using the restroom, such as changing tables or feminine products for trans men who are still menstruating.

There is a need for more gender-neutral bathrooms in public places in order to accommodate those who fall out of the cisgender, heteronormative and able-bodied categories.

According to author and City University of New York professor, Judith Lorber, gendered bathrooms became a "contentious feminist issue" two decades ago because "gendered bathrooms perpetuated gender inequality because there were never enough ladies' rooms to match their greater need."

The argument for having more gender-neutral bathrooms is a "battle for the recognition of the rights of people with all sorts of bodies,” said Lorber.

This stance may be uncomfortable for some cisgender people, as they claim they don't feel comfortable sharing public restrooms with trans people, or they feel their gender or sexuality is threatened by the presence of someone who is trans, gay, lesbian, bisexual or identifies as queer.

For those who are trans, some may not "pass" as the gender they identify with (according to their peers), and they may be forced into using a bathroom that doesn't correlate with their gender.

Some transphobic and/or homophobic people have even taken it upon themselves to police these spaces, as they believe trans, gays, lesbians, bisexuals or those who identify as queer are in the wrong place and should take their bathroom needs elsewhere.

Chrissy Polis, a trans-woman in her mid-20s, was attacked three years ago at McDonald's in Rosedale, MD, for trying to use the women's bathroom.

An employee filmed the assault rather than trying to help Polis, and the footage went viral.

After this incident occurred, Polis was "afraid to go outside" for simply trying to use a public restroom, a privilege that many of us take for granted.

Even for those trans people who do "pass," issues may still arise when they choose which gendered bathroom to use.

In some states, politicians are trying to pass bills that "make it a crime for transgender people to use public facilities, including bathrooms and dressing rooms, that accord with their affirmed gender." This promulgates the dated idea only those who have vaginas are women, and only those who have penises are men.

In March 2015, Michael Hughes, a trans man from Minnesota, began posting selfies on social media from women's bathrooms to protest the discrimination trans people are facing.

In a photo Hughes posted to Twitter, he states:

"I am a transman who was born female, but has transitioned to male. I am the man who will show up in the women's restroom[s] should bills like Florida's #hb583 and Minnesota's #sf1543 pass. Trans* people are not trying to invade your space, we simply want somewhere to use the bathroom, or shower... just like you."

Other states allow trans people to take their discrimination cases to court, but they are only secure under laws that protect those with disabilities.

Genderqueer people, who may identify as neither man nor woman, might also be forced to choose a male or female bathroom, both of which may not be desirable choices.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those who identify as queer may be vulnerable to torment in bathrooms, due to the disapproval of their sexuality.

Men may not want women in a men's bathroom, as their privates may be exposed while they are using the urinal. In a reverse situation, many women might argue they wouldn't want a man in the bathroom because they would feel violated and unsafe.

I can understand where some women may come from with concerns for their safety, as gender-neutral bathrooms with multiple stalls may cause unwanted confrontations or harassment.

This is why individual bathrooms would be an ideal choice to accommodate every person.

In order to address the various issues surrounding bathroom politics, PISSAR (People in Search of Safe and Accessible Restrooms) was created at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and it is currently working to "document and address the problem of bathroom access" for those with disabilities, or those who don't conform to gender norms.

PISSAR also recognizes how these marginalized groups intersect, and it is working with authoritative figures from its university to protect people's right to accessible restrooms.

It also hopes to work with architects who will design bathrooms that can cater to people with different types of bodies.

With groups like PISSAR, people facing bathroom discrimination are getting the representation they need, and they are helping to spread awareness about bathroom politics that are often overlooked.

Individual gender-neutral bathrooms, while not entirely efficient for accommodating many people at once, will offer the most privacy and safety for people's restroom use.

Like PISSAR, more universities, businesses, companies and government agencies should work toward bathrooms that will not discriminate against those outside of cisgender, heterosexual and able-bodied identities.