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To Pee, or Not to Be: That Is the Question for Trans Youth

By Hannah Sole | Think Pieces | March 1, 2017 |

By Hannah Sole | Think Pieces | March 1, 2017 |

What is it that right-wing America thinks happens in toilets? It seems a silly question, as for most of us the answer is a number …

Do right-wing Americans think toilets are somehow sexy places, where the contents of a person’s trousers makes them a VIP, and ‘deviants’ are just waiting to get in on that action? Do they really think that allowing people to choose the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity will lead to teenage boys pretending to be trans purely to gain access to that magical wonderland, the girls’ restroom, where they might (shock) be able to hear an actual girl peeing? Or see one of those rare and precious objects: the sanitary bin? Or watch a girl brush her hair and reapply lipstick? Or eavesdrop on some girls talking about boys?

Gendered toilets are a social construct. Urinals aside, the toilets themselves are the same. They are exactly the same as the ones we have at home, which we don’t feel the need to label ‘his’ and ‘hers.’ There aren’t guards posted on the doors of public bathrooms, quietly checking the genitalia of those waiting in the queue. It’s ideological rules that keep us in the ‘right’ ones, and give us that ‘oh no’ feeling if we accidentally find ourselves in the ‘wrong’ ones. I’m sure that men and women make the same ‘noooooo’ facial expression when they find themselves surrounded by members of the other gender at the sinks. But sometimes, people take it upon themselves to become the Loo Police, and confront anyone they perceive as an interloper on their territory. No one seems to confront the mortified person who has clearly made a mistake — no, the Dunny Patrol only target those who don’t look embarrassed, without stopping to question whether that is a) for a reason, b) something that matters at all, or c) any of their business.

Gendered toilets are a social construct because gender is itself a social construct. It is a deeply ingrained one, but it’s social not biological.


For trans people, and trans kids in particular, there seem to be two initial problems when it comes to toilets:

1) Fearing being prevented from using a toilet that other people decide is not for them

2) Fearing being bullied by other toilet users - in either the toilets that they feel they should be using, or the ones they feel they shouldn’t

For some, the only way to avoid these fears is to never use a public bathroom. As someone with a bladder the size of a thimble, I find this unthinkable. It is also horrendous to expect people to deny their own identity in order to avoid any potential confrontation with the Guardians of the Lavatory. To pee, or not to be.

There has to be another way.

Some educational institutions in the UK are trying out new systems to prevent bullying and promote a more open-minded attitude to gender identity. My local university’s public bathrooms are gender-neutral, after a successful campaign from the Union of UEA Students. It has apparently taken a little getting used to, but seems to be going well. Some secondary schools have also started to introduce unisex toilets; in both of these cases, there are individual cubicles, shared sinks and no doors to the corridors. What is done in the cubicle is private - but any confrontations or incidents can be heard from the corridor, thus aiming to combat bullying that might go on behind closed doors. It is a massive step in the right direction, but it can still feel strange for users. There is something perhaps a little disconcerting about them, and it still leads to people momentarily panicking that they have broken the social code and used the ‘wrong’ one. And there seem to be different expectations of cleanliness as well. There are some interesting thoughts on unisex toilets here.

There is an even better way, though. In the most recently developed part of my own college building, we went one step further. Bathrooms are individual and fully self-contained, with their own sink and mirror, off the corridor. There is no need for shared, communal space. They are labeled as non-gender specific, and unlike a line of cubicles, they are fully private. They are just safe places where people go to the loo. No one will look at you in a judgmental way; no one can bully you; no one can question you on your gender identity.

Being able to go to the toilet isn’t a privilege, and it shouldn’t be something that causes young people to avoid school, or makes them afraid. Everybody poops. When it comes to doing one’s business, shouldn’t we all just mind our own?

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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