Gender neutral bathrooms are worth the discomfort for some


graphic credit: Janhawi Kelkar

Abby Smith, Staff Writer

Imagine two boys are chatting at the sink, as a girl walks out of a stall and another one re-applies her makeup; now imagine all of this happening in one bathroom. This is the fear of some, the dream of many, and a reality in places around the world. This is what gender neutral bathrooms would be like, and they may come to Blake in the near future.

The idea of gender neutral bathrooms is simple. If a person has to pee, they are free to walk into either bathroom regardless of biological sex, gender identity, or gender expression. “Why would this be necessary?” some might ask, but I’m here to present this idea from a perspective that may just make it a bit clearer.

One Blake student who identifies as genderqueer allowed me to interview them. I will call them by the name they prefer to go by, Zeam, and use gender neutral pronouns. As the daily use of the English language does not have a gender neutral pronoun for people, zhe has to use “zhe” “zher,” and “zhers” instead of “he,” “she,” etc.  Zeam also decided to pick a new name, one that is not associated with either gender. “I feel that I have both genders, or I’m neither,” Zeam said in our interview, when asked about zher gender identity. Zhe has had to make some changes to the way that zhe goes about zher day as a result of claiming genderqueerness as part of their identity.

Zeam suffers daily from the need to either pick the male or female bathroom to go in. Zeam described the feeling as “though someone [had] to think about blinking… I shouldn’t have to worry about blinking.”

“[A] basic premise [is] that every human being needs to go to the bathroom” JJ Kahle pointed out in an interview, “Almost every option that you have you have to walk through a door that either says men or women.” A lot of people will walk into the wrong bathroom at one point or another, and it doesn’t feel right, right? This is a perpetual problem for members of the TGNC (transgender/nonconforming) community, which includes people who identify with the gender other than the one they were born with (transgender) or does not identify with either of the binary genders (gender nonconforming). Unless they live in an area where they have access to a gender neutral bathroom, this feeling is perpetual. “Those signs hold so much . . . power over me”, Zhe said, “I always feel like I’m in the wrong bathroom.”

Why Blake, though, and why now? With the upcoming science wing renovations, this is a perfect time to make this idea into a reality. It wouldn’t be a large change, either. “It’s all just a sign change,” Ms. Kahle said. It is true, though. Literally all that would be involved would be new signs for one set of bathrooms, easier than having Gary Spencer from the tech lab replace your computer’s battery.

What would be some of the negatives? The most common argument against putting in gender neutral bathrooms is that it would lead to sexual harassment and other bad behavior, but that is simply not the case. Bathrooms are for going to the bathroom, and if people were really afraid of inappropriate behavior, they would organize bathrooms based on sexual orientation instead of gender. Sure, some students might feel uncomfortable at first since it is a new situation, but isn’t the freedom of some to pee more important than the apprehension of a few? This wouldn’t be a school wide change, after all, just one set of bathrooms. After all, as Ms. Kahle said, “we all benefit when even one of us feels less oppressed.”

I personally do not have to face the problems Zeam does. I can use the girls’ bathroom with ease, but I know that most people, even myself, sometimes forget that for many people this seeming given is not a given. The last time I was in a space with gender neutral bathrooms was just this past month at the largest LGBTQ rights conference in the nation, Creating Change. I remember hearing people all around me speak of how relieved they were that they could go to the bathroom and not be stared at our kicked out. It struck me as amazing that so many people could be given that peace of mind by a simple sign change, and how many places still don’t do it. Blake is known for its diversity and acceptance. So why shouldn’t the community take this one simple, giant step to give back to right to pee to all who come to Blake?