The bathroom “issue” and my love/hate relationship with gender neutral bathrooms

No, I did not use quotation marks for emphasis. The “issue” I am talking about in this blog post is entirely fictitious. It is a figment of the imagination that has somehow metastasized into the realm of political discourse, and further into the real world, as in the case of the dumpster fire that is North Carolina. Bathroom bills are an attempt to solve a problem that exists only in the minds of transphobes. The idea that we need bathroom bills to protect innocent people from transgender people is laughable. That is even ignoring the fact that a law to define who can use which bathroom is an entirely laughable subject by itself. Or at least those ideas would be laughable if bills weren’t being proposed all over the place.

You might think I’m being overly flippant compared to my other posts, but it really is as ridiculous as I am attempting to make it sound. The idea that such a law can even be enforced is mind boggling. The North Carolina bill specifies that you may only use restrooms that match your birth certificate. Except that in many states, including Illinois where I reside, you can even change the gender marker on your birth certificate. Even ignoring that, is every single person in the world now suddenly expected to carry around a copy of their birth certificate as evidence of their bathroom privileges just in case the bathroom police show up? Do proponents of this bill think that all transgender people are so easy to spot that only transgender people need to carry birth certificates?

Even ignoring the logistics of bathroom bill laws, if someone wants to commit a crime against another individual in the bathroom, a law isn’t going to stop them from doing exactly that. We already have laws against assault, regardless of whether or not it happens in a bathroom. A law that attempts to change how and where those assaults happen just seems completely and utterly ridiculous.

The one good thing that has come out of the discourse surrounding bathroom bills, is that gender neutral bathrooms are becoming more and more popular in public places. I have a love/hate relationship with gender neutral bathrooms. At face value they’re a great idea. They are a real, tangible solution to the bathroom “issue.” They provide non-binary people a bathroom that they can use without feeling like they have to pigeonhole themselves into the gender binary. Even for cis people they provide a bit more privacy than normal bathroom stalls, if only because most people will just use the men’s and women’s rooms. There is really no downside to the idea.

The problem is that gender neutral bathrooms are a solution to the bathroom “issue” that is forced upon people who don’t fit the gender expectations of society. They were created for transgender people as a compromise, while simultaneously ignoring the voices of transgender people saying what they actually want. They are a way to outwardly make a show of being progressive, while at the same time not dealing with the actual problem. (Transphobia, if you were wondering)

When I first started presenting as a woman I would only use public restrooms if absolutely necessary, because there are very few gender neutral restrooms in my area. Usually I would be out with my wife, which was easier to deal with because I knew that she was going to have my back if someone said something to me.

The first time I had to use the bathroom in public by myself while presenting as a woman I remember quite vividly. I didn’t think much of it going in. I had to go too badly, so I told myself I’d just run in, do my business, and run out and no one would be the wiser. I was wearing a knee-length dress, tights, a nice necklace, and while I knew I wasn’t passing, I was definitely not going to go into the men’s room dressed like that.

I wish I knew the original source for this image. I love it. It’s how I feel every time I have to use a public restroom.

I went in without problem, did my business, washed my hands, and was on my way out the door. No one batted an eye. No one said a word. I was home free, or so I thought. As I was opening the door to make my exit an older woman was on her way in. We made eye contact, and she gave me that knowing look of “you don’t belong here.” I excused myself for being in her way, and made my way out of the store as quick as I could. I got in my car, shut the door, and cried.

I cried because never before have I been so terrified of using the restroom. I cried because the sudden realization of how I didn’t pass, I couldn’t pass, I’d never pass. I cried because for the first time in my life, I truly and unequivocally understood why the topic of bathroom bills was so important. I cried because all I could think about leaving the restroom is if the cops would show up and question me about being a pervert.

If there was a gender neutral bathroom available, I wouldn’t have had that problem.

Unfortunately, in practice things are never that easy. Rarely are there as many gender neutral bathrooms as there are men’s and women’s rooms. At a hotel I stayed in recently there was a gender neutral bathroom, but it was in the main lobby, far away from the men’s and women’s rooms that were right outside the conference hall, as well as scattered elsewhere throughout the hotel. At my work there are men’s and women’s rooms in the main lobby on both floors, as well as on the north and south sides of the building, but a single gender neutral bathroom only on the north end, and not anywhere near the other restrooms. You wouldn’t know where it was unless you were told.

I get why gender neutral bathrooms are so rare. Transgender and non-binary people are a huge minority. Providing gender neutral bathrooms costs money, and it can be especially difficult in buildings that were built before transgender people and their bathroom needs started to become a common topic of discussion. I’m sure the same discussions and arguments were made when handicap accessible bathrooms started to become a requirement. Well, not the same arguments. You’d never hear someone try to argue that handicap people as a group are sexual predators. That’d be ridiculous.

When I came out at work, the only sticking point of my transition was the bathroom “issue.” My company is a very conservative company in a very conservative part of the midwest. Illinois might technically be a blue state, but unless you’re in a major city it’s as red as can be. I am the first person to have come out as transgender at my company. While most of my transition was smooth, both my boss and HR would frequently bring up the bathroom “issue.”

I voiced my opinion, that I would, personally, prefer to simply use the women’s restroom. That they don’t need to make special arrangements for me. Unfortunately they were more worried about the rest of the employees. HR was specifically worried about there being an incident, either because I caused one or because another employee took issue with me being in that bathroom. After all, they would argue, not even the government has figured out how to properly deal with the bathroom “issue.”

After my initial meeting with HR, I agreed to give them time to figure out the logistics. I couldn’t wait forever though and I told them that it wouldn’t be long before I wouldn’t be able to hide the physical changes.

Two months later and the new bathroom still wasn’t built yet. My dysphoria was getting worse. Every weekend I’d be out as myself, but during the week I was back into my stuffy work clothes pretending to be someone that I wasn’t. My boobs were growing, and it was getting harder to hide them even under baggy shirts. I talked to my boss, and found out work was being done on it, but he didn’t know when it’d be completed.

Eventually I set a date. I was coming out regardless of the bathroom being done. My mental health was more important than a bathroom I didn’t even want in the first place. I used the women’s restroom during that week with no problems. Or at least none that were brought to my attention.

The next week, the new bathroom was finished. I’m not sure if my coming out lit a fire to speed the process up or if it was just a coincidence, but regardless it was finished. There was only one problem. It couldn’t possibly be farther away from my desk.

Yes, I know that’s a selfish reason to hate on a bathroom literally built just for me. Yes, I’m perfectly capable of walking downstairs and across the building to go to the bathroom. I just feel like I shouldn’t have to when a perfectly good women’s restroom is right outside my cubicle. It’s humiliating to have to once or twice a day make the trek to a part of the building I otherwise never have to be. It makes me stand out. It’s a constant reminder than I’m not like other people. It’s dysphoria inducing.

I want to be treated like any other woman. I want to be seen as a woman, and not as a man playing dress up. It’s not my fault that we live in a society that is apparently obsessed with what is in my pants, but I’m the one being punished for it.

Despite my dislike of the gender neutral bathroom, I still use it. I don’t want to be a troublemaker and further put a target on my head at the company. I don’t want to make other people uncomfortable. I just want to be left alone to do my business, and the fight against it isn’t worth the trouble.

I honestly do appreciate the sentiment, even if it’s not one that I wanted. It’s a progressive step forward even if it’s not the ideal, and I do wish I’d see more gender neutral restrooms in public places. Whether or not I would use them is a different story, but they should be there for those of us who do want to do so.

And all of that being said, the new gender neutral bathroom does have it’s advantages. It’s single stall. It’s exceptionally clean, and me being one of the few people who use it, it stays that way. All things that I appreciate in a public restroom.

Which brings me to my favorite type of public restroom: single stall. The fact that so many single stall restrooms are gendered baffles me. The Starbucks my friends and I visit has single stall gendered bathrooms. The Aldi I shop at is the same. Why do they need to be gendered if only one person can use them at a time? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Lots of states and countries are now requiring, or considering requiring, single stall bathrooms to be gender neutral. There is literally no downside to these new laws. They don’t single out transgender people. Everyone uses the same restrooms, regardless of their gender identity, marker, or even presentation. A transgender person doesn’t have to think about getting yelled at or beat up for choosing the “wrong” bathroom. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about making all single stall bathrooms being gender neutral. It’s not separate, it’s equal. Truly equal, and that’s the way that it should be.

One Reply to “The bathroom “issue” and my love/hate relationship with gender neutral bathrooms”

  1. They were created for transgender people as a compromise, while simultaneously ignoring the voices of transgender people saying what they actually want. They are a way to outwardly make a show of being progressive, while at the same time not dealing with the actual problem.

    This a thousand times. ):

    Once a white cis person imagines a “good deed”, you cannot talk them out of it. Even if you explicitly refuse it and explain why it’s hurtful, they’ll do it anyways, and then give themselves the annual GLAAD award for “best ally ever”.

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