As I walk the length of Centennial Hall, a burning sensation is forming in my bladder. A need to pee! I suppress this bodily function too often, but here I am saved! A gender-neutral washroom is midway down this hall, and, as I lock the stall door, I am thankful that this time I won’t be forced to choose between a binary that I’ve never been able to fit into.
In the past, however, gender-neutral bathrooms had a different importance for me. Back when I was just anxious about using urinals and wasn’t realizing yet why that might be, there was a lot of discussion in my family about how gender-neutral bathrooms might benefit my younger brother, who is non-verbal and autistic.
It’s been the case that most of his care providers throughout his life have been women. While this wasn’t something we worried about so much when he was younger, as he has grown up, the binary system of bathroom designation began to present a number of problems.
The sad reality is that it’s too much to ask of his female workers to take the risk of facing harassment while going into a men’s change room or bathroom. On the flip side, I think it is fairly understandable that some women might be uncomfortable with a large and fairly non-self-conscious man in the washroom with them. Yet it would be uncomfortable for everyone is he was sent in alone and forgot to close the door!
When the topic of gender-neutral bathrooms first appeared in the realm of broader public discourse a few years ago, I was surprised by the lack of intersectionality that was being brought to the discussion. I often heard people referring these spaces, not unkindly, as “trans bathrooms.”
There are many reasons why someone might want to use the bathroom in a space not confined by a socially constructed gender binary, and I think it’s important to recognize these kind of shared interests so different communities can work and advocate together.
I leave the bathroom and continue on my way down the hall, still not quite as comfortable as I would like to be. Despite how grateful I am for spaces like this, knowing that some people assume gender-neutral bathrooms are only meant for trans people makes going to the bathroom feel like outing myself. This space was meant to be safe for me; worrying that using it will out me doesn’t seem to match the safety this space was suppose to provide.
Any time we work to make a space safer and more inclusive for people, it is important to recognize an affinity between the different kinds of situations that bring people there. By making safer access to public spaces about more than just one group, unlikely allies can be made, the “other”’ becomes human, and solidarity is possible.
Jase Falk is a genderqueer student, artist and ex-Mennonite from Winnipeg.