All-Gender restrooms

By Laura Cox & Clara Younge

You may have noticed the new single-stall restrooms around campus. They can be found across from mail services on the first floor of the campus center, adjacent to the Kirk computer lab, and in some academic buildings and residential halls. Instead of featuring a stick-figure man or dress-wearing woman designating a single gender—or even a dual gender sign that features both gender symbols—the new single-stall restroom signs read “ALL GENDER RESTROOM” in not one but five different languages. Restrooms are innocuous and everyday for most of us. In short, they’re where we do our business—where we shower, shave and relieve ourselves. Most people visit them at least a few times daily. For many transgender, genderqueer and gender variant people, however, they are not welcoming or neutral. Restrooms, which should be spaces of privacy and relief, are sites of anxiety, fear and violence. In Toilet Training, a short documentary that was screened at Macalester on Monday, transgender interviewees relate anecdotes of harassment, beatings, and arrests in and around restrooms. Policemen approached, harassed, and arrested one woman while she was in a restroom designated as a “women’s” restroom on the basis that she didn’t “look like a woman”—that she didn’t meet the police’s gender expectations as prescribed by the dress-wearing stick figure on the bathroom door. In addition to overt violence and oppression, gendered restrooms cause anxieties that lead to health problems. People who are afraid or uncomfortable using gendered restrooms often avoid them, leading to bladder infections and more serious complications, like urinary stones and kidney infections. Incidents like these reveal the insidious nature of the gender binary. Why do institutions impose this simplistic classification on public restrooms, which are theoretically open to everyone who needs to use them? And why is one (cisgender) person’s comfort privileged over another (transgender) person’s? As Toilet Training and its interviewees persuasively contend, the purpose of restrooms should not be to classify people by gender but simply to provide a place where people can go to the bathroom. There are now all-gender restrooms on campus, as part of a recent effort by administrative personnel and staff in the Department of Multicultural Life to make the campus a more welcoming and affirming place for transgender and genderqueer people. This semester, the WGSS class Intro to LGBTQ Studies has taken up the reins of this larger project. The class has mapped all-gender restrooms on campus and in the surrounding areas, contributing to the existing list online of Macalester’s all-gender facilities. We have organized around the spring samplers, making information available to prospective students on tours and in special information sessions. The class has the long-term goal of making a change to the existing policy on restrooms, making all-gender facilities available and accessible in all on-campus buildings, including the dorms. As it stands, there is no policy, but we do have an LGBT-specific nondiscrimination policy. Administrators are open to making the changes necessary; it just hasn’t happened yet. Following a campus screening of Toilet Trouble this Monday, Finn Schneider and Alina Wong, Assistant Director of the Lealtad-Suzuki Center, talked about the video and the progress they’ve made towards establishing all-gender restrooms. They discussed gender socialization and the enculturated discomfort many feel about mixing the genders in bathrooms. Both stressed the need for active conversation and the necessity of bringing different groups together to work through this discomfort. The problem of gendered restrooms is still highly invisible. The class is also working with Keith Edwards and Finn Schneider, who have been organizing around all-gender restrooms in the dorms. Says Keith Edwards, “In the coming year, it is my hope that we will move to allowing students to select bedrooms regardless of gender in GDD, GCA, Language Houses, Veggie, Summit House and the couple of rooms in Kirk that have a shared bedrooms.” If this works, it will be approved to move into freshman and sophomore dorms. There are also plans in the works to have all-gender bathrooms for first-years on Doty 1 next year. Incoming students will be able to list this preference on their housing card. Students in the class plan to carry these efforts beyond this semester, continuing educational efforts during samplers and orientation activities. We will propose a policy change to the administration at the end of this semester. In coming semesters, we hope that all-gender bathrooms become ubiquitous on campus—including in residential halls—and that Macalester students foster change in other communities. We encourage you to engage with administration about this issue and ally yourself with the groups that are making this happen. Above all, talk about it. Macalester still has a long way to go before it fulfills its own standards of inclusion. It is common sense that students need to feel safe in order to learn and be successful. Feeling safe means not having to worry about something as simple as using the restroom.

refresh –>