Gender Neutral Bathrooms: The Most Inclusive Option

Imagine having to use the bathroom and being faced with the reality that there is simply no option that best fits you. That may sound strange to many of us who find the “male” and “female” options adequate enough, but for many people, “male” and “female” are not categories they feel they belong to.

To put it in perspective, it would be as if “male” was the only option available for everyone. Surely, those who identify as “female” would feel either forced to use the “male” bathroom or to somehow overcome the urge to go altogether. That is how individuals who don’t conform to the gender binary feel every time they have to use the bathroom in public. It can’t be contested that all people should feel comfortable using the bathroom and that the necessary urge to relieve oneself must not end with a painful resignation to either male or female when in public.

It’s also important to note that it is not only gender nonconforming individuals who benefit from gender-neutral bathrooms. In fact, people who rely on the help of family members or attendants of the opposite sex, and parents with children of the opposite sex won’t have to worry about which restroom is the more appropriate to use. Such bathrooms would also benefit anyone who has ever been inconvenienced because their assigned bathroom was undergoing cleaning with no alternative available.

The idea of gender-neutral bathrooms is not new and is certainly not unique to UCI. The Human Rights Campaign made a national call to action for gender-neutral restroom and currently, more than 150 campuses across the United States have gender-neutral bathrooms. UCI itself has 22 gender-neutral bathrooms and recent legislation has called for even more. Nevertheless, there has been a significant amount of backlash to the notion of having these bathrooms on campus. This is because our views of a traditional bathroom are much like our views of a traditional marriage: based on a myth.

Contrary to what most of us believe, gender segregated bathrooms are a modern invention. Historically, most communities had shared public bathrooms. Many countries in the developing world, including China and India, still do. Sex-segregated bathrooms were purely a Western European invention. In fact, the first law mandating sex-segregated bathrooms was introduced in 1887 in Massachusetts, and only due to the fact that prior to that most workplaces only had bathrooms designated for men. By the 1920’s similar laws were passed in almost all states. However, the laws were passed in order to open the door for women to work, and were never meant to marginalize a group of individuals as they do today.

Recognizing that sex-segregated bathrooms are a new invention is the first step towards accepting the possibility of gender-neutral bathrooms. The next is to recognize that the existence of such bathrooms means that individuals will not have to conform to any set standard of what a man or a woman must look like in order to safely enter a public restroom. The final step is to understand that we can all benefit from the presence of gender-neutral bathrooms.

 

Negin Fatahi is a third-year political science major. She can be reached at neginf@uci.edu