We have a faculty coffee morning once a week and I go almost every time, but I never have any tea or coffee. It’s not that I don’t like them, on the contrary, I get through several cups of tea a day and enjoy the odd cup of coffee when I’m out. I just really don’t want to have to use the toilets at the faculty.
In my faculty, college and most public spaces, going to the toilet means choosing between a toilet for ‘Gentlemen’ and one for ‘Ladies’. Occasionally, there will be a separate disabled facility, but I am reluctant to use this in case someone comes along who really needs it. So, my choice is between going to the toilet associated with the gender I was assigned at birth and the toilet associated with the gender I identify as.
Both choices pose problems. Around the faculty and my college my main concern is who I might bump into. If I use the gents, I might see someone I know whom I’m not out to yet – someone who still thinks I’m a girl. Whilst I’m generally happy to come out to people, I don’t think the toilet is really the place to do that. If I use the ladies, I might see people I am out to and cause confusion, or perhaps even make them uncomfortable. They know I shouldn’t be there.
In public there are different issues. At the moment I’m not really sure if people read me as male or female. Whilst my toilet choices would hopefully be enough to let them know, there’s always a chance they’ll feel confident enough in their gendering of me to let me know that I’ve gone into the wrong bathroom. If I use the gents, I need to use a cubicle, which can mean having to wait for a while (or employing my current favourite tactic of going in and checking a lot which probably looks a bit weird).
I’m lucky enough that my accommodation has gender-neutral toilets. Consequently, I’m fine when I’m at home, and if I plan everything well I can normally get away with only using these toilets. This does mean making some sacrifices, like avoiding having too much to drink if I know I won’t be home for a while and not spending the day in the faculty library, but I can live with that. The problems really come when I go out, or go to formal hall, or a concert. I can be in a great mood, but when I see that there are only gendered toilet options, it sinks rapidly. I generally go to the ‘ladies’ at the moment – it seems slightly safer until I’m confident I’m being read as male. In quieter places, and those where I’m less likely to bump into people I know, I will sometimes use the ‘gents’ but it takes a lot for me to feel confident enough to do that.
My friend, Sarah, suggested that with a simple contraption made from a kitchen funnel and a length of garden hose I could get away without having to enter either toilet! Although it sounds fun, I imagine it would not be entirely practical. The easiest solution, as far as I can see, would be to have gender neutral toilets in prominent, accessible places throughout the University and beyond. All it would take would be a change of signs on doors (‘WC’ and ‘toilet’ both convey the nature of the room without gendering) and the inclusion of a few facilities, such as sanitary bins, which are normally not included in toilets intended for a particular gender. Still, until this happens, try not to question the toilets people use!
Frances O’Sullivan (GR. Columnist)