by Tirra Stein-Talesnick
Disclaimer: The following is written by an 8th grader in Lisa Levine’s Honors English class.
Walk down the hall. Near the door. Eyes flicker to the small white figure, in a skirt or pants. Push the door open and walk inside. Enter and approach the urinal or toilet. Pee. Wash hands. Exit. Just a trip to the bathroom. Perfectly normal, right? But have you ever stopped to think that the experience of using the restroom might be stressful, even dangerous, for some people?
Most of us do not even bat an eye when we see a gendered bathroom, but segregation has not always been so entrenched in our culture. According to a Time Magazine article published in 2016, “the regulations requiring that American men and women use separate restrooms got their start in the late 1800s.”
At that time, Massachusetts passed a law that required co-ed factories and workshops to have bathrooms separated by gender, and many states soon followed suit. Interestingly, the laws did not come about because of any physical differences between genders, but because people believed that women, new to the workforce, needed to be shielded from the realities of public life and that bathrooms could protect women in these spaces. Even now, with changed views on women in the workplace, this trend of having separate bathrooms and physical divisions hasn’t gone away.
Although over the years, bathroom laws have been created to accommodate the specific needs of certain individuals—for example, requiring bigger stalls and lower sinks for people with physical handicaps—not all individuals’ needs are met. School restrooms, which are usually gendered, pose a threat to transgender students. Entering a bathroom may cause discomfort and even the possibility of danger for transgender students.
A 2013 GLSEN national survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in United States schools reported that 35.4 percent of LGBT students chose to not go into bathrooms because they felt uncomfortable and 59.2 percent of transgender students were required to use the bathroom or locker room of the gender that they were assigned at birth.
Faced with the decision between feeling uncomfortable in a bathroom and not going into one at all, many transgender students choose the latter. Since avoiding the bathroom can lead to discomfort and urinary tract infections, sometimes students just leave school altogether.
In their TEDxAdelaide video, “Toilets, bowties, gender, and me,” Audrey Mason-Hyde, a gender non-binary teen, said: “often I would get things like ‘why are you in here?’ or ‘wrong bathroom.’ This eventually led to me being hesitant and tentative about even going to the bathroom in public.” Mason-Hyde started using toilets designed for people with physical handicaps instead, but explained, “I don’t feel great still, because it just reminds me that there are mostly no toilets for people like me, who don’t identify within the gender binary, and that toilets are just a way we categorize people.” Having gender-neutral restrooms would go to great lengths for the transgender and gender non-binary students in the world.
In fact, The Leffell School has two gender-neutral restrooms at the Upper School. The bathroom in Nurse Meri Sirkin’s office is open to everyone, and the bathroom on the first floor of the High School was added in the last few years and has become “a true evolution and addition to our building,” Sirkin said. The newer bathroom was designed to be inclusive of all students and the idea was met with no resistance. “I believe it is necessary and important for our school to accept all students and faculty,” Sirkin shared.
Madeleine Kearns continues to emphasize the importance of gendered bathrooms, citing reasons that, frankly, are not all that compelling, such as the fact that women are cleaner than men because they sit, rather than stand and aim, resulting in less urine on the floor. It takes females longer to go to the bathroom because they sit down and may be menstruating.
Here is what I don’t understand: if women take longer, would having gender-neutral bathrooms not be better for women? Usually, there’s a much longer line to go to the ladies’ restroom than to the men’s, so having shared bathrooms would even that out. Females still can go to the bathroom together, even with people of different genders inside. It is not discriminatory to want comfort for all.
Personally, I am a cis female and rarely have issues in the bathroom. Although this struggle doesn’t directly affect me, I still want to help. I love to read and often stumble across books with transgender characters, such as Alex in the “Magnus Chase” series and Riley in “The Symptoms of Being Human”, which has really made me think about the experiences of others and problems they face, such as having their gender assumed or disrespected, and bathrooms are a way people can accomplish these discriminatory goals. Bathrooms for everyone should not be a subject about which there is resistance. This small step in the right direction toward accepting everyone can have a huge impact.
I urge you all to get involved and speak up. Why should we not try to help? Regardless of our gender, we should all fight for the comfort of others. Why are we waiting? Even though TLS has two gender-neutral bathrooms, many schools and businesses do not, and still require our efforts. Stand up and help in the battle for gender equality for all. Talk to administrators. Draw up petitions; talk to people in power. Listen to the needs of others. Fight for gender-neutral bathrooms in all schools. Fight so that a student does not have to decide between the pants and the skirt on the white figure.