For most of us choosing which public toilet to use is easy – across the world WCs are signed either for males or females. But the decision is more complicated for transgender and gender fluid people. First year student Anniken Haugen investigates how this topic affects university life.
From Laverne Cox’s character in Orange is the New Black to Olympic champion Bruce Jenner’s conversion to Caitlyn Jenner, popular culture is starting to reflect the fact that many of us no longer believe in a strictly defined split between “male” and “female”. So where does someone who doesn’t belong to a traditional gender category go when they hear the call of nature?
Universities across the country have introduced gender neutral toilets. The University of Lancaster’s Health and Welfare Vice President, Anna Lee, listened to a minority’s needs and installed gender neutral toilets in the university’s library and Sugarhouse nightclub.
At the University of Portsmouth, on the other hand, there has been talk but no action. Activist and University of Portsmouth graduate Emily Long identifies as gender fluid and thinks that gender neutral toilets are important as they allow individuals to feel safe and respected.
‘We live in a society where more people feel they don’t fit into the socially constructed ideas of gender and sexuality,’ she tells me, ‘and as a result we should adapt accordingly.’
So would it really be such a big deal to convert toilets into gender neutral ones? People use them every day in their houses. Guys do not need urinals and put up without them at home.
A survey was carried out two years ago at the University of Portsmouth by the LGBT+ Officer to ascertain students’ feelings on the matter. The outcome was generally negative. Some respondents stated that converting the toilets would wasting money on something that would only benefit a tiny group of people. Others were worried that the move might increase the number of sexual assaults. However, flimsy doors are the only obstacles to sexual assaults right now.
There may be wider opposition to any attempts like this to improve gender and sexual equality in the region. In 2013, only three Portsmouth area MPs – Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North), David Willetts (Havant) and Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) – voted for gay marriage, whereas Mark Hoban (Fareham) and Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) abstained, and Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) and Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) voted against it.
Unisex toilets at universities not only give gender fluid students more pride and confidence but helps cisgender people to become more tolerant of difference. The ultimate aim is to ensure equality amongst all people of all gender and sexual persuasions.
‘To most people it’s crazy to be so anxious and nervous when using a toilet,’ says Emily Long, ‘but for someone who has to defend themselves and explain their sexuality and gender identity on a daily basis, it makes a lot of sense.’
Photography by Moshe Tasky.