This evening, our fabulous graduate intern at Kinsey Confidential (Natalie) and I did not one but TWO dorm sex education programs. When we arrived at our second, I went in search of the women’s restrooms only to find that the dorm had a “gender neutral restroom” off the lobby. Thrilled, I pointed it out to Natalie and then promptly took a picture.
Gender neutral restrooms/bathrooms are helpful for several reasons. First, they are welcoming to people regardless of their gender. Less obvious to some people, however, is that this means ALL genders – not just male/female. Some transgender or queer-identified individuals don’t always feel comfortable going into men’s or women’s rooms, which can make it very difficult – if not scary – to enter a bathroom in which you worry that others may make fun of you, call the police on you or threaten you.
Rather than just saying “men’s and women’s” or having male and female symbols, the move toward having a “gender neutral bathroom” available makes it clear that all genders are welcome to use the particular facility – and that, hopefully, the place the bathroom is located in (e.g., a campus or workplace) is accepting of sexual diversity. Many people take for granted that they can go to the bathroom when they’re out in public, such as at a grocery store or at work or at the movies. But think for a minute what it would be like if you felt scared to go to the bathroom, or worried that if you went into one, someone in there might feel scared of you or even try to beat you up? When you take those possibilities into consideration, the motivation to have more inclusive “gender neutral bathrooms” might make more sense – or feel like a more compassionate choice – to those for whom the idea is a new one.
You can learn more about movements to include gender neutral bathrooms on these web sites (Safe2pee.org, which features a directory of gender neutral restrooms, is particularly interesting). As you might guess, colleges and universities are on the cutting edge of this broader cultural trend… which one day just might include your office.