words: Logan Crapser
photo: Annie Titus
Twice in my life I have had the absolute joy of using an all gender restroom. The first time was when I attended a conference titled by a simple acronym of MBLGTaCC this past February. That, of course, stands for Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, ally College Conference. Essentially, it is a short 2-3 day conference where a bunch of people come together to discuss, present, and form community around issues facing us. The University of Nebraska-Omaha, the host of the event, altered some of the campus's gendered restrooms to just restrooms (aka "all gender restrooms") for the conference.
This shift towards inclusivity elated me as someone who has never felt precisely, or at least traditionally, comfortable in a binary gender. However, given the brevity of the conference this experience was rather fleeting. Oddly enough, I am so programmed to go into one side when bathrooms are right next to each other I still usually ended up in the "Men’s" restroom. This idea can be further backed by the time I, during a stop on a road trip, accidentally ended up using the "Women’s" restroom, only realizing it when I left.
The second time I got to experience the pure magic of an all gender restroom was in San Francisco. All three of the theatres that screened films during the Frameline Festival converted them into just plain old restrooms. Given that I watched over 25 films over the trip, I spent significant time in the theatres, becoming well acquainted with the opportunity of using these non-gendered facilities. I now have a deeper opinion on them.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence — which is really a silly affair in writing to ask someone to sum all their ideas on any topic in one sentence — it would be something along the lines of: a one-holer does not an all gender/non-gendered restroom make. What I mean when I say “one-holer” is a restroom consisting of one toilet. These bathrooms are common. You often find them in coffeeshops, some smaller gas stations, and, of course, the places in which we live. Due to certain restrictions, you cannot have multiple stall restrooms that are not gendered. In other words, when UW-Eau Claire made strides towards getting all gender restrooms installed in nearly all the buildings on campus, the only option available was the one-holer. (As a side note here is a link to a map of the all gender restrooms on campus, which can be found in physical form in the Bridge in Davies- https://www.uwec.edu/files/360/AllGenderRestrooms2017.pdf)
Now, I should make clear that I am in no way saying that those efforts should be ignored or dismissed. In a lot of ways, this has a greater advantage. They are also handicapped accessible, which is extremely important, and we also have to consider the importance of safety for gender expansive folks. A one-holer has an advantage in that only one person can be in there at a time. However, there is still always going to be the disadvantage of you being seen going into all gender restrooms, which can also lead to issues of safety. The main point I am making is that these are not full-on all gender/not gendered restrooms, but the amazing people who made sure they exist are not who I am criticizing. The people I am criticizing are those in our culture who are keeping concepts of gender locked up in an antiquated prison.
When we are in public and have to go to the bathroom, something we all have to go through is relieving ourselves, we are rudely asked to consider what is actually a rather deep question: What is your gender? Right now, in Davies, for example, you have three options: the men's, the women's, or "all gender." While this is a step forward from the binary of boy and girl, we are still confronted with the question of our gender identity/expression.
When I was able to use any restroom in those theatres or on that campus, no signs asked anything of me. The people I encountered in line did not ask anything of me (except maybe what kind of lipstick I was wearing). Being able to go to the bathroom and not have to think about my gender is one of the most freeing things I have experienced. As of writing this (identities are fluid and I do not have to justify my journey to anyone) I do not identity as transgender, gender-Queer, or even non-binary. I do not necessarily identify as a man either, but that is a whole ‘nother conversation. You do not have to be queer to feel this freedom, although you will likely feel it a lot stronger. For people who are not Queer, or who are cisgender you have probably never thought about your gender- or the concept of gender- but being able to use the restroom without thinking about it can still be a positive experience for you all.
When it comes to going to the bathroom we have to confront the question: “What is your gender?” The first question (of many) that I ask in return is “What does my gender have to do with it?” The answer is that it does not. The only thing we have to ask is if there is toilet paper, not if my gender expression or genitals fit the category a sign imposes on me. Furthermore, until we see that we are living in a deeply gender-phobic society. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.