Essay: For a more inclusive campus, GW should get rid of gendered bathrooms

Going to the bathroom is usually a minor and thoughtless task for able-bodied, cisgender people, but searching for a gender-neutral bathroom makes this basic process much more complicated and difficult for me. As someone who identifies as nonbinary and gender nonconforming, using the binary bathrooms on campus often makes me feel uncomfortable, and it is a constant reminder that both our society and the buildings in it are not meant for people like me – people who are different. Every time I use a gendered bathroom on campus, I am forced to play into the rigid gender binary so that I meet societal norms. To combat this unaccepting and hurtful expectation on campus, GW should replace binary bathrooms with gender neutral ones.

The Trans @ GW website – which maps out the more than 100, mostly single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms across campus – is always bookmarked on my laptop. But just knowing where these bathrooms are doesn’t mean I or other people can actually use them when there aren’t any nearby. While more than 100 gender neutral bathrooms may sound like a lot, the extra effort and lost class time to use them makes this an untenable situation. And on days when I have three back-to-back classes without much time to make it to the gender neutral bathrooms near Rome and Phillips Hall, I face a difficult choice – either I make the trek or categorize myself as a woman.

Going through the hassle of finding a gender neutral bathroom on campus is just another hoop to jump through as a nonbinary person, but making my identity known and respected is even more exhausting. Whether it’s when I’m joining in on a class discussion about abortion rights or going out with a bunch of girl friends, I am constantly obligated to claim my identity for myself. Unlike cisgender people, no one knows what pronouns I use or my gender identity unless I tell them first – I am always grouped in with women instead of seen by my own identity. When I go to the restroom, I wish I did not have to do the same and conform to a gender that I do not identify with.

Eliminating the enforcement of a strict gender binary is beneficial for everyone. Cisgender and gender nonconforming people alike express themselves on a large spectrum of appearance. Men can exhibit traits that are typically considered feminine, and vice versa, when stereotypical expectations are dismantled. We assume that colors, clothes, makeup and other superficial materials convey a person’s gender, but none of those actually determine how someone identifies. Forcing people to self-designate as men or women in bathrooms perpetuates a demeaning gender binary across campus and strips people of accessible facilities.

Some transgender people who do not or cannot medically and physically transition face harassment for not looking how many people presumably think a man or woman should. Anecdotally, transgender men have expressed to me that they do not often have access to menstrual products in the men’s bathroom or don’t want to open and use them for fear of being outed. Instead of forcing transgender people to choose between misgendering or potentially outing themselves, gender neutral bathrooms would be a safe space for all regardless of where they belong and present on the gender spectrum.

Some women are understandably concerned that men may use gender neutral bathrooms to prey on them, but gendered bathrooms have already become grounds for predatorial harassment against transgender and gender nonconforming people. More than half of transgender people reported experiencing harassment in binary bathrooms for not looking enough like a man or woman, and the solution to protecting women’s safety shouldn’t come at the expense of the queer community. We should look elsewhere to combat the abusive and predatory acts that men perform – men who seek to assault a woman do so regardless of what sign a bathroom has, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Bathrooms should provide protection for all its users because women, like everyone else, deserve safe bathrooms where their gender identity is respected.

It’s impossible to understate the importance of keeping queer people safe, and creating gender-neutral bathrooms on campus wouldn’t cost the University much. Gender neutral bathrooms are essential to my basic needs. All gender nonconforming and transgender people deserve equal access to bathrooms and overall support from GW as they navigate college and their gender identity. I often wish that I didn’t have to pressure my University into providing me with things as basic as a bathroom. Being so unrecognized that I have to ask for something as normal as a restroom is exhausting – it tells me that I do not matter as much as some of my peers. Creating gender neutral bathrooms is essential to representing the queer community and creating an inclusive environment so that transgender and gender nonconforming people do not have to fight for equality on their own.

Riley Goodfellow, a sophomore majoring in political science, is the contributing opinions editor.

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