Public Restroom Gender Apartheid

Policies allowing self-identified gender to determine public or workplace restroom and locker room choice cry out for an overall review of sex/gender equity, inclusion, privacy and safety in regard to restroom and changing room facility design and construction, and policies governing public restroom and changing room use.

For example, I don’t know if any public facilities provide full fixture-use-time parity in the available quantity of restroom facilities for females vs males. This inequality is consciously and deliberately perpetuated misogynist apartheid.

I think the full scope of policy required to do justice to all the concerns raised by restroom facilities as structural gender-norming scripting mechanisms must do far more than just replace sex phenotype with gender self-perception as the authentication test for gender-segregated access. It must delete all the gender disciplinary scripts it currently enforces, not just the one that says ontogeny is destiny, especially including these scripts:

  • Women in public must be normed into the expectation that waiting and suffering simply come as part of the package of being bodily female.
  • Women must accept that their taking longer than men on average to use the restroom proves their inherently inferior suitability for public roles in society.

I believe that many activists in the trans movement would relish the opportunity to “out” and castigate women who feel that m2f people in women’s restrooms and locker rooms present a safety issue for them. I object to that gender disciplinary intent. I feel it is wrong to call such women out on this particular topic, even to the extent some of them may be deeply bigoted in their attitudes against m2f people.

Too many self-styled social change activists today forget, or have never learned, that the right to be racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, the right to be a bigot of any stripe one is inclined to be, is nothing less than religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and moral self-determination. It is our fundamental First Amendment right to be wrong-headed, and without that right we have no other fundamental rights to speak of.

These thought-police activists are political bigots of the worst kind, because they seek to use state power to compel people to change their core beliefs to comply with state-mandated criteria. They have every right to be political bigots of the worst kind, and to be publicly vocal about it, but their bigotry must not become the basis of policy and protocol in the operations of a publicly funded institution or public accommodation, nor must they be deployed to suppress equal access by the targets of their bigotry to public facilities and accommodations.

Gender policing takes myriad forms, and persists largely because women rely partly on it to survive male-dominated culture. In my view, defending space reserved for the never-male-privileged from not-never-male-privileged people’s claim of a right to occupy it at will, is a form of defensive gender policing analogous to the overtly discriminatory practices that all oppressed-group separatist survival and resistance strategies employ under various circumstances.

Women’s restrooms have always been and are still institutionally active sites of misogynist disciplinary gender shaming against women. Granting not-never-male-privileged people free and equal access to the restrooms into which the never-male-privileged are still ghettoized, without also granting the never-male-privileged free and equal access to the restrooms they have historically been forbidden to use, the men’s restrooms, only further exacerbates the ghettoization. It turns women’s restrooms into the depository of yet another category of undesirables who have been successfully excluded from men’s restrooms.

As an m2f transgender, I refuse to de-occupy the men’s restroom, and I refuse to play along with the divide and conquer strategy that deploys my not-never-male-privileged status and my mostly male-perceived body presentation as a cultural projectile to smash the never-male-privileged separatist safe-space aspect of women’s restrooms.

Even without the inclusion of not-never-male-privileged people in women’s ghetto restrooms and locker rooms, I have been told by some women that due to the overcrowding, they often cannot feel anxiety-free enough to physiologically succeed at using the women’s restroom. This is even true sometimes when there are unisex individual compartments in use, as with porta-potties at outdoor events. Just knowing there is a line of people waiting can physiologically thwart the process.

Girls and women are generally socialized into habitually subordinating all their physiological functions to the immediate needs of those around them to some degree or another. That is a major component of what it means to be socialized female in most male-dominated societies. For some women, that normal female socialization process primes them for apex victimization by the deliberately inadequate restroom facilities constructed into public spaces. This is just one more way in which women in our society are promised myriad rewards for their gender norm conformity, but receive systematic punishment instead.

And then there is the intersecting issue of violence against women. I think women who feel unsafe from either male violence or shaming by other females in public restrooms or workplace restrooms, whatever their reason for feeling thus unsafe, deserve to be heard and accommodated, even if some trans activists feel that those women’s fears are based in prejudice, and even if those activists are correct.

Statistics on violence against women show clearly that women’s fears, however they may be distorted by various prejudices, nonetheless reflect an over-arching and stark reality about women’s often brutally enforced unequal access to public space.

When we compound this with the even more stark statistics on women’s unequal access to safe private space, and reflect upon the discursive choices made by those who seek to shame women for defending their tiny overcrowded islands of never-male-privileged-only spaces in public areas, I think we begin to see how the business case for a thorough review of restroom equity, inclusion, privacy and safety becomes absolutely compelling.

The greatly out-numbered elite classes are only able to dominate the masses by parsing them into oppressed-group interest groups and getting them to police themselves and one another. So there are many women who gender-police other women in often cruel ways. Mary Daly called them “token torturers.” It should come as no surprise that, along with some women assigned female at birth, some women assigned male at birth find themselves among the ranks of the token torturers at times. I would ask anyone who seeks to shame women for bigotry against transgendered people precisely at the site where women are already being shamed and punished daily for being women, whether they might be pandering to the dynamic of women gender-policing women, and to what end?

As a male-body-category, born-body-self-affirming, female-identified transgender person, and therefore not-never-male-privileged (and I would say always-male-privileged, but that’s an argument I’ll take up in a different piece of writing), who is currently indifferently gender-presenting with the effect of passing as male in most ways, I would encourage all women who would feel comfortable doing so to join me in refusing to conform to the ghettoizing signs on restroom doors, and deliberately use the men’s restrooms as I do.

Use them until the wait time for stalls is equal. Use them until the fixture use rate is equal, because even if wait time is the same, higher fixture-use-rate in periods of non-full-occupancy means less personal space and comfort, and perhaps lower cleaning and maintenance rates per-fixture-use-minute. The lower cleaning and maintenance rates can be remedied with increasing custodial services to achieve parity, but the fixture-use-rate inequality can only be addressed by a combination of facility reconstruction and access reallocation.

There are subcategories of women, unlike those of us who have enjoyed male privilege, who are not able to use public restrooms in comfort and safety, or even use them at all. Those other subcategories must be accommodated along with the not-never-male-privileged who self-perceive female.

I was once sexually assaulted by a homophobic heterosexual man I knew in a coed multiple-occupancy shared dormitory bathroom. I know what it means to feel unsafe in a public or shared restroom/shower-room. Due to the wondrous healing qualities of passing-as-male privilege, however, I have not had anxiety-based difficulty continuing to use public or shared restrooms. I have been keenly aware, however, of restroom safety as an issue, due to my experience.

The fact that almost all public restrooms have only one exit, no ready means to contact public safety authorities, narrow walkways that make evasion or escape easily blocked, almost exclusively hard surfaces that maximize potential injury on impact, noise seclusion architecture that makes it harder to holler for help successfully, and a courtesy behavior norm of allowing others to come in close physical proximity while in different states of undress or physical vulnerability without looking at them or regarding them with suspicion, all make them ideal sites for violent perpetrators to corner and ambush their prey.

Everyone deserves a consistently and equally safe, comfortable, private and anxiety-free restroom experience. Any policy objectives that fall short of that target, including those narrowly directed at accommodating gender-self-perception, are deliberate discrimination against women and others.

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