Not fitting into the gender binary makes public washrooms my enemy
Transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people deserve the dignity of safe public bathrooms
This first-person piece is by Zann Foth, a musician based in Saskatoon.
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Not fitting into the gender binary has made public washrooms a vulnerable space for me since I was a child.
I got my first short haircut — a mushroom cut I wore proudly — at the age of seven. At the time, I was always dressed and ready to play basketball. The adults in my life described my childhood esthetic as "tomboy". Since then, my life has been filled with people making assumptions about me based on the way I look and how they perceive my gender.
Every time I have to choose between a men's or women's bathroom, I am put in a compromising situation. For most of my life, I've defaulted to using the women's bathroom. When I was young I was often told, "This is the girls room," or asked, "Where is your mom?"
I got tired of having to defend myself, and I begrudgingly grew out my hair so that I would pass for a girl. I have never felt so fake. It was like I was living my life for everyone but myself.
It was strange to see how people treated me differently based on my gender presentation. The only nice thing was that I was no longer harassed in public washrooms.
A few years ago I came out as transgender and non-binary, and the harassment I experienced in women's washrooms resurfaced. In 20 years, society had not changed much in this regard.
I have heard someone audibly gasp when they see me in a washroom. I've had people stare in the change room at a gym. The worst moment was two years ago when I walked into a women's washroom in a restaurant and was immediately shoved by someone who told me: "You don't belong in here."
All of my experiences being gender policed in bathrooms made me feel like I was the problem or the threat. I can now see how wrong that is. There is a terrible presumption that transgender people are deviant or dangerous, but that couldn't be more untrue; so many of us are the victims of assault from cisgender people who believe these false narratives. I've never told someone to get out of a bathroom, questioned their belonging, or laid a hand on them.
Ever since I was shoved in that restaurant washroom I take extra precautions. I almost always bring a friend with me when I go to the bathroom. As much as I am grateful to have supportive friends that care about my safety, I can't help but wish I didn't need an escort every time I need to pee.
I like the autonomy of going to the bathroom by myself without the fear of getting harassed or assaulted. So, as pandemic restrictions ease and places open up, I've made the decision I won't be going anywhere that doesn't have a gender neutral washroom. And if any business wants to hang a Pride flag or say they care about the trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming community, they better make sure they have gender neutral bathrooms.
There are a few ways that places can adapt. A good start would be to remove any gendered signs and replace them with a sign that simply says "washroom."
Another is to post an image that lets people know what's inside, whether it's toilets or urinals or a baby change station. These are small changes that make a difference and don't require completely renovating existing bathrooms.
Having floor to ceiling doors and dividers gives people privacy, and keeps people protected when they are most vulnerable.
Everyone should wash their hands and there's no reason why we can't wash our hands next to someone of another gender.
Please do not put up signs or stickers with mermaids, vampires, Bigfoot or other creatures as a way to show bathroom inclusion. Trans people are people — not mythical creatures — and we deserve the dignity of safe public bathrooms.
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