When will we get better disability access to venues?
For those unfamiliar with the term, cisgender refers to people whose gender identity matches the binary sex they were given at birth. I am a cisgender woman because I was called a girl at birth and have never deviated from that gender identity. My friend Kai was also assigned female at birth (AFAB) but identifies as a man. He uses the pronouns he/him. Kai is transgender.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of trans campaigners, trans understanding has improved significantly in the last few years in particular. We now have high profile trans performers like Laverne Cox and celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, and there are more and more stories of trans kids coming out and being supported to live as the identity they want.
There are also people who exist somewhere along a gender continuum rather than in a binary. These people may be gender queer, gender non-conforming or gender fluid. They may refer to themselves using the pronouns they/their/them to denote the fact they identify as neither man or woman.
Additionally, there is the oft forgotten 'I' in the LGBTQIA acronym. Intersex people are born with sexual anatomy or chromosomal patterns that do not fit the typical expectation of male or female. A baby might appear biologically female on the outside, but have internal male organs. For example, they may be born with a vagina but internal testes instead of a uterus, or born with a uterus but no vaginal opening. Intersex anatomy may not become apparent in some cases until puberty. Historically, babies who present as intersex at birth have often been assigned a gender that may not tee up with how they feel as they grow aware of their identities.
The reason I mention all of this (which may seem basic and obvious to some readers) is because I want to talk about a very simple privilege that most cisgender people (of which I am one) take for granted - automatic access to a public bathroom. To be more specific, it's time that the provision of gender neutral bathrooms was enforced across institutions and public buildings around Australia.
If you are cisgender, think of how many times a day you might use a public restroom. It varies, but on average it's probably three or four times a day. You probably don't think much about it, aside from being able to make it into one on time and hoping that it's clean. But for trans and gender neutral people, the issue of bathroom access can be incredibly distressing at best and actually unsafe at worst.
Despite the greater prominence and awareness of trans issues, transphobia is still rampant. Violence against trans people remains high, with the murder of trans women of colour in particular at staggering levels. Bashings of trans people are not infrequent, and all of these issues are perhaps amplified in a space that most people not only value their privacy within but also take for granted that they'll receive. The same privacy and entitlement is not afforded to trans people. This essay by trans woman Kat Callaghan is essential reading if you need further convincing.
Currently, several states in America are considering introducing legislation that would force trans people to use the bathrooms related to their assigned birth gender. This means that women like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner would be legally forced to use the men's bathroom while a man like Chaz Bono would be forced to use the women's. Such a violation is not only unconscionable, it's also deeply frightening for the people whose safety would be jeapordised as a result. As Kai says, "Having gender neutral toilets would ease anxiety for transgender people who wish to access them." The 'wish' part of this equation is important - gender neutral toilets shouldn't be seen as 'the trans bathroom' now, because trans women and men retain the right to continuing using gendered toilets if they choose to. This is about having a safe option for the times when they're made to feel like they can't.
Fear around so-called gender theft abounds, with some people still insisting that trans people have an ulterior motive to enter sacred spaces and then assault people within them. But even Frank Artiles, the Republican state representative for Florida and the sponsor of Single Sex Public Facilities bill (HB 583) has admitted that it's being introduced as a 'preventative measure' and not in relation to any particular incident. Simply put, there are no recorded cases related to this legislation that indicates trans people are attacking cis people in bathrooms.
There's another reason why the provision of gender neutral bathrooms are essential, and that has to do with ensuring continued access of disabled people to their own bathrooms (along with drastically improving that access). Currently, it's not uncommon for trans or gender non-conforming people fearful about bathroom usage to opt for a stand alone accessible toilet instead. Not only are they private, they're also safe. The motivations behind this are understandable, but it's not the solution. The answer to gender inclusivity is absolutely NOT co-opting the already limited resources of those disabled by society's inaccessibility. It isn't acceptable to say that trans or gender neutral people can simply use the accessible loo, because that's only compounding the oppression of a group that already experiences overwhelming institutionalised practices of it.
Happily, gender neutral toilets are appearing in buildings all around Australia. I'm told that universities like Swinburne and QUT have begun introducing them, while other people have confirmed their presence in some office blocks. This is a good step forward, but it's really something that (along with committing to providing accessible toilets that AREN'T used for storage) has to be considered non-negotiable for a venue in the same way that providing toilets with the universal symbol for 'woman' and 'man' is.
Perhaps a solution as simple as Sam Killerman's idea would work. Instead of fixating on what human appears on the sign, maybe just a picture of a toilet would suffice. Because regardless of what our bodies look like, how they work or what extra help they might need along the way, one thing remains true - when you gotta go, you gotta go