To all the cisgender women out there, you know that feeling when you’re queuing for the ladies’ room and hating life, because somehow the men’s bathroom has no queue yet you’ll be waiting an eternity to do your business? It’s pretty annoying hey?

Well imagine feeling like you couldn’t use either bathroom. And worse, fearing you may be harassed or abused for using the wrong one. It would be frustrating and isolating to say the least.

Thankfully, most students at UON don’t experience this dilemma. Their gender matches their birth sex (i.e. cisgender) and they feel comfortable about their gender identity.

But for a number of UON staff and students, this bathroom predicament is a situation they have to face regularly.

“There are a number of people whose gender identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth,” said Equity and Diversity Coordinator Astrid Gearin.

“These people are transgender: an umbrella term which encapsulates a wide spectrum of identities including genderqueer, bi-gender, pangender, gender fluid, agender, gender diverse and any other identifier that it outside the gender binary of male and female.”

No one should have to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. So, UON is taking action to make life a little bit easier.

Pride Week 2018 (kicking off in late August) will mark the official opening of multiple gender-neutral bathrooms across our campuses.

A gender-neutral bathroom is one that can be used by persons of any gender. Now before writing this article, I naively thought, “But aren’t they the same as unisex bathrooms?” Wrong. Unisex toilets imply the person identifies themselves within the traditional male/female gender binary. This means those who identify themselves on the trans spectrum can still feel excluded. According to Astrid, gender-neutral bathrooms are an inclusive response to the needs of trans individuals and do not perpetuate the gender binary.

Initially there will be four bathrooms at Callaghan (two on Shortland side and two on Hunter side), with more to come at other campuses throughout the year. The signage has been designed based on consultation with trans-identifying staff and students.

UON Gender Neutral Bathroom
Signage which will appear on UON’s gender neutral bathrooms

“People who experience disconnect between their gender and the expectations of others or whose gender identity conflicts with their body can be an emotionally exhausting and taxing experience, this takes a toll on one’s capacity to work and study,” Astrid said.

Trans people already fall within the high-risk category for experiencing mental health difficulties, so the last thing they need is to suffer abuse while trying to do something as fundamental as using the restroom.

Unfortunately, trans staff and students at UON are no strangers to this kind of mistreatment. A student’s research paper in 2017 revealed instances of participants not feeling safe in either the women’s or men’s bathrooms and being yelled at for using the non-gendered accessible/disabled bathroom.

By providing something as simple as gender-neutral bathrooms, UON aims to ensure trans staff and students feel safe and comfortable on campus.

“Promoting institutional commitment to recognising the needs of trans and gender diverse people can only serve to facilitate dialogue and understanding among the wider community,” Astrid said.

 

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, don’t hesitate to reach out to the UON Counselling Service, Ally Network, ACON or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Author

Sarah James is a third year Bachelor of Communication/Laws (Honours) student. Newcastle born and bred, in her spare time she loves discovering hidden foodie gems and traveling to new places.

1 Comment

  1. As a gender nonconforming lesbian who very often can’t use women’s bathrooms without getting the scary butch look or the I’m afraid for my life look, the easiest way of navigating it is unisex bathrooms. People who have troubling experiences in bathrooms because of their gender non conformity don’t really need performative inclusive language to know how to navigate public bathrooms, we just need tangible, single stall non-sexed bathrooms. I would not compare this struggle to the struggle that women people face in bathrooms as they are just different, not better than the other. Women face harassment (like myself) in bathrooms, we face lines (because institutions do not understand the needs of females) and we face stigma. A tangible change for us would be free, unquestioned access to pads and tampons in bathrooms, as they are a need. Women aren’t oppressive for having experience based fears on using the women’s bathrooms, I do not like the implication here, that we are at all comfortable with our position as a second class sex, which correlates to our comfort with public bathrooms very intimately. Girls are far more likely to develop STIs from poor access to public bathrooms, girls are far more likely to ignore signs of bladder distress, both as pain and needing to pee. I have navigated a lot of my life as gender non-conforming cisgender woman, and believe me when I say gender neutral signs are performative; we know much better than others which bathrooms are safe for us- the tangible changes should be more single stall unisex bathrooms, floor to ceiling doors in women’s bathrooms, free sanitary items available in all bathrooms, and better protection for women and transgender people in institutions.

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