I recently had a conversation with a friend—well, less of a conversation and more of my friend making a passing remark—in which they noted that gender-neutral bathrooms were often “those weird, awkward, single-stall only” bathrooms. Single-stall, because heaven forbid we pass by someone of a different gender or sex in the sacrosanct space of our deepest shames.
As I write this, I am sitting next to one of those weird, awkward, single-stall bathrooms in Pearsons Hall—except this bathroom is not gender-neutral.
Sometimes I pretend that the relative prevalence of gender-neutral bathrooms is a gauge for liberalism. Going by my logic, the general lack of gender-neutral bathrooms in and around Pomona College’s academic buildings communicate a conservatism unusual to the rest of campus. In contrast, South Campus is in the throes of transition while North Campus is a veritable Saturnalia of debauchery, because extreme liberalism equals anarchy equals excess. Also, forgive me my Pomona-centric report. I have not had the time to undergo an epic 5C bathroom-cataloguing journey, no matter how dearly I hope to one day.
My fanciful imaginings aside, I bring this up because I wonder why gender designations still hang on those single-use bathrooms. I am not asking that all the bathrooms in the academic buildings become gender-neutral, because, you know, heaven forbid. However, I do not see a good reason why we cannot convert all the weird, awkward, single-stall bathrooms on campus into gender-neutral bathrooms. It surely cannot be a matter of signage costs. The fancy-pants new signs that have magically sprouted on campus attest to our amazing ability to spend money on signs.
Even more, the benefit of making those bathrooms gender-neutral surely must outweigh the cost that changing a few signs would incur. Gender-designated bathrooms are often sites of anti-transgender and anti-gender-queer harassment—physical, verbal or otherwise. As a corollary, transgender and gender-queer individuals often have higher rates of urinary tract and kidney disorders. Even if we believe Pomona to be an enlightened enough place where those kinds of harassment do not occur—a claim that I am not entirely sure I believe—such a move would underscore our commitment to our values of diversity and inclusivity.
Finally, to be fair to you, dear readers, I will admit that my aims are not entirely selfless. I loathe waiting for a female-designated, single-stall bathroom to empty out when I know that the accompanying male-designated, single-stall bathroom is unoccupied. I have been known to participate in private acts of civil disobedience by making use of the “wrong” bathrooms on occasion. Nonetheless, I have the privilege of making that conscious choice, and I can be comfortable in the knowledge that there is another female-designated bathroom not too far away in case I am feeling a little less political that day.
I reiterate that I see no downsides, except a specious argument that somehow correlates the existence of gender-neutral bathrooms with the downfall of civilization, and there are a multitude of benefits. Everyone, regardless of gender identity, would have access to more bathrooms, and that can only be a good thing.