Being a tour guide is quite an experience. From skepticism about the lack of albino squirrels on campus to scrutiny about my nationality because I don’t have an accent, the concerns that prospective students and their parents have surprises me each week. However, there is one question I can plan for with a high degree of certainty: I will probably spend 10 minutes talking about gender neutral bathrooms outside of Harwood.
After I explain that individual sponsor groups determine how their bathrooms will be allocated at the beginning of freshman year, a parent will usually inquire how many sponsor groups choose to have gender neutral bathrooms. I explain that there are no statistics, but that it is quite common. Disconcerted mumbling follows.
Admittedly confused about how bathrooms can impact somebody’s college experience so much, I decided to conduct some research. From what I’ve perceived, in most countries, residential life is not tied closely–if at all–to the university itself. Thus, this concern is not held by many of my friends abroad. Judging from personal experience, gender neutral bathrooms are an American phenomenon. The initial purpose of gender neutral bathrooms has been to support non-binary and gender nonconforming in using the bathroom free of harassment. In the meantime, colleges and universities use them as a mark of open-mindedness and progressiveness.
The problem is that this does not cater to all audiences. Most of our parents do not understand how people can identify with a non-binary gender or be transgender—raising awareness about non-binary gender identities is a task of our generation. This mostly involves enunciating that you cannot invalidate an experience just because you have not come across it yourself. Bridging the generation gap is difficult. Right now, we are still working toward eliminating discrimination between binary genders in the workplace and domestic spheres; if this is still a work in progress, strengthening the voices and rights of people who identify with non-binary genders becomes an even more daunting task. In public environments, the best way to bridge the generation gap with regard to non-binary genders is to show no tolerance for discrimination. In the private sphere, with one’s own parents, the most effective method is to explain, discuss and educate.
Nonetheless, there is very little to no sympathy for the struggles of transgender or non-binary people among older generations. Sadly, there are also very few efforts to learn about the struggles of these individuals. Instead, the concerns lay with the safety of daughters.
This is because people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth are criminalized. A 2012 study concludes that only 5 percent to 7 percent of American youth are gay or transgender, but they compose 13 percent to 15 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system. This does not include non-binary individuals, but reflects the general sentiment of American society.
Writing about this topic as a cisgendered woman gives rise to significant limitations, as I cannot and will not ever be able to fully identify with the struggles of the individuals I am writing about. But I feel that it is a topic that has to be brought to our attention, especially considering the concerning views that I hear voiced almost every single week.
Parents of prospective students seem to believe that individuals who were assigned the male gender ‘pretend’ to be female so that they can sexually exploit women. This is a sad but accurate representation of how gender nonconforming individuals are criminalized in everyday life in a very ignorant and heteronormative way. Once I was asked if I felt safe being fully naked in a space open to both males and females. Would I not find it humiliating to walk past a urinal in use?
Sexual assault is a disgusting reality on American campuses. Though applicable to individuals of all genders, women’s safety in particular is one of the biggest issues faced by universities today. But there are certainly better ways to solve it than by forcing the gender binary on individuals whom it simply doesn’t apply to. Their comfort does not have to be compromised for women’s safety, and vice versa because gender nonconforming individuals are not any more or less criminal than the rest of the population. This is a repulsive myth.
Contrary to the belief of concerned parents, the emotional stress placed on cisgendered individuals through gender neutral bathrooms is small. As an individual who is fully comfortable using a gender neutral bathroom, I understand there are people who do not feel the same way. Pomona, like most universities, caters to these individuals as much as they do to gender nonconforming individuals. However, onlooking parents get the impression that gender neutral bathrooms are giant communal bathrooms everybody is forced to use.
In Claremont, this is false in every kind of way. All three types of bathrooms—male, female and gender neutral—are available everywhere on campus. At Pomona, sponsor groups collectively decide whether or not to have gender neutral bathrooms in their halls. This is done to ensure everyone’s comfort and is a good example of how everyone can be catered to without infringing upon anyone’s rights.
As Roxana Soltanzadeh said in her speech at the 2016 TEDx Claremont Colleges event: “Everyone has the right to take care of themselves, as long as this does not infringe upon other people’s right to take care of themselves.”
Laura Haetzel PO ’19 intends to major in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry.