Inclusive bathrooms at UON, what can be done next?
Sophie Austin looks into the inclusive bathrooms coming to UON, what it means to trans identifying students, and what comes next.
Some terminology used in this article:
Trans: An umbrella term in relation to transgender community, also including, but not restricted to, non-binary, genderqueer, bi-gender, pangender, genderfluid, agender, and gender diverse identifying individuals.
Cisgender: someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Inclusive bathrooms: also known as gender-neutral or diverse bathrooms
In life, cisgender people enjoy simple pleasures that are often overlooked. These pleasures can be something as mundane as using the bathroom, being known by another name, or even feeling comfortable and safe in most public settings.
For trans identifying individuals, these things are often never an afterthought. In the wake of UON announcing the introduction of inclusive bathrooms on the Hunter and Shortland sides, going to the bathroom will be a little easier on trans identifying students. However, inclusive bathrooms may just be the first step toward a larger leap for equality at our university.
I spoke to UON Equity and Diversity Coordinator Astrid Gearin and NUSA Queer Collective Trans and Gender Diverse Officer TJ to get to know a little bit more about the past, present and future of trans rights at UON and why measures like inclusive bathrooms are so important.
Why do trans students need these bathrooms?
Whatever you want to call your private time with the toilet, the fact remains the same; we all need to go. For some of us, it’s second nature to choose a toilet that seems fitting to our gender identity. For trans students, this may not be so easy, and can lead to “uncomfortable and distressing experience[s]”, as TJ stresses.
“For many transgender and gender diverse students, gendered bathrooms can be the cause of anxiety and dysphoria, especially for anyone whose gender exists outside of the gender binary of man or woman,” he said.
“For me, as someone who identifies as outside the binary, bathrooms have always been difficult to navigate.”
Gender dysphoria refers to a specific type of distress caused when a trans person does not feel aligned with their biological sex. By being subjected to choose between male and female toilets, trans people are forced to relive this and make decisions that go above and beyond just using the bathroom.
“If I choose to use the women’s bathroom, then I’m more likely to be able to use the bathroom without much issue,” TJ said. “But it also causes me dysphoria and I often worry that as a masculine-presenting person that I make women using the bathroom uncomfortable.
“The idea of the men’s bathroom is just as unappealing because I worry about how safe I would be.”
We all like to feel safe in our environment, especially when we are at our most vulnerable. Inclusive toilets are one way to minimise threats posed to trans staff and students using these toilets, whether it be hate speech, prejudice or even the feeling of being unwelcome.
“UON believes all students and staff, including transgender students and staff; should have access to basic rights such as bathrooms that are safe and comfortable and correspond to their gender identity,” Astrid said. “By reducing barriers to accessing basic right such as bathrooms, student and staff will be more able to achieve increased participation and achievement.”
Does it mean more than the porcelain throne?
It may just seem like a small step in the right direction, but the introduction of inclusive toilets embarks on a larger journey for equality for UON campuses. To be equal means the same access to services and same rights as all, so inclusive toilets are less about “special treatments” and more about levelling the playing field so trans students and staff can use the bathroom in peace.
“I believe in equity,” Astrid said. “It is generally agreed that equity theory is based in the idea that individuals are motivated by fairness, and if they (individuals) identify inequities in the distribution of gains and losses/input or output ratios of themselves and their referent group, they will seek to adjust their input to reach their perceived equity.”
Which could be not only the driving force behind inclusive toilets but also so much more. LGBTQI+ lobbyists have been rallying the National Building Codes Board in attempt to bring inclusive bathrooms to every workplace and public space.
“This would make it easier for organisations to implement inclusive bathrooms in the workplace or public venues as all the design and consulting and work would have been done,” Astrid said.
“Introducing National Building Codes would mean transphobia could no longer be an invisible barrier to hide behind when deciding to not include inclusive bathrooms in society. It would be regulation, and organisations can just go ahead and install appropriate inclusive signage “
Good on UON. But what else can we do from here?
What’s in a name?
Beyond the progressive news of inclusive toilets, universities still have to fine tune an equal uni experience for trans students and staff. One aspect, in particular, is how difficult it can be for students to change their names in university systems. This can be especially important for trans students as they may wish to use a name that aligns with their gender identity.
“Gender-neutral bathrooms have been a big step in creating a supportive environment for transgender and gender diverse students, but there are still things that can be done to make university easier and more enjoyable,” TJ said. “One thing that transgender and gender diverse students have talked about is the administrative aspect of university being made less complicated and easier to navigate.”
“For example, students have talked about how forms for changing their names to a preferred name in the system have been complicated and they have trouble finding the right information needed to be able to complete these forms.”
This administrative “grey area” can become especially stressful for trans students who wish to change their name, in particular for those who may be experiencing anxiety about it in the first place. It may be inclusive toilets today, but there are still measures to take to make sure university is a comfortable space for all.
Astrid has informed us that there is a ‘Guide’ being developed that will assist staff and students to navigate transitioning processes if they are finding it confusing.
So, what more can we be doing?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it doesn’t mean that the Romans were any less dedicated. There are things we can do as students to press along the inclusion of trans rights in all public spheres. One simple measure that students can introduce is getting into the habit of asking someone’s pronouns when they first meet them.
“[You should] use pronouns that individuals have asked for and if you don’t know, just ask,” Astrid said. “Many trans people at UON I have spoken to have told me they would rather be ‘asked’ then misgendered. If you get it wrong or forget; just say a quick sorry, correct yourself, move on and be more mindful next time you hang out.”
“It’s really important to not make the person your talking with have to put ‘you’ at ease by you going on about how sorry you are and making a big deal about the mistake you made.”
“Genuinely apologise, move on and try harder to not misgender them again ”
Another small step for students is to “talk, smile and make friends with trans people”, as Astrid said.
“It also may be worth doing some Googling at reliable websites if you’re unsure about a few things, have any questions or to bust any myths”.
“One trans person doesn’t speak for all trans people,” Astrid said. “Trans is an umbrella term that includes many people that identify in many different ways, so best do some research.”
UON’s inclusive toilets will be officially opened in Pride Week, 2018.
Feature image: Angelique Carr.