Welcoming The All-Gender Restroom “Revolution”

by Jennifer Orthwein

TIME Magazine recently declared that “The Gender-Neutral Bathroom Revolution is Growing.” Earlier this month, San Francisco joined cities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe, and New York City in requiring all businesses and city buildings to designate single-stall restrooms as all-gender. The new legislation introduced by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos and crafted with the support of Transgender Law Center will be the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, with robust enforcement mechanisms and a requirement for new buildings to include an all-gender option.

This kind of legislation is a relief for people with disabilities, families with small children, and women simply tired of waiting on line for the women’s restroom while the single-stall men’s bathroom stands empty. For people like me, who don’t fit gender stereotypes, it can even be life-saving. While transgender and gender nonconforming people have the legal right to use restrooms that correspond to their gender, I know all too well the difference an all-gender bathroom can make.

When I was born, the doctors told my parents I was a girl.

And from then on, the expectations of how I should dress and behave began. I never felt comfortable presenting as a girl or a woman, but never really felt I was a boy or man either. I never really understood, and still don’t, why, because of my body, I have to use specific spaces, particularly when using them subjects me to harassment and sometimes violence.

One of the most traumatic incidents occurred while searching for a wedding venue with my fiancé and mother. I exited the women’s restroom of a hotel and as I approached them, someone grabbed my shoulder and spun me around—it was a man with his fist clenched and raised.

I don’t remember his exact words, but I knew why he was about to hit me so I threw up my hands up and shouted, “I am a woman.” Once he heard my voice and those words, his fist relaxed and he responded, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I looked into my mother’s eyes. They expressed so much fear, and as he walked away from us my whole body just shook and I began to cry.

Experiences like this are not uncommon for people like me.

Other experiences include having a security guard kick and bang on a single-use restroom door, threatening to break down it down and remove me while I was using it. I have also had groups of women in the restroom line harass me in an attempt to redirect me to the men’s room.

People seem to feel justified in policing gendered spaces and they do so based on their assumptions of a person’s gender. No one should fear being assaulted or harassed for using something as basic and necessary as a restroom. It is my hope that ordinances like the one introduced in San Francisco will increase restroom access for everyone and reduce the anxiety and fear people like me often experience when forced to choose between sex-segregated facilities that may not be consistent with how others perceive us.

Originally published by Transgender Law Center; Photo via Transgender Law Center