Sex & Gender

gender neutral bathrooms: don’t be freaked out

February 6, 2013

By Justin Allen

The downtown Manhattan university renowned for its radical approach to education, The New School, has recently implemented gender neutral bathrooms in its facilities. While restrooms segregated by gender are still accessible within the urban campus of clustered buildings, this advancement presents an opportunity to consider the inherent prejudice of gender separation.

First, a vocab lesson. Sex and gender are not synonymous. Sex is biological, expressive of anatomy and genitals—penis, vagina, intersex (neither distinctly male or female) etc. Gender, however, addresses social construction, ie girls wear skirts and boys play football, and one’s mental feeling of self. Transsexual and transgender, then, are not synonymous. Transgender indicates a gender presentation opposite that of the gender assigned at birth or of gender variance. This is achieved through everything from clothing choice to gestures. Transsexual indicates an individual whose gender is misaligned with their body, often undergoing a biological transition by way of hormone treatments and surgery. Cisgender or cissexual, often shortened to cis, indicate individuals who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. This is an important term as it prevents cis people from addressing themselves as “normal” or “real” men or women in relation to trans people. People who identify as genderless conform to neither male or female social constructions, which brings me to the topic of PGPs.

PGPs, an acronym for “preferred gender pronoun,” indicate the pronouns by which people choose to be addressed—ie “he” and “she.” As for people who identify as genderless or whose gender identity of which you are unsure, it is perfectly fine to ask them what they prefer to be addressed as, as long as it is done respectfully—they are people, not exhibits or zoo animals. A replacement for “he” and “she” is the gender neutral “xie,” or the singular they.

It is important to remember these terms when considering gender neutral bathrooms. A common hesitation toward gender neutral bathrooms, often addressed by cis straight people, is the possibility of occupying a stall beside a love interest—a former impossibility with gender segregated bathrooms. However, queer people (queer an umbrella term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, intersex and asexual) experience this all the time when using the restroom. It is also a common proposal that trans people simply go to the bathroom that correlates with the gender with which they identify. However, gender policing is a common practice in which trans people are told to leave bathrooms because of prejudice from others. This is not to mention that in some states trans people can be arrested for using public bathrooms if their gender on their ID cards does not match that of the bathroom they are using.

This is only a short summarization of an aspect of gender politics, and hardly delves into the more specific components of the topic. If you leave this article with anything, leave with this: all people should be allowed to define their own identities and not have society define their identities for them based on assumptions. If anyone can say who we are, it’s ourselves.