Last updated: April 20, 2012 3:27 pm
Maritime students rise to the challenge in the fight for gender-neutral bathrooms
"Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge" changes the way we do our business
HALIFAX (CUP) — You’re sitting in class and you have to go. You cross your legs, side-step out of the room as quietly as possible, and sneak down the hall to the washroom.
But what happens if there isn’t a washroom for you?
For transgendered people, male and female washrooms don’t work. Most washrooms are for cisgendered people, or people who identify with the same gender as their biological sex. This, says two Dalhousie University students, excludes transgendered people.
Shay Enxuga and Jake Feldman are not cisgendered, and frequently face this issue. Enxuga says Feldman puts it well: “He was talking about how you have to go pee, just like everyone has to go pee, and you’re looking at these two options and neither one is made for you. There’s a sense that the world isn’t created for you, and a feeling of invisibility.”
“Trans-people experience very real emotional and physical harm when it comes to gendered bathrooms. There are some assaults and violence, but also a lot of anxiety and fear,” said Enxuga.
Exasperated and frustrated, the two started the Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge, inviting people to use only gender-neutral bathrooms for the entire month of April.
“We were just talking about feeling a sense of frustration and wanting our friends and people who identify as allies to think about their access to bathrooms as a privilege,” said Enxuga. “We thought that this would be a way for them to get some first-hand experience.”
Liz Fraser, a King’s University grad living in Hamilton, Ont., took the challenge, and she’s caused change already.
When at an art exhibit one night, she noticed a pair of single-stall gendered washrooms. Fraser asked if there was someone she could speak to about it.
“Would it be possible to remove those signs in order to better include trans and genderqueer people in this space?” she asked the manager.
Her request was met with a polite and willing response. The manager, who said that they had never thought of it, removed the signs immediately.
In an interview with The Watch, Fraser said that she felt apprehensive about asking for the signs to be changed before taking action.
“I felt like I would be perceived as confrontational, and I’m not a confrontational person. At first, I was feeling like maybe I should just leave it, because it didn’t affect me, but that isn’t really what the challenge is about.”
Fraser is cisgendered, but she has long been involved in gay activism and feels it is important to be supportive of queer communities.
Being cisgendered, she says, comes with a certain amount of power.
“The fact that I was able to go ask about [the gendered washrooms] was an expression of privilege,” she said. “I also think that if I am hesitant to use that power, then I’m in a sense abusing it.”
The creators of the challenge, however, were hoping for such a response.
“As with any system of oppression, it’s not the people who are oppressed who are making themselves oppressed,” said Enxuga. “The main purpose is just to create more gender neutral bathrooms. Often, it’s trans-people who do that work, but we want to have cis-people working in ally-ship with trans-people.”
The challenge started as a Facebook event Feldman created, and now has the support of over 800 people from the Maritimes and beyond.
“It spread like wildfire on the Internet, and neither of us were expecting that. Jake thought that maybe 15 people would try it. I thought that maybe 100 people would,” said Enxuga.
The two creators said they encourage people to talk the discrimination of gendered bathrooms and help change that. They say that’s happening.
“I have heard people talk about being excited when they find gender neutral bathrooms,” said Enxuga. “I’m so happy. It’s been way more successful than I ever thought, which feels great. We’re getting a lot of people saying, ‘I’ve never thought of this before.’”