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Monday, 17 September 2012

A letter to London Student, RE: Gender Neutral Toilet Debate

This is a response to the "The Great Debate: Should unisex toilets exist on university campuses?" in the London Student (see argument for, argument against)

There are a number of factual errors in this article, not least the fact that “cisgender” means “people whose gender is congruent with the sex they were assigned at birth” – not the exact opposite, as implied in the article,* but more concerning than that is the platform that the London Student gave to dangerously transphobic views.

As a trans student at a university of London college, so far I have been relatively safe. By that I mean that beyond the odd transphobic remark, I haven’t been subjected to any violence in toilets. Do you know what that makes me? Lucky. Outside of ULU spaces I have been subjected to violence, I’ve been physically attacked, for what? For using a toilet. Why? Because I didn’t look like ‘enough of a man’. Thankfully, this far into transition, I am generally safe in toilets. For three or four years though, my appearance put me firmly in the middle, I risked violence whatever toilet I used. In the ladies toilet I was perceived as a man, and in the men’s I was perceived as a woman. Nonetheless, I was lucky that this was a transient state. For some people, their gender identity is neither male nor female, and they may try to appear androgynous, to the point where either gendered toilet is a risk for their entire life. Were someone intent on committing sexual assault they would do so regardless of the toilet situation, I believe. However, non-gendered toilets create a safe space for people who run a very high risk of being assaulted whichever toilet they use. I certainly don’t advocate replacing all gendered toilets with them – I understand the value of gendered toilets as a safe space, but I do advocate replacing some – so that people I know can use the toilet without being terrified that they’ll be attacked.

Jason Wong has obviously been very lucky that he’s never had to risk a series of Urinary Tract Infections, or even kidney damage, both of which are excruciatingly painful, rather than run the risk of using a public toilet. The attitudes expressed in his article are dangerously transphobic – with language such as “gender confusion” – which is certainly not the case for me, or any of the other trans students I know at University of London venues (although were someone to be querying their gender, unisex toilets would be a valuable safe space for this individual).

In suggesting that Alex Peters-Day is prioritising a “radical political agenda over protecting the privacy and safety of students”, Wong misses one important fact – trans people are students as well, and we too require privacy and safety – the safety to urinate without running a risk of violence, for example. Nobody is being forced to use gender neutral toilets; that option is only being made available to those who wish to. These aren’t just for trans students either. They’re for students who are wandering past having a chat with mates and want to carry that on in the toilet, they’re for students who might be carers, or have carers, of a different gender to themselves, they’re for student parents who might have a child of a different gender, and they’re for people who just happen to need the toilet. This is not about segregating trans students (as implied by London Student’s description of the toilets as “Transgender toilets”), or degendering all toilets, it’s about offering a gender-free option to those groups that might appreciate, benefit from, or require it.

Does London Student have a policy of allowing openly sexist, racist, or homophobic articles? If not, why has this even been printed? Allowing a platform for these views will only serve to make trans students feel even more unsafe at University of London venues.

The Students' Union of Royal Holloway, University of London does not tolerate transphobia. 
RHUL Feminism Society calls for a retraction of this article, a public apology to trans students by London Student and an explanation of why the editor thinks it's ok to spread transphobia around London. 

*John Peart writes ‘Some people do not identify with the gender identity they are officially assigned at birth – their cisgender.’ This is a grammatically nonsense sentence. The logical way to read it is to assume he used the wrong there/their/they, and has therefore reversed the meaning of cisgender. Otherwise, the sentence as it is written uses a possessive “their”, such that everyone possesses a “cisgender”. I’ve never heard cisgender used in this grammatical form before, and it implies that everyone who is trans has multiple genders, and risks suggesting that people choose another gender (rather than “their cisgender”) to “have”. Clarity is important in any article. The lack of it here is acutely felt; a grammatically nonsense sentence means that Peart fails in his representation of trans students.

1 comment:

  1. Good article - especially the point made about other people who require unisex toilet facilities, such as disabled students, carers etc.

    I would prefer to use a single gendered toilet, but I dont see what the problem is with providing facilities for those who are happy with, or prefer that option. It would also get rid of the stigma of the "disabled toilet" which is usually unisex anyway.


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