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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

Are gender-neutral & trans-inclusive restrooms safe for your family?

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

All of us have a basic biological function. No matter who you are, no matter what your gender, your body will signal a need for a public restroom. Or, if you're me, it’s more often. While I might need to worry about how close I am to the nearest bathroom, I don't need to worry about safety, even in gender-neutral or trans-inclusive lavatories. You don't need to worry, either.

Are trans people using the same restroom I am?

Anyone reading this blog has already been in a restroom or other public spaces with trans people.

While there is a certain camaraderie when taking care of a private function in close quarters, there is an observed social norm not to scrutinize strangers in the restroom. Was that woman in the pretty blue dress born with male genitals? Is the tall one with the slim hips transitioning? What about the person that’s flat-chested: cisgender or transgender? All of them are there for the same reason - that biological need.

My transmasc friend agrees, saying, "The only motivation I have is using the facility the same as everyone else."

Here's the thing, you can't know if a trans individual is sharing a public restroom with you unless you have x-ray vision or a superpower that can determine the XX or XY gene.

You can’t know, and it’s none of your business.

If you don't look, you can't know....

What about safety?

Having trans-inclusive places doesn't endanger anyone - many states, school districts, and states protect trans individuals' right to use the correct bathroom according to their gender identity and there has been no increase in the sexual assault rates. (1)

In fact, it’s the transgender individuals who are more at risk entering a restroom. 75.1% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, and 63.4% of transgender students reported avoiding bathrooms. (2)

Some still fear differently gendered persons and are vocal about it on social media. See the exchange below:

Maybe I was a little over the top with my last comment...

On his first day in office, President Biden signed the Executive Order on Preventing and Combatting Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, which, in part, states that any student in a school that takes federal funds must allow students to use the bathroom that agrees with their gender identity. Some public school districts have instituted changes, others have filed suit against following the law.

In contrast to the controversy surrounding school bathrooms, data compiled by Yelp found that more than 160,000 restaurants, coffee shops, salons, and other businesses have gender-neutral facilities. (3) Since 2016, Target Corp. has stated their transgender customers could use whichever restroom corresponded to their gender identity.

Are gendered restrooms different from each other?

There is very little difference on the inside of these. I know because I’ve used the Men’s room! It’s true, and more than once.

On a family trip, my young boys stirred awake and asked for a potty break. Of course, I did, too. Another car exited into the rest area at the same time we did: no other vehicles in sight. A woman and her teen daughter joined our trek to the building, and we found the Women’s was “Closed for Repairs.”

closed bathroom + full bladder = disaster

The other females and I looked at each other, dismayed. I told my husband, “Guard the door, we’re going to the Men’s.” The room was tiled, clean, and bright. We ignored the urinals and headed to the stalls. When my companions in this adventure filed out the door, my sons ran in, laughing, to find me washing my hands in “their” bathroom.

The state university where I work is another place I breached this taboo. The closest bathroom to my office was for male staff. It's an old building, at least four decades old, and perhaps there were few (or no) female chemistry faculty members in those days. When the campus was closed due to the pandemic, I continued working to complete several projects by myself. I got into the habit of using that toilet, and I appreciated the convenience.

Since our department is now majority female, I thought it would be a welcome change to set that small bathroom to all-gender. That change could provide a safe space for our trans students as well. I am proud to be a small agent of change.

Advocate for your company or institution to convert or install gender-neutral restrooms, too.

My advice: if you really need to go and the Women’s bathroom is occupied, out of order, or has a long line, go ahead and slip into the Men’s room. Bystanders might be shocked, but your bladder will thank you!

Remember that everyone's home bathroom is gender-neutral and that trans people entering a public restroom are there for the same reason you are. It's basic biology!


What are your thoughts? Comment below or share on Facebook and tag Internet's Best Karen.

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