I would like to start this column by sharing a little bit about myself: my name is Tony and I am currently a Women and Gender Studies student at the University of Alberta.
Something that I consider unique about myself is that I identify as gender creative, meaning that both my gender identity and expression do not easily fit within traditional gender norms and expectations. For instance, some days I like to dress more “feminine,” then there are days I like to dress more “masculine,” but most of the time I like to mix it up.
It is because of who I am that I am passionate about LGBT*Q issues and have become personally invested with the gender inclusive bathroom initiative on campus.
The first step of this project was providing a map to help locate all-gender bathrooms on campus. The next step is pushing for a gender inclusive washroom as a legitimate option for anyone who wishes to use it. Why is this an issue at all? Although some of you may have never had to think twice about which bathroom to use, it is important to pay attention to those of us who do not always have the freedom to choose. Most bathrooms are gender-segregated: male and female. In addition, these options are illustrated by two distinctly gendered stick people that do not represent everyone. Gender-segregated bathrooms are most convenient for those whose gender identity and expression are aligned with their biological sex (known as cisgender)—enforcing a gender binary that fails to capture all the unique differences of how we identify.
Not everyone is represented by a stick man or woman—those who are trans* or gender nonconforming, those with a disability and/or with a caretaker of a different gender, parents with a child of a different gender, those who are facing a chronic illness and so on. The point is that there can be solidarity with an issue that concerns the safety of all of us. It addresses the constant fear toward one’s personal safety when washroom segregation does not legitimize who they are.
In many cases, those who don’t fit a gender norm have faced harassment and intolerance for being different when all they wanted to do was pee. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, and it has to stop because it is a basic right to use a washroom and, regardless of our identity, we all deserve to feel safe as we take care of ourselves.
Ultimately, the gender-inclusive bathroom project’s aim is to transform a space of fear and exclusion into a place of safety and inclusion.
I will end this column by sharing the words of the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services’ education coordinator Alexis Hillyard, who has been my biggest inspiration: “Being a part of the gender-inclusive washroom initiative has opened my head and heart to an equity issue that I’ve never had to personally endure. This project is one more way for us to open our ears and listen, to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, and to find space for compassion and caring that leads into sustained action and change.”