A long-simmering moral panic over the presence of transgender people in sex-segregated public toilets has reached an acute state since the spring of 2015, as an unprecedented wave of mass-culture visibility for trans* issues has intersected with recent court decisions guaranteeing trans* people access to gender-appropriate toilets. The current backlash against trans* people using public toilets that match their gender identity reflects a longer history of public toilets, which themselves date to early eighteenth-century Paris, and registers social anxieties grounded in misogyny, homophobia, and the fear of gender non-conformance. However, rather than confront these underlying cultural apprehensions head on, opponents and proponents of gender-neutral bathrooms narrowly pose the issue as a question of safety, framing it as an ostensibly objective problem that can be solved through a neo-functionalist architectural approach. Shifting the terms of the debate, we propose an alternative bathroom design that accommodates the urgent needs of the transgender community while also meeting the needs of different races, genders, and disabilities. Our proposal does away with traditional sex-segregated bathrooms and consolidates everyone within one space that encourages mixing. Increasing occupancy allows more people to self-police and makes bathrooms safer. Most important, our proposal fosters acceptance by encouraging people of diverse identities to comfortably interact with one another in public space.
Research Article|October 01 2016
Stalled: Gender-Neutral Public Bathrooms
South Atlantic Quarterly (2016) 115 (4): 779-788.