Gender-neutral bathrooms reduce gender-spectrum anxieties

We all have that childhood anecdote of accidentally walking into the “wrong” restroom at a restaurant, realizing it once we are five steps in, and then quickly running out, hoping no one noticed. Last semester, when I heard that Suffolk would start implementing gender-neutral restrooms, I recalled those five-second memories as a child, silently laughing at the insignificance of those moments of fearing someone would get after me for not paying attention and, consequently, not walking into the “right” room.

It has been at least a decade since the last memory I have of an instance like this, back when I did not know beyond the binary male and female definitions of gender, the duties that came with each one, and how I was supposed to (nicely) fit into them.

(Photo by Jonathan Acosta Abi Hassan)

I am a female. One day I will marry a man. Of course I like the color pink. My bathroom is the one that has a sign with a stick figure wearing a dress. My life assignments revolved around these rules, amongst many others that were solely defined by my sex. One wrong step and it resulted in a serious conversation from mom and dad to remind me to run back into the right path as quickly as I could, just like running out of the “wrong” restroom with the blue tile.

A urinal is a strange object to me, and the silver bins that sell feminine pads for a quarter are also quite odd, but those I am used to. When I lived in the dorms, I would often use the multi-stall restrooms in the basement of 150 Tremont, where the male and female restrooms are “clearly” labeled.

I could literally hear the water rushing in the “men’s room” next door while I washed my own hands, and I would sometimes walk out of the restroom at the same time a boy was, allowing us to catch quick glimpses of each other’s “sacred rooms” as our doors slowly closed behind us.

I was born into a gender I identify with, so I cannot personally exclaim how restrooms labeled with binary genders make me feel out of place. I can only explain my simple fear of accidentally crossing the lines between meaningless restrooms growing up, a fear that was instilled in me because male and female worlds were presented to me as being entirely separate, non-overlapping, and not relatable.

Now, through discussions at Suffolk, books, and the internet, I have been taught to see gender as a spectrum of many colors and shades and its relation (or lack there of) to sexual orientation. There are traits in me that are feminine, some that are not, and many that are neither. I sometimes look like that stick figure famously posted on the “men’s” bathroom, and sometimes I look like the one wearing the triangular dress. My worlds now have merged, overlapped and connected.

Labeling restrooms is a simple act, but it is a series of small things that build up for someone who sees their worlds inaccurately represented. We cannot spend our lives being that scared child that runs into the wrong bathroom or force others to do so. End the binary. End the fear.