In my experience as a non-binary person, the typical gendered washrooms often pose a threat of discrimination and extreme discomfort. Therefore, I have relied on the privacy and intended safety of gender-neutral washrooms throughout my life and university experience.
Before we dive in, what exactly is a gender-neutral washroom? Described by third-year media arts student Rafael Médici, “Gender-neutral washrooms are washrooms that are not assigned to any given gender, they are for everyone and anyone who wishes to use them.”
According to Facilities Services, gender-neutral washrooms were introduced to York campuses over 10 years ago, with 192 single stalls to date. They claim, “in our more than 10 years of having gender neutral washrooms, we have encountered no challenges,” says Stewart Dankner, director of property management at Facilities Services.
But what is it like for the students who use them?
“Sometimes it’d be easy to just pop in and out, other times there’d be a line and I would be late going back to class or I would have to hold it,” says Eve Blondeau, York theatre student and transgender individual. “There are the occasions where the washroom is being used by students having sex or doing drugs, and the washroom will smell pretty strongly of weed afterwards.”
“Depending on my class, they can be a little bit out of the way for me and I would simply use the women’s washrooms (although it does make me uncomfortable because I feel like people are spying on me). I appreciate the privacy of the gender-neutral washrooms, and the easy access to a sink. As someone who menstruates and uses a menstrual cup to deal with it, being able to empty my cup into the sink and then clean it before re-inserting it is something I can only do in a gender neutral washroom,” an anonymous student shares.
“I have found that washrooms that are close to busy areas on campus can be less clean than other gender-neutral washrooms. I once walked in to find two used blunts half crushed and still smoking on the floor,” says a second anonymous student.
“If someone uses a mobility device, it’s unfair to expect them to go over to another building to use the washroom, or even to another floor. Ideally, you want a gender-neutral and accessible washroom in every building…”
“Trans people shouldn’t have to deal with lower standards, ever,” says Blondeau.
When asked to elaborate on what changes need to be made regarding gender-neutral washrooms, here’s what the students had to say:
“I think that everyone would benefit from more gender-neutral washrooms on campus, especially those with non-cisgender gender identities,” the first anonymous student says.
“If someone uses a mobility device, it’s unfair to expect them to go over to another building to use the washroom, or even to another floor. Ideally, you want a gender-neutral and accessible washroom in every building, on every floor,” the second anonymous student says.
“I also wholeheartedly support having smoke detectors in all of the gender-neutral washrooms, as well as adequate ventilation. As someone with seasonal asthma, I would very much like to be able to breathe while I poop,” says Blondeau.
In contrast to the experiences mentioned above, and the overall emphasis on improving cleanliness, Facilities Services assure that “in addition to being accessible, all our washrooms are meticulously cleaned and sanitized. During this pandemic our custodial staff have increased the level of cleaning protocols to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our community members,” says Dankner.
Perhaps change is to come with their recently announced, promising development.
“As part of the washroom renewal program we are also introducing gender-neutral multi-stall washrooms at both Keele and Glendon. Installation will take place at Tait, York Hall and Stong, and will be complete by the end of the year. Further installations are planned at Winters and McLaughlin in 2021,” says Dankner.