The Center Opinion: Director Kelby on Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Beginning in October, the LGBT Resource Center will begin to offer a revised Trans* Ally training. In order to earn the sticker associated with the training, all participants will be required to complete a 24 hour long Gender Neutral Bathroom challenge. This means that in order for the Resource Center to recognize you as an ally to the trans community, you will have to experience a common trans* experience – locating and using gender neutral restrooms. I took this challenge on Monday. I’d like to tell you about it.

First of all, I clearly walked into this challenge with an advantage. The map and list of gender neutral bathrooms on the UPC USC campus is on the website for the Center that I direct. And I have previously scoped out a few of the listed locations.

When I got to campus on Monday morning, I looked at my calendar and thought “I’m too busy today to do this.” I was staring down the barrel of a 12 hour day with multiple meetings around campus, a training on the Row, and an Ally training with Residential Advisors. And I knew time would be tight. I hadn’t written the training, put together the powerpoint, or pieced together the packets for the evening Ally training yet.

Also, it was over 100 degrees on Monday.

I decided that the very inconvenience and resistance to taking the challenge on Monday meant that I should absolutely complete the challenge that day. The need for Gender Neutral Restrooms doesn’t just happen to folks in Trans* communities on slow paced, easy days, with reasonable California weather.

I can’t think of a better way to describe the experience other than to say it sucked. My office is in STU and there are no single stall gender inclusive restrooms in the building. My two closest options were in TCC and Bovard. I knew I had a meeting in the early afternoon in TCC… so I waited to use that one on the way. By about 11 o’clock I stopped drinking water in order to wait until the 1 o’clock meeting. Did I mention it was 100 degrees on Monday? That’s not a healthy choice.

By the second time I made my way over to TCC in the late afternoon, the only bathroom option for me in the building was starting to not look its best. Gross. So, I decided it was time to switch to my Bovard options.

Before heading to the Row, after traditional work hours, I stopped by the gender neutral restrooms in Bovard. This experience was just outright confusing. The signs on the outside of the two entrances said I had only two choices, male or female. But, I knew better – I had scoped this place out before. I walked in through the female side (habit), and sought to open the gender neutral door. Occupied. There was a single stall, available restroom right across the hall, but that one was for women only -the door clearly stated in its big blue sign. Irritated, I resisted my urge to walk through the forbidden gendered door, went back outside, over to the “men’s” side and found a reasonably clean available gender neutral restroom. Great. The only problem is I hadn’t factored in the extra maneuvering time in my walk over to the Row for the bathroom confusion, so now I was running late.

I don’t spend much time on the Row, and my second training in King’s Hall was also in unfamiliar territory, so I decided after leaving Bovard I wouldn’t use the restroom again on campus. I was scheduled to be on campus until 9PM that evening. 4 more hours. So, again, I stopped drinking water. The colleague I was co-facilitating with was planning to drive us to the Row and back again, so I thought I wouldn’t be in the heat for long.

Life never works as planned. I should know that by now. The fraternity house did not have air-conditioning and I was formally dressed in a suit jacket. Then the first training ran over, so my colleague stayed behind with the Greek gentlemen and I walked speedily back to campus. Fortunately, by now the temperature was in the low 90’s. The last training went great. Another kind hearted colleague drove me to my car which meant I didn’t have to wait for the shuttle, so my commute home was 30 minutes less than I planned. Still it had been almost 4 full hours of very little water and lots of sweating.

Like most residences, my apartment only has one single stall gender inclusive restroom. I was good for the rest of the challenge. And I guzzled water as I walked in the door.

I don’t think my experience with gender neutral restrooms is unique. They are hard to find, often in strange places, with signage that is not consistent. And so, I spent an entire day in mild to moderate physical discomfort. Given the heat, I also put myself at risk for heat exhaustion and/or other related heat issues (I’m not an expert on medical issues associated with heat – I just knew I was really hot and thirsty). I needed good concentration throughout my work day, but I wasn’t doing anything as intellectually challenging as taking a mid-term or final exam. Had I needed all my brain power, I’m sure my physical discomfort would have been a serious distraction.

USC’s UPC campus only has 12 gender neutral restrooms. We are a large campus with a large Trojan population. We need more restrooms that recognize people as just people, and not as male or female.


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