Which gender toilet does a trans person choose? Why does it matter?

A small minority of non-trans people have insisted on making it dangerous to go to the bathroom

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A discussion about unisex loos? Who you gonna call? Why, your nearest trans person, obviously. For toilets and gender are a trans issue, albeit in much the same way that being shot while unarmed is an ethnic issue and suffering domestic abuse is a women’s issue. Note the common factor: the “issue” has been created by someone else, by abusers, vigilantes or bigots of one stripe or another.

For example: in Tennessee in 2012, state representative Richard Floyd declared that he would “stomp a mudhole” in any trans woman who attempted to share a dressing room with his wife or daughters. And as with dressing rooms, so with restrooms; Floyd later proposed a law to fine any trans person $50 for not using the restroom of their birth gender.

This is not a trans issue – it’s an anger management issue, and a bigotry issue. But it is a trans problem, creating an awful dilemma about whether and where to pee. Hold it until you’re back in the safety of your own home (one reason why, historically, many trans people have suffered from urinary tract infections)? Or pick from two equally loaded alternatives: the loo corresponding to your birth gender, where you risk violence or worse; or the one corresponding to your identified gender, where you risk arrest for a variety of public order offences?

Thankfully this issue is now long past in the UK, where bathroom challenges are usually met with a robust reference to the Equality Act. In the US, though, a “Bathroom Bill” is in many states not a helpful restroom attendant but a coded attempt to put transgender back in its box.

Why? I have no idea. I get that there are still debates to be had about gender and sex and biology and genes. But to listen to some people, you’d think gendered loos had a divine right to exist. I must have missed that part of the Old Testament – you know, the chapter where God created toilet facilities. “Ladies and Gents he createthed them.”


Safety is sometimes thrown into the debate. Fundamentalist organisations are exceedingly fond of ratcheting up the alarmism, circulating videos of very obvious men in dresses (in one, the frock and moustache wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s blue movie) sneaking into loos after little girls. Oh, the subtlety!

Except the people most likely to be victims of loo violence have historically been trans and non-binary individuals. Men who rape tend to do so without the need for such complicated paraphernalia; anyone who thinks otherwise has been watching too many crime procedurals.

The bottom line seems to be cultural: some body shame, and a lot of gendered thinking about smells and farty sounds.

I’ll confess that I’m not the most appropriate trans person to comment on all this: I like my segregated spaces at times. I love that the Ladies in some hotels is cleaner and nicer smelling than the lounge – and probably a more appropriate place to have a one-to-one with a friend. But I accept in the end that it is all convention, and that one of two things eventually needs to give. Not because trans people demand it: some do, some don’t. But because a small minority of non-trans people insist on making going to the loo so dangerous.

Either we accept that unisex loos are the coming thing, or we maintain the pretence of binary loos but go with the line taken in a few students’ unions now: that the user of a loo knows their own gender better than you, and it is not for you to challenge it.

As for the limited initiative in California to declare single-cubicle restrooms unisex? Head for the hills, folks, the apocalypse must be on its way.