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Articles > LGBTQ+ June, 14, 2016

The Great British Bathroom Debate: time for unisex loos?

Charlie Botting
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My view on toilets is that they are a place to pee, so why do they need to be segregated by gender or sex? What is the point? I’m not really sure who decided that toilets should be separated in this way, but most people would agree that it would be unacceptable to segregate toilets (or anything for that matter) based on race, so why do it by gender?

unisex toilet sign

Photo by Matthew Rutledge (altered)

I identify as agender, which means I don’t view myself as either a man or a woman. For this reason, I don’t feel comfortable using either the men’s or women’s toilet. Maybe some people will think ‘can’t you just use the men’s toilet?’. Well, yes I can, and yes I do, I switch between both – often I’ll use the mens because it has the shorter cue, although the women’s is usually cleaner and smells a lot nicer.

The other day I decided to use the women’s. However, upon leaving the bathroom I was stopped by a member of staff at my university who asked me if I was aware that I was using the ladies’ toilet. I informed her that I was and, upon being quizzed as to what I had been doing in there, I gave her the rather obvious answer – I mean, generally a person has rather limited options in a bathroom.

Personally, I think it would be easier if more places had unisex toilets. It’s less frustrating for agender people like me who constantly have this internal struggle when we face the toilet doors. It’s also less embarrassing overall, not only for me when being quizzed, but everyone else too – no longer would you make that awkward mistake of walking into the wrong toilet.

Considering that in the UK you are free to use whatever toilet you choose – be it the one allocated for your gender or not – it doesn’t make much sense to separate people according to their biological sex and, from a legal stand point, it doesn’t seem important, either.

Of course, this argument goes beyond just toilets. Take clothes shops, for example – why do we need a men’s and a women’s section? I happen to like clothes designed with the opposite sex in mind, but can I shop in that area of the shop in peace? No, I can’t. I receive judgemental or confused stares instead. Honestly, why does it matter? And, what’s more, how does it affect anyone other than me?

It’s pretty clear to me that quite a few people don’t share my view on toilets (or clothes, for that matter.) I’m not going to deny anyone a right to an opinion, but no one has the right to enforce said opinion on me. And, specifically, no one has the right to try and tell me which toilet I can or can’t use.

In a country such as Britain, which seems to pride itself on being not only progressive but also inclusive regardless of race, sex, gender, disability etc., I think it’s time that certain people changed their attitudes and left their old-fashioned views on transgender issues and segregated toilets behind.

The creation of unisex toilets would make for a far more inclusive society and would help the to break down further barriers between the genders and sexes which some people seem so set on maintaining. Whilst it was acceptable 60 years ago for bathrooms to be racially segregated, today it would be unthinkable and, although it may be acceptable now, I hope that one day it will be just as unthinkable to separate people by their sex or gender.

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  1. Avni Master

    I agree with all of you, but mostly with Issie. She brings up a point. For guys, and i do apologise for this with sincerity, but for guys its just a point and shoot. Like the bowl of a toilet is a target to aim at… And therefore, some people will statistically miss. Yes, there are differences in the male and female anatomy. Yes, we are all humans and make many, many mistakes. Like leaving the toilet seat up (guys…!) and for girls, well we don’t like the red stuff coming out of us, let alone other people and putting that aside, think about what guys will have to deal with if they saw a speck of blood on the toilet seat… Or as ladies experience, no seat or bodily fluids all over the floor. The difference is that men and women have different hygienic needs. It is much easier for a woman to catch an infection whilst in the restroom than it is for men..

    Truth is, I speak from personal experience. One of my previous educational institutes were adamant that there should be no difference between male and female spaces. To do this, the restrooms no longer had doors. They were open. Urinals removed, and cubicles with floor to ceiling doors. It went horribly wrong! We had high hopes for the idea seeing, as Aaron so correctly put it, “Any kind of gender imbalance in today’s society is outdated”. But the problem is that when taught about genders and sexes, you are separated and put with all the girls, or all the boys for that matter. You have no chance to learn about the other gender and what they go through. The pains or the pleasures. All you are taught is that they have junk, and that they are the other half to making a baby.

    So, I guess I’m saying that education needs to change. And only then will people’s views change.

  2. Joshua Name

    That’s a stupid point in my opinion, I completely disagree with you. There is no difference between a black man and a white man, but there is a difference between a man and a woman. First of all, have you ever heard of rape? Most likely not as you seem to be too consumed with being PC and not considering the negatives of unisex bathrooms. Let’s say thirteen men decide to go into the bathroom, and one teen girl. Now what are the chances that there will be no interaction between them? Or thirteen women and one man. There are differences in men and women, but you need to have a brain to know about it. Just to make yourself or a minority comfortable you don’t need to ruin it for the rest of the community that has different ideas. What about Muslims?

    • Charlie Botting

      It’s a shame Joshua that you don’t seem to think a group of males can be trusted around females and that you seem to be unaware that males can also rape other males which could occur in an ordinary men’s bathroom. Just because we have unisex bathrooms doesn’t mean people are going to get raped.

    • Aaron Cahill

      Just because genders are sharing a toilet doesn’t increase the chance of rape. I understand that some religions would be fully against this but I think in every public place there should be a male bathroom, female bathroom and unisex bathroom. That way it accommodates everyone so everyone feels comfortable and know what they are expecting.

    • John

      I have to disagree with you I’m afraid. I have yet to see any data that indicates this kind of thing happening however people keep brining up the threat of rape but can never tell me where they get this data from aside from what they think will happen a according to their view of the world.
      On a personal note I have used unisex toilets in public places and it’s been fine.

    • Scout Wheeler

      At my old school we had unisex toilets, they don’t include a urinal and stalls they are just like mini bathrooms. They have a toilet and sink in each cubicle so you can go in do what you need to do and leave without having to communicate or interact with other people. As a transgender male this made it much more comfortable for me to go to the toilet which is an issue many trans* people encounter. There were no incidents or attacks held in the toilets because we had always known the toilets to be unisex so back to your point of an assault happening, whilst being surrounded in a secondary school full of horny teenagers no attacks or assaults were made in the toilets

  3. Shalina Ryan

    I think…there’s gendered bathrooms for a reason, and it should stay that way. That just makes the bathroom unsafe especially for women and young girls. More chance of being attacked by a man in a shared bathroom, you can’t tell the difference between a man who just wants to use the bathroom and one who would rape you. There are strange men. Use the disabled toilet if its a big issue to you. Women shouldn’t need to comprise their safety because you feel uncomfortable.

    • Aaron Cahill

      I agree with you that there should still be men’s and women’s bathrooms because some people would feel uncomfortable but there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a unisex bathroom too for anyone to use if they wish. I think it’s worth remembering also that rape isn’t always men forcing themselves onto women, boys and men are still as vulnerable and sharing a bathroom in my opinion doesn’t change this.

    • Hannah

      If somebody has rape on their mind I doubt they’re going to be deterred by the stick-figure logo on the toilet door.
      Your comment neglects the fact that men and boys are just as vulnerable to rape as women are. Surely our focus should be on how to prevent rape altogether, not on creating a social taboo that may or may not help reduce rape rates for one gender?

  4. Issie Riley

    I completely agree that in the modern day there shouldn’t be any discrimination between genders, as we’re all humans anyway. The whole unisex bathrooms thing can be seen in the same way as unisex clothing in shops. Being androgynous is awesome, and most people choose androgynous clothing to an extent, but we have to draw the line somewhere, simply as TECHNICALLY males and females have different bodies. While a female mind may feel like they are both or neither male or female, their body type will fit certain clothing. In the same way, females and will have certain rewuirements in the loo. Of course men can use toilets seats, but wouldn’t all us females be complaining about the guys leaving the toilet seat up? And I’m not sure the guys would be happy knowing that a bin full of used tampons was sitting next to them in a cubicle.

    I wish that it was easier to just not care about gender. Most of my friends are personalities to me, not sexes, and I hope that one day that will be the same everywhere, but for the moment, we may need to figure out how we can identify people as humans, not males and females, before shoving them in PC’s together!

    • “I wish that it was easier to just not care about gender. Most of my friends are personalities to me, not sexes…” love this, Issie – what a lovely way to look at it!

    • ....

      While i understand what you’re saying the phrases you are using and your beliefs are transphobic and the bit that ‘I’m not sure the guys would be happy knowing that a bin full of used tampons was sitting next to them in a cubicle’ as a trans man i would be delighted to be able to use a toilet which would provide me with no awkward looks and allow me to do what i wanted in peace. Your statement is invalidating to a lot of trans folk and while leaving the toilet seat up may be an annoyance, there is bigger issues to be faced such as the anxiety and health issues that can come to transgender people due to avoidance of going to the bathroom and how it needs to be a much safer, inclusive place.

      Also, there is no one ‘male body’ or ‘female body’. Two cisgender female’s can have incredibly different bodies meaning that clothes will fit them in different ways, as gender is a spectrum, body types can also be a spectrum, and to assume that this isn’t real and prevalent is contributing to the cisnormative ideals.

      While unisex toilets may not be the perfect idea, they are a step forward in the right direction. Even having unisex toilets as a third option while still including segregated male and female toilets would be a tremendous act in helping many trans people.

  5. Katherine Butler

    I’m a woman and when I saw this title I must admit I initially thought no, some people, including me, would feel uncomfortable doing their business around people of the opposite sex. BUT upon reading into your argument I’ve learnt how additionally stressful it is to choose between the gender toilets for people who are agender. At my previous college for example we had gender mixed toilets in addition to separate male and female. I didn’t notice a change in hygiene between the mixed and separate gender toilets and furthermore, in each cubicle was a sink and mirror so people could privately finish their business without having the option to feel uncomfortable around the opposite sex. With this compromise in mind (to have private little cubicles complete with sink, and/or urinal) I have concluded that yes more gender mixed toilets should be introduced.

  6. Barnaby Nyombi

    I completely agree with you. People won’t like this and they say “we have to draw a line somewhere” and “”there are biological differences” BUT that’s all rubbish. Segregated toilets are uncomfortable and are an unnecessary stress for some, including me. I hate myself every time I conform to be something I’m not but my anxiety stops me from truthfully expressing myself. I don’t want loads of attention, I just hate all this segregated gender pretence. I’m sure many straight men sit next to bins with used tampons in every month that were used by their wife or daughter etc. Men aren’t and shouldn’t be disgusted by women’s requirements. And the toilet seat argument is really scraping the barrel – we are all physically capable of lifting or closing a toilet seat. And personally, as a biological male, I HATE URINALS and cannot pee in them – they are disgusting and I am pee shy, and I sit down for the majority of my toilet trips.

  7. Name

    I think… You’re totally right. Maybe we should design a new toilet for people who do not want tobe regarded as either female or male

  8. Ella Lucas

    I think…that unisex toilets are at the back of most peoples minds and there are far more important issues to be discussed
    People who are transgender, don’t identify as any gender etc. are still the minority and to have unisex toilets would create more questions than it would answer; a whole grey area would be formed (much larger than it is currently)
    I’m not sure how separate toilet areas mean there is ‘discrimination between genders’ either, any ‘discrimination’ due to having separate toilet areas in surely unintentional and the reason why there are not that many unisex toilets is because there are far more effective ways to solve this ‘discrimination between genders’ that make far greater difference as opposed to changing toilet areas
    Personally as a woman I would feel very uncomfortable knowing men could come and go as they please as I suspect many others would also

  9. Ayesha

    I think… You’re totally right. Maybe we should design a new toilet for people who do not want to be regarded as either female or male

  10. Aaron Cahill

    YES! Oh my god, I totally agree with you – any kind of gender imbalance in today’s society is outdated. We’re so similar actually, I’d LOVE to be friends with you. I’ve actually written an article along the same lines which will hopefully be posted soon about how much better ‘girls’ clothes are.

  11. Natalia

    I think it’s quite good idea. Everyone is society should feel comfortable.

  12. Jake

    I completely agree with your point here, as a transgender person myself I often tend to avoid using the toilet in public unless I have to as I have to use the toilet that correlates to my biological sex – causing me and some others to be uncomfortable. As someone who usually looks androgynous, I am often not welcome into either gender toilets. I think introducing gender neutral toilets would be very useful.

  13. Jessica Scott

    I think you’re totally right, and as a cis girl I couldn’t give a damn if I shared a unisex bathroom with a bloke or another gendered person, we are all going in separate cubicles anyway? Sure keep a women’s only toilet and a mens only toilet, but add in a unisex loo: reduces queues and allows trans+ to pee in peace. We need more people to be accepting of the idea and definitely more unisex toilets in public places around Britain.

  14. GB

    What about registered sex offenders,will they also use women’s toilets, anyone comfortable with that? I wouldn’t be if I had daughter. Don’t take your eye off the ball focusing on sex crimes. Same sex toilets would be a Perverts delight. I don’t want anybody to feel uncomfortable using loos for any reason. I whole heartedly agree should be a 3rd way, so lets have that instead of the potential minefield of same sex loos. The issue won’t get more loos it’ll lead to less choice and less toiets especially by cash strapped local authorities and penny pinching builders.

  15. someone

    I dont want to walk into a toilet and see a Dick every time I want to put my lipstick on.

  16. someone

    no I dont agree. you may want to identify as neither gender but you the fact is you still have male or female genitals and that is just the way it is. I personally get annoyed with debates like this as it should even be a debate. men and women. done. I personally get annoyed at the fact that everything as a label too, like why cant everyone just be alive and live. gay straight and bisexual I get cause its talking about who you like to date but when it goes into asexual and non binary and all that I’m just like? dont get why people cant just live.

  17. Laura

    As amazing as it would be to see people not segregated by gender, I still think that there are too many people within society that haven’t been fully educated about gender issues and are still rather ‘traditional’. That’s why I think having male and female toilets as well as a unisex set would be better, as it accommodates everyone’s views as well as religions that might not like genders to be mixed.

    Personally, I see no problem with having unisex bathrooms universally, but I feel like that might be wishful thinking on my part as it’s not really plausible with so may cultural and individual attitudes towards the subject.

  18. Maggie

    I hate unisex toilets, especially after my trouser bottoms touched the pee on the floor

  19. Eli Hayter

    Gender neutral toilets are a big step to make universally, but I think all toilets, men’s included, should have sanitary bins. It’ll just make everything easier

  20. Joshua Smith

    I agree with all of you. Great article by the way. I think having Unisex Public Toilets is a good idea as for starters we have Unisex Changing Rooms at swimming pools and sport centres so why don’t we have them in toliets too it would save a lot of space and there could be more toliets that people can use. But I would agree with Shalina on this because young girls might possibly get scared straight because a boy was in the toliets whilst she was.