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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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