There was a time when unisex toilets were a common feature of society. In fact, unisex toilets are still commonplace in countries such as India and China. However, after the Massachusetts approved the labelling of female bathrooms in 1887, other parts of the United States began to adapt the practice by the 1920s. In fact, Gershenson and Penner described gendered toilets as a “modern and Western European invention bound up with urbanization, the rise of sanitary reform, the privatization of the bodily functions, and the gendered ideology of separate spheres”. Bodily functions can remain private if the toilets didn’t have urinals and everyone had to use cubicles. That pales in comparison to the most important factor stated in that sentence: “the gendered ideology of separate spheres”.
If it was perceived as socially inappropriate for a man to share toilet spaces with a woman, it would be a huge problem for queer individuals, because queer individuals aren’t necessarily going to look like what they are expected to look like. If one reversed the thought and looks at things from the queer individual’s perspective, a similar problem would occur. For example, if a transgender man walked into a female toilet, it would make things uncomfortable for both the transgender man and the females, because the transgender man presented himself as male. Unless the transgender man changed his appearance to appear feminine, there was no way he could enter that toilet without making other females in the toilet feel uncomfortable, but that would make him feel uncomfortable instead. Forcing the transgender man to enter a female toilet would be a denial of the man’s human right to express his gender identity.
I spoke to my grand aunt about advocating for the installation of gendered toilets one day, so she asked: “By law, what toilets are they (transgender people) supposed to go into?” I simply replied: “There is no law (that dictates which toilet they should go to).” The cause of the problems of every queer individual when they go to toilets is created by society. It is something that only society’s actions can solve. In this case, the act of building unisex toilets for the acknowledgement, convenience and comfort of queer individuals is the way to go. It is a basic human right for any individual to do their business in an environment in a comfortable place. Besides, let’s face it, holding it in for too long and losing control of the bladder or anus as a result would have caused a bigger issue.
Want to learn more about the history of toilets? Have a look at the source.