Letter to the Editor: Gender-neutral bathrooms are needed on campus
As an openly Queer, genderqueer student at SIU, I think my safety should matter. That I, as a human should matter.
After the Daily Egyptian posted on their Facebook the article about the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, I was excited. Then I read the comments.
I read things that mentioned that these bathrooms were “a waste of money,” and “not a legitimate problem.” I was called things like “a special snowflake” for needing these bathrooms and my favorite being told when I defended these bathrooms, “Fuck your safe spaces.”
Thank you folks for showing your true colors.
Not only have you told members of the LGBTQ+ community that we do not matter, but you have made us fear for our safety even more.
See, people who appear to be one gender but identity in another way are essentially force to “out” themselves each time they select a bathroom. Choosing and using a restroom can actually be extremely difficult and provoke anxiety and it shouldn’t be.
I think about why these bathrooms are needed, why they are essential to campus. As a student worker for the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, this is one of the projects I am working on. My former coworker mapped out all the gender-neutral or lockable bathrooms on campus and there are not that many. Currently, I am trying to find a way on how to have these maps available for students who need these bathrooms.
But mostly I think about the times I have walked into a bathroom and I have felt uncomfortable or at times, not gone.
I identify as genderqueer.
I have spent my whole life explaining who I am, trying to get people to understand me and accept me, saying “love me” until my I lose my voice. If you don’t know what “genderqueer” means, today I have made a crash course for y’all that will hopefully make things easier.
For me, genderqueer means that I use the pronouns they/them, wear ties and boxers, choose to be called something else other than my legal name, a preferred name, and I give zero fucks on how I look to you because I am … me. Got the gist of it? Good.
I am me and there are times when I walk into the women’s bathroom and I get nervous. And I shouldn’t. It’s because I’m genderqueer, wear bowties and people think I’m in the wrong bathroom and I’m not because I’m legally a woman. If I could change my certificate it would say “genderqueer” as my gender but one day as a society we will get there. So whenever I use the restroom it feels like a combination of assessing my safety and asking how much I want to push people’s button.
I try to be very responsive, try.
I become like an animal who can smell fear and become aware of all the other people in the room. I start thinking: “Are other people staring at me too long? What do I do? What’s going on? Is it the way I look?” Then I try to leave as quickly as possible. I get uncomfortable with myself. I should not feel like this. I could walk into the men’s bathroom but I am legally a “woman” and God knows what could happen to me if tried to pee in there. Essentially, I’m putting myself at risk when I’m walking into the women’s restroom and I’m putting myself at risk if I chose to use the men’s restroom.
These bathrooms are essential to campus for folks to have a safe space to relieve themselves. Nobody should be feeling ashamed, scared or uncomfortable at all while using a bathroom. Nobody should feel what I feel. I am not the voice of people who identity as me but I know what I feel, I am not alone. Instead, people who have this privilege of not having to worry where they pee have to be less problematic and ignorant.
Using a public washroom isn’t something most folks whose gender identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth ever really think about. This privilege is not shared by trans folks or for people who don’t conform to gender norms. The fear, stress and real potential for violence associated with using gender-segregated bathrooms sometimes can be so great that it can actually limit the participation of folks in everyday life.
Sometimes I think, what if gender-neutral bathrooms were the norm? I mean, I feel they should be. Isn’t there one in your home?
If all bathrooms were gender neutral, then discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ legislation, such as North Carolina’s HB2 law — which was passed in March and makes it illegal for trans folks in North Carolina to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender listed on their birth certificates — would not exist.
I think about all the safe spaces that were eliminated this year in America. After Orlando, why do I need to fear going out in public and check exits of every bar I walk into? I think about what it would feel like if the LGBTQ+ Resource Center did not exist after this year’s election results, or how much I would need it in the next four years.
So next time you tell me “fuck your safe spaces,” also tell me why life does not matter to you.
A massive barrier to feeling welcome at school is not having access to the most basic resources. We know the risks for trans people when they are forced to use gender-segregated bathrooms. The issue of gender-neutral bathrooms in schools doesn’t need more research. What we need is for cis-gender opponents to check their privilege and respect people as people.
For one second, let’s put the issue of funding in the back of our minds. These bathrooms are not going to be the downfall of SIU.
These bathrooms are safe spaces for students in need. Not just students of LGBTQ+ but they also serve for single parents of children and people with disability. Check your privilege, stop being ignorant and I am not a special snowflake for wanting a gender-neutral bathroom.
I have spent the majority of my life telling people, “this is who I am, love me.” I shouldn’t be telling you, “this is who I am, please give me a safe space.”
Les Delgado, a junior from Elgin studying communication studies, is a student worker at the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
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