Gender neutral bathrooms cause unnecessary panic

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Earlier this year, hundreds of Americans applied for a one-way ticket to Mars with no chance of ever returning to Earth, but when it comes the thought of sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex, many seem to be terrified.

When I moved to San Diego in 2011, I often partied with my roommates. At the time, I was 21 and had just moved from Sweden to California and, needless to say, I was eager and excited. Late one Saturday night, at a dingy dive bar, I went to use the restroom and, as expected, the line for the women’s bathroom was enormous. I decided to use the one available for men.

“Hey! That’s not your restroom,” yelled the ladies in line. Surprised, confused and frankly, a little tipsy, I let go of the door handle and hurried back to my friends. I believe I had just encountered my very first culture shock.

The fear surrounding the topic of gender-neutral restrooms in America needs to be discussed. Why are many afraid of shared bathrooms? This is yet another hurdle to overcome in the fight for equality.

I grew up in Sweden, and the idea of a gender-neutral, well anything, is simply normal to me. From kindergarten to high school, I only experienced gender-neutral bathrooms. Even in public places, such as airports and shopping malls, where gender-specific restrooms often exist, there is still also a third gender-neutral option. I am not sure why, but sharing a bathroom with the opposite sex, although most of us do it in our own homes daily, seems to be a terrifying and too progressive move for many.

SF Gate published an article last week about a San Francisco elementary school that implemented gender-neutral bathrooms. Many people in the comments were furious. “Stop all of the ridiculous nonsense. You go to the bathroom by what equipment you sport,” someone said. “More insanity from the radical progressive left! This entire idea offends me!” someone else said. “Tomboys I understand, but transgender ELEMENTARY school (kids?) (Seriously?)” said a third person.

Are bathrooms really the root of the problem? Or are they a distraction from what we really should be discussing, which is not only gender neutrality, but also gender equality.

Following television shows such as “I Am Cait,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Becoming Us,” it seems a new, gender-conscious movement is taking hold in America.

In Sweden, the question of whether to use male or female bathroom signs is a thing of the past. In Stockholm, my hometown, there are even several gender-neutral preschools, where the use of gender-specific pronouns is prohibited. Children who attend these preschools are treated equally regardless of gender and referred to by their given or chosen name.

I think most people would agree that the notion of separate but equal is not actually equal. Separating people by gender is much the same. We need to discuss today’s existing fear of gender-neutral restrooms, not only to benefit trans identity and expression, but also to help society progress and evolve. The fact that women make 78 cents to every man’s dollar over their lifetime is something we discuss in class and complain about to politicians. Isn’t it contradictory to fight for gender equality while still holding tight to the idea of gender-specific restrooms?

Let’s be honest, it is not about bathrooms. It is about equality, freedom and liberty, all of which America prides itself in exercising. In order to promote equality and a free society in which people can truly be who they are, we need to realize that separate but equal is a contradiction in itself.

Take it from someone who has shared bathrooms with the opposite sex my entire life – it is not scary, it will not hurt you and it will definitely not destroy America.

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