Last January, I was on a road trip across my state. Hours of nostalgic stories and a landscape covered in green for as far as my naked eye could see. I even witnessed few of the most precious sunsets of my entire life during that road trip but the most difficult issue as a non-binary person that I faced during the trip was that of finding safe washrooms on our way. While most places only had gender binary washrooms, I was surprised to stumble across a few spaces that were gender neutral in terms that a person regardless of their gender could access that individually and mind you, I’m from Assam, one of the lesser industrial states of India.
Apart from all the astonishing experiences, I did face occasional mis-gendering and one such affirming experience was when we had to pull over by a roadside dhaba for breakfast and as I was about to enter the washroom, a lady commented that I was in the wrong washroom and the “male washroom” was on the other end of the corridor. That was only one among the many day-to-day incidents that I experience as a gender non-conforming person navigating through binary spaces. Now, it’s quite possible that the person assumed that I was a man due to my baggy clothes and my face mask as people often tend to assume that in public when I’m not expressing myself in a stereotypically feminine way and refer to me as a ‘woman’ only after they see my chest or hear me speak.
Much like any other binary architectural structure that puts people into exclusionary boxes of ‘male’ and ‘female’, washrooms too are created under the same concept; denying intersex/transgender/gender-non-conforming people of their right to self identify. Gender non-conforming people already live in a constant fear of facing un-provoked violence from cisgender folks and forcing them into unsafe environments only so they can access the basic need of relieving themselves is merely inhumane.
Keeping aside the little amount of gender euphoria that I receive from being perceived in a masculine manner, the fact that needs acknowledging is that the concepts of sex and gender are much more deep rooted than what is visible to us on the surface level. Imagine, a whole wide world where people with different gender identities are forced into two categories only, snatching away the agency over their own identity’s existence. As much as I’d like to believe that things are changing, the concept of gender is a colonial idea that invalidated century old expressions of gender non-conformity in many native and tribal cultures across the world. Additionally, we cannot overlook the role of capitalism, which strives in a gender binary world by denying to acknowledge non-binary identities and failing as a whole in creating a safe environment for queer people to exist in. Hegemony of cisgender heterosexual identities and the marginalization of queer identities is not a mere coincidence in a system that would rather monetize queer identities than acknowledging their basic human rights.
The question that is often asked by people who oppose the idea of gender neutral bathrooms is that of gender based violence against people with uteruses and the most important fact to note here is that these violent actions are committed primarily by cisgender men who also happen to be sexist and queerphobic. Queer people are already being forced to navigate unsafe environments which again is primarily committed by cisgender men and the inclusion of gender neutral bathrooms along with binary ones will only create a safe space that individuals can access according to their comfort. Making bathrooms inclusive and accessible for everyone instead of using binary labels to restrict them and collective rejection of stereotypical ideas regarding gender are the only ways forward to acquiring a gender neutral future that could break down the colonial limitations of gender expression.
Queer joy, another important topic that is often left behind while discussing inclusivity, deserves to be celebrated and talked about. As a gender non-conforming person, I can assure you of the euphoria and joy that I experience whenever I’m able to access spaces that aren’t labelled in a binary order is greater than what could possibly be expressed through words. Adapting a gender neutral approach towards heath and hygiene of individuals in educational institutions and work places would promote inclusivity in an ensuring and comforting manner that is affirming of people’s gender identities without assuming that every individual is cisgender by default. Given the choices, young adults would also learn to claim agency over their own bodies; how they wish to express themselves.
In a country like India, individuals claiming agency over their identities itself would be a spectacular change. While the New Delhi Municipal Corporation has decided to provide 'Third-gender' bathrooms for the use of transgender people under their budget for the year 2021-22; such exclusionary terms that fail to acknowledge transwomen as women and transmen as men and entirely leaves out gender nonconforming and Non-binary people out of the discussion does more harm than good by taking away individual choices of self identification and creating s third box to shove people into, as per their genitalia, again.
Inclusive and gender neutral bathrooms could be a radical step forward in ensuring a better environment for everyone to grow up in, regardless of their gender. Not only it promotes the idea that our genital differences doesn’t require a sexist segregation into exclusionary boxes but rather preaches the access to washrooms and sanitation as a basic human right that should be made available for everyone. Children from schools with gender neutral bathrooms grow up to understand the concept on inclusivity in much clearer senses, keeping in mind the requirements and safety of queer and disabled people. Gender neutral spaces in general are a step ahead towards abolishing ideas of stereotypical gender norms that bound people. However, the only way to attain that is by preaching the importance of Comprehensive Sex Education and initiating dialogue around the discourse of gender identities as an evolving idea.
Now, for a moment let’s put aside our physical characteristics and our bodily appearance. Imagine entering a washroom without labels, nobody assumes what your biological sex is, nobody gives you a side eye while you use the facilities, you carry out your own business without intimidating anyone else who’s in the bathroom and voila! Might not sound very impactful but from a queer person’s point of view, they might have just had their best experience while navigating a public bathroom and that’s not even the best part about gender neutral bathrooms because it would depend on your personal experience of accessing gender neutral spaces. Take a wild guess.
P.S- For me it's all those crazy bathroom selfies that I get to click with my best friends when we can all access the same washrooms regardless of our gender.