What’s in a Name? Labeling and Gender Nonconformity

I’m dedicating this little aside to a recent injustice my cohort had to deal with, which has led us to action. What’s the big deal about gender neutral bathrooms? I mean, we already have them in a way. The situation that sparks this post involves a conference my cohort played a huge role in facilitating. A major amount of attendees do not play this socially constructed gendered game, so we wanted to accommodate by labeling the single occupancy bathrooms at the location of the conference, “Gender Neutral Restroom,” during the conference. Of course we had to go through red tape, and hit a wall. We kept getting nowhere with the facilities management, who claimed that adding such labels, “prohibits use from the general public,” which is against some health and or safety codes. What ended up happening was chaotic at best, and all gender nonconforming individuals were guided to a single occupancy bathroom inside of an auditorium, behind stage left. This is the ONLY non- gender labeled restroom in the facility I suppose. If they paid the smallest amount of attention to the email conversation, they would have understood that placing a label on a restroom indicating it’s gender openness, is not restricting anyone’s use, but allowing these single bathrooms to be accessible to a larger variety of people. Yes, I know, we are in the South, but why are the facility managers giving such a backlash to the concept of labeling for ONE event? We were not even attempting to get these single stalls permanently changed. Now we are.

I have done some sleuthing about gender neutral public restrooms to try and understand the social climate around this topic. I came upon this article published on Feministing.com entitled, “Gender-neutral Restrooms are Every BODY’S Business.” This piece written by Sesali Bowen discusses an experience that led to discussion of gendered bodies. The point I took from this article is that when one thinks and tries to have gender neutral restrooms, to think about all the issues this might bring. In this author’s case, people were still to be gendered based on their body parts, regardless of the fact that they were trying to be progressive. There is another informative article on bitchmagazine.org all about some of the philosophical issues surrounding this topic. The goal in the article is similar to what I am getting at with questioning the hype and controversy around gender neutral accommodations. Public restrooms have always been a controversial topic, but why such a public backlash? This, to me, is simply pointing out the pathology linked to trans and queer temporalities that our society reifies and perpetuates.

As far as our situation is concerned, we are trying to get a group together to raise awareness about gender nonconformity, trans, and queer communities, and to eventually readdress the issue of placing more accessible gender neutral restrooms in our public spaces. It seems that there are gender neutral restrooms on more and more campuses nationwide, though unfortunately these restrooms were provided after being fought for. If we have to struggle and fight for these safe and confortable spaces for all people in our campus community, we certainly will, although the real issue of the discussion and deconstruction of terms like equality and justice needs to continuously evolve.

What we want on campus:


Is this really progressive? It’s still perpetuating the binary. How frustrating.


More like it I suppose.


About thepsych1

I am a natural progression. As I learn and grow, so does this blog as a reflection of myself. Poetry Art Videos Critique Let's collaborate. Bring your friends.
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3 Responses to What’s in a Name? Labeling and Gender Nonconformity

  1. Ritchie says:

    Great post! Really appreciated the links and candor about the recent events. Hope you and your cohort get the school to change their discriminating trend.

  2. joshuahowitt says:

    I think the problem is that all spaces are also ‘sexed’. Maybe they don’t have signs and labels, but public space and our cities are sexed in a hetronormative way. I.e. the town and city is dominated by straight (often white and rich) men. Gay or queer people can escape these ‘normal’ spaces by going to ‘gay spaces’ (you know – the areas of many cities where there are lots of queer bars etc.).

    In the context of a restroom, it is a nice idea to have everyone use the same space (it works it gay clubs). But in normal spaces, these restrooms would be dominated by straight men who (sometimes subconsciously) will marginalise women, trans people, gays etc.

    In my view, it is the ability to exclude (for example the ability of a gay sauna to exclude women and straight men) that allow a space to serve the needs of those who wish to use them.


  3. bernie84 says:

    Very interesting article!

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