Walking into the bathroom straight into my crush? Or that random hookup the one night? Restrooms are supposed to be one space where I can avoid the other gender, aren’t they?
I consider myself more open-minded than the average person. From participating in immersions, living on the East and West Coasts, and being a huge bookworm my entire life, I’ve experienced and been exposed to a wide variety of people, identities, and perspectives, and I consider empathy to be one of my greatest qualities.
When I heard about the Gender Inclusive Restroom Initiative for Santa Clara University’s Graham Residence Hall, I loved the idea. We shouldn’t live in a world of labels and a person should be allowed to go whichever bathroom regardless of what it says on the door.
However, over the last 2 weeks, I have found myself unconsciously avoiding the new Gender Inclusive Bathroom. Honestly, walking into the bathroom where I could see potentially see my guys friends, a crush, an ex, a random hookup — any guy — makes me very uncomfortable. Although there were extra barriers that blockaded the bottom and top of the stalls, adding extra privacy when we do our business, it’s the contact with the other gender that occurs before and after going into the stall that makes me nervous.
Gender-specific bathrooms have a very definitive culture. It goes all the way back to middle school where us girls would use the bathroom as more than just a restroom for those awkward middle school dance moments when we wanted to avoid slow dancing with the boys or when we needed to talk to our friend(s) in private. Bathrooms were our go-to place, especially since there were not many places at school to have privacy. We utilized the spaces we were given.
As we grew up and transitioned to high school, bathrooms held that same purpose, at Prom or in between class periods. Gender-specific bathrooms are not simply just a place to do our business but they serve as the go-to spot for breaking down in tears, for being honest with our friends, and for sharing our feelings, especially when it comes to talking about the other gender. (You know when girls ask their friend or their entire group of friends to go to the bathroom with her? We definitely didn’t just happen to all need to go to the restroom all of a sudden. This is why.)
Gender-neutral bathrooms erase that gender separation and thus we lose that bathroom culture that we grew up with and have become so accustomed to.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t avoid the Gender Inclusive Bathrooms at SCU, especially since I have class in Graham on Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons right next to the bathrooms (and it's more inconvenient to go upstairs to the single gender restrooms). And so, during the pilot program, I ended up using the Gender Inclusive Bathrooms four times. Walking into the bathroom the first time, I was afraid of running into a guy I knew.
However, nobody was in there, and so I was immediately relieved. As the days went on, I became more comfortable with the idea of a gender-neutral restroom, but that’s only because there wasn’t much restroom traffic during those times. The fourth time, there was another person in the stall, and honestly, I delayed leaving my stall because I didn’t know the gender of the other person which made me nervous.
In theory, I’m very supportive of Gender Inclusive Bathrooms. But in practice, this is a shift in our society and culture that will definitely take time getting used to. It’s weird. Scary. Awkward. New. Unpredictable.
For the past 20 years, I’ve been accustomed to entering the restroom labeled “Women.” The only time I have hated being a girl has been waiting in line for women’s public restrooms. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching men stand in line for the men's restroom, go in, and leave all in the course of 5 minutes while I wait for another 20 minutes.
So there are obvious benefits to having Gender Inclusive Restrooms beyond the gender inclusivity aspect. Moving forward, I believe that I'll be more open to these types of bathrooms. And though it's uncomfortable, there is a beauty in discomfort, of learning to branch beyond our comfort zone and take on new and different experiences. Let's just be realistic: this change in mindset is not going to happen overnight.