It’s Friday, early evening, and you’re enjoying happy hour with a few coworkers in downtown Seattle. After a couple of beers, you decide to head home to get some rest. But before catching the bus, you have to make a trip to the bathroom. You hug your coworkers, wish them a good weekend, and head to the back of the room to find the restroom. As you walk down the hall, a familiar, unpleasant feeling sets in to your stomach.
This is the moment you dread.
Because, you see, you happen to be transgender. And whether you choose the bathroom labeled ‘men,’ or the one labeled ‘women,’ you may face aggressive stares, mumbled comments, and even violence. Just so that you can use the bathroom, like everyone else.
But this time, as you approach, you see a new sign, and breathe a sigh of relief, and the knot in your stomach disappears. The sign on the single stall says: “All-genders bathroom”. You smile.
I work out of the Seattle Impact Hub, a co-working space in Pioneer Square, and they recently installed new signs on one of their single-stall bathrooms:
Why did you install the new “All Genders Bathroom” sign?
Lindsey: We decided to put up the sign because of a long-time member, Mary Joyce. She sent me an email entitled: 'The White House has gender-neutral signage, I think it's time Impact Hub does too.' Very tongue-in-cheek, but she was absolutely right. Honestly, I thought Impact Hub DID have gender-neutral signage already, because we had three Unisex bathrooms throughout the space. Mary and I talked, and she explained that while relegating Unisex bathrooms to the back hallway and basement was a good first step, there's a lot encompassed in language. For example, ‘Unisex’ doesn't connote the same values as “all genders.” I did some research […] and found so much great literature online about gender-neutral language. I was impressed with the resources they shared, and their positivity and eloquence.
Where did you find the sign and explanatory note that you posted?
Lindsey: I ended up ordering three Gender Neutral signs here, and found language through research that helped me draft the explanatory note inside of the restroom. But these signs were also great inspiration!
To dig deeper into the topic, I contacted Mary Joyce, the Impact Hub member who advocated for the signs to be put up, and is an activism consultant, specializing in strategy and digital media use.
Why is it important to include "All Genders" bathrooms?
Mary: As our society becomes more open, people whose genders fall outside the binary are coming out. Yet being transgender is still tremendously difficult. Trans people are more likely to be victims of violence than the rest of the population, particularly trans women of color.
Then there are the daily indignities, like being misgendered by strangers or not being able to find a bathroom. Making trans people's lives a little easier by providing a bathroom in which they will not be stared at or questioned is a basic courtesy all buildings should accommodate. My embarrassment at bringing a trans friend to the Hub, knowing they would feel excluded, motivated me to ask for the change in signage.
Like trans people, cisgender* women like myself are objects of sexism and outmoded ideas of gender that are limiting, frustrating, and even life-threatening. Supporting trans people is part of being a good feminist. We are all seeking freedom from gender-based prejudice and violence.
Gender equality is about everyone, regardless of whether someone defines their gender as the one that matches the sex they were born with (cisgender), different that what they were born with (transgender), or something in the middle.
Well done, Impact Hub, on making your space more welcoming and comfortable for everyone.
- To learn more about trans FAQ, see www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq.
- For more information on trans rights, see www.lambdalegal.org/issues/transgender-rights
- Not quite sure about the meaning of some of the words used in this post? Check out this guide to gender terminology.
- "Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex the doctor marked on their birth certificate. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or someone outside of that gender binary). For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match." --GLAAD
- *Cisgender: people who identify their gender with the sex they were born with; not transgender.
TAKE ACTION: How can you help? Ask your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, gyms, doctor’s offices, etc, to do the same and post “All genders restroom” or similar signs where possible.