Seven months after it’s implementation, MDHS’s gender inclusive facility remains the topic no one talks about.
The 21st century has faced many civil rights movements; first came the campaign for gender equality, then came the struggle against segregation, and finally the battle for gay rights. The next issue on the agenda? Gender identity — fighting for transgender individuals’ rights. Recently the injustice and marginalization implemented against those who identify outside of their assigned gender has come to light, and slowly but surely, the western world has taken steps to become more inclusive of these individuals —and rightly so.
Last year Milton District High School took a significant step towards creating a safe environment for people of any gender identity, and implemented an All Genders washroom, also known as a Gender Neutral washroom. The All Genders washroom is essentially for all genders- including (but not limited to) those who identify as transgender, gender fluid, two spirit, or any other non-binary gender. It also exists to ensure that anyone who isn’t comfortable using their assigned washroom has a safe space. Above all though, it is a washroom facility.
Seven months later, however, and the All Genders washroom seems to be MDHS’ biggest secret. The facility never had much of an introduction—a simple announcement that may or may not have been heard and a mention in the school news—and it continues to be rarely discussed. It does, however, crop up on occasion as the butt of a poor joke. After hearing one of my fellow students chastise another for using the “gay” washroom, then hearing another refer to it as the “transsexual” washroom, I had to wonder if the issue wasn’t that students were unaware of the facility’s existence, but had rather developed a misconception surrounding its actual purpose. I decided to investigate, and surveyed a small sample of the school from various grades to see what they believed the All Genders washroom was for, and also to see how they felt about transgender individuals in general.
My first question concerning the washroom was if the participant knew that it existed. I was surprised to find that 92% responded with “Yes”, indicating that awareness was not, in fact, an issue. When I asked if students could give a brief explanation, in their own words, of the purpose of the facility, the results were also generally positive, but brought to light a few of the most common misconceptions. One person implied that the washroom was simply convenient for “both genders”, effectively eliminating the idea of people who identify outside of the binary. Another said that it was for “anyone who identifies outside the normal genders”, implying that being anything but cisgender would be considered abnormal. Although it is completely understandable that this is a new concept for many, these are the kinds of ideas that continue to make the subject taboo, and that prevent a safe environment.
Nonetheless, the rest of the responses were promising. A fair portion of the participants stated that the washroom is simply for “anyone and everyone”. The majority of the responses centered around the idea that the washroom is intended for anyone who is uncomfortable using their assigned washrooms, indicating that there is a discernible understanding for the significance of the facility. This was reflected in the survey results, since when asked to rank their knowledge on gender identity from 1 to 5 (1 being no knowledge and 5 being very knowledgeable), the majority of participants ranked themselves as a 3, having an average knowledge.
So, why is the All Genders washroom such a secret? If people are aware of its existence and conscious of its purpose, why don’t we talk about it?
Fear. The fear of embarrassment, of harassment, of being uncomfortable or of being labelled.
Only 35% of the people I surveyed have actually used the gender neutral washroom before. When people say that it is for anyone who isn’t comfortable using their assigned washroom, they believe that it is only for people who aren’t comfortable. It’s not that people don’t support the transgender community, but they wouldn’t want to be mistaken as being a part of it. And who can blame them? Being on the frontier of its civil rights movement, gender identity is still a new concept. It has yet to be normalized within our society, and even a title as encompassing as “All Genders” can still represent a label, or establish an assumption. Anyone caught in that washroom could be subjected to judgement, just like the boy I saw who was accused of being gay, effectively eliminating it as a safe space. No one wants to be mistaken as the kind of person that would need to use the facility for any reason other than “using the facilities”, but this group mentality eliminates the possibility of someone who does need it to use it without being chastised, labelled, bullied, or harassed. There is still a stigma surrounding the All Genders washroom—and using it condemns you to assumptions and misconceptions.
We need to get to a point where the groupthink is that the All Genders washroom is for “anyone and everyone”—it needs to be normalized within our school so that the people who use it don’t feel as though they’re singling themselves out. The way to go about this is education. There is obviously a significant level of understanding surrounding the facility itself, but if students were to learn more about gender identity and thinking outside of the binary, a truly tolerant environment could be created. MDHS’ Gender Sexuality Alliance is hoping to implement workshops in the near future surrounding gender identity, so long as the student population is willing to learn.
Introducing new concepts surrounding gender and binary vs. non-binary identities is not impossible—when I asked students how comfortable they would be if one of their peers was transgender, the results were incredibly encouraging. Many people would be comfortable, meaning that a safe environment already exists and simply needs the knowledge and understanding to support it.
Societal change can only occur when society is ready, and I firmly believe that MDHS is nearly there. Establishing the All Genders washroom was only our first step. Now, it’s time to move forward.