There is an on-going and often ill-informed ‘debate’ as to what public bathrooms trans people should be able to access.
More in Common, an international initiative countering social division and polarisation, has published a survey on British people’s opinions regarding gender identity, navigating common ground and division in the country.
The survey found that when specified that trans women had not undergone gender-affirming surgeries, only 29% of British people agreed that they should still be able to use the women’s bathrooms. However, when it was made clear that the trans women in question would have gone through gender-affirming surgeries, 53% of people were in favour. The response became more inclusive when asked about postoperative trans women accessing women’s toilets. In addition, only an average of 20% of Britons support the introduction of more unisex and non-gendered bathrooms in schools, workplaces, and public places. The British public is more inclined to persist with binary toilets, essentially discriminating against anybody who falls outside of the gender binary of man and woman.
The apparent fear, stoked by bad faith actors online and in the media, is that if people are simply allowed to self-identify as trans, non-trans cis males will start using this as an opportunity to disguise themselves as women in order to access women’s spaces, such as public bathrooms. That no data or body of real-world examples supports this theory, which seems to step out of the pages of fantasy fiction, has not deterred the narrative taking hold. Nor indeed the clear fallacy of assuming that predators disguise themselves or are deterred by signposted gender-defined areas, a belief again unsupported by evidence.
It appears, just as with the homophobia and racism that dictated who could access public spaces in the 20th century, that we are seeing a return to discrimination and control of public spaces dictated by fear that has its origins in prejudice and ignorance. That trans people’s access to their public spaces, and to use the bathroom, is up for ‘debate’ is a regressive step.
This prejudiced discourse is predominantly in relation to trans women as they are seen as a threat to cis women’s safety when using public toilets. However, this notion is incredibly discriminatory as it portrays trans women as predatory men, misgendering them, stigmatising them, as well as dehumanising them for asking to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity and within which they feel most comfortable.
While all women do face violence at the hands of cis men, it is often trans women who fall victim to violent crimes for using public bathrooms. Further, there have been many documented cases of trans women being asked to leave the women’s bathrooms by members of staff, and several women have reported being sexually assaulted by cis women in public restrooms. A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law meanwhile found that there is no link between trans-inclusive policies and bathroom safety for cis people – to the surprise of nobody within the community.
There is evidently a clear gap between public perceptions and reality, a gap that is ultimately dangerous and requires immediate addressing.
Accessing safe public bathrooms is a health and well-being issue, and a human right. Using the toilet is an essential health need. The narrative that self-identification will compromise cis people’s safety is dangerous, particularly affecting trans women and girls. It prevents them from accessing any bathroom outside of their home and forces them to ‘hold it in’ until they get there – assuming of course that their home is a safe enough space for them to comfortably use the bathroom.
Not only is ‘holding it in’ uncomfortable but it can also lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI) as bacteria are more likely to sit in the bladder. In some cases, it can become dangerous if urine is held in for long periods of time. People with specific health conditions are at an increased risk of infection or even kidney disease.
This is not some abstract issue, it is a matter of immediate public safety for transgender people. All human beings need to be able to access public bathrooms, and those bathrooms need to be places of safety and security. Trans people by every measure are at the greatest risk of violence when made to use the wrong bathroom, and are the only group society considers it acceptable to deny the use of these public spaces at all. Immediate action is required to dispel the myths and the knowledge gap that drive this discrimination and to ensure that trans women and trans men are able to access their bathrooms safely and without hindrance.