To pee or not to pee, that’s the question:
An analysis of how people navigate sex/gender segregated public bathrooms in the Netherlands
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences of the University of Amsterdam for the degree of Master of Science in Sociology
Puck van Tussenbroek – 13858777 Supervisor: Kristina Kolbe Second reader: Margriet van Heesch
Words – 25339
1 Alien Robot Gender Neutral Bathroom Toilet Sign – retrieved from etsy.com
‘Little boy, why are you wearing girl’s shoes?’ I remember very well how I became first aware of gender norms when I was a kid, playing in the playground. Because I had short hair and shiny pink shoes, another toddler was confused and asked me this question. I was confused too, because I did not really understand what was wrong. From as young as I can remember, questions on gender and equality have had my interest personally, which later on translated in the choices I made for my studies. Especially this masters has taught me to stick with the things that do not make sense, to see the strange in the ordinary and the ordinary in the strange.
First, I want to thank all professors and students that have inspired me, enlightened me with new knowledge and helped me develop academically. I want to thank Margriet van Heesch for her inspiring teaching, jokes and knowledge, and for helping me remember that writing a thesis is learning how to write a thesis. I have learned so very much and will never be done learning. I want to especially thank Kristina Kolbe for her supervision, constructive feedback, advice, her answers to my questions, even if the answer was that I should trust myself to make a choice, and even if I ended up making the wrong one. Above all, I am grateful for her mental support which has meant so very much to me.
Secondly, I want to thank all the friends that have supported me throughout this process.
I especially am grateful for Mira who once said “you should really do this masters”, because she was right. I thank all my sociology bachelor friends from Utrecht that always keep me grounded and made me laugh. I want to thank Jan and Lisette who surprised me with oat milk cappuccino and vegan chocolate when I needed it most. I want to thank Maaike, Esther and Isabel for discussing and appreciating the best and the worst parts of life together and not taking it too seriously too when needed.
Thirdly, I want to thank all my participants that have shared their funny, beautiful, heartbreaking, personal and political stories with me. I am glad they have all trusted me with their stories, for without them I could not have done it. As a lot of academic work happens behind a screen, every single conversation reminded me again of why exactly this was important.
Lastly, I want to express how grateful I am for the support of my parents and my sister.
I want to thank them for being there, always. And naturally I want to thank Martijn, full stop.
Puck van Tussenbroek July, 2022
In this thesis, I explore how normatively and non-normatively gendered people in the Netherlands navigate sex/gender segregated public bathrooms. The bathroom has become a key space in which broader anxieties around gender in society are foregrounded. Therefore, it is especially a place of sociological interest to me considering how gender is done, reinforced and policed with its implications on all its users. In this study, I focus on how people (1) navigate public bathroom inequalities in facilities and design (2) do and police gender in public bathrooms (3) approach the contemporary public bathroom debate. My findings are based on 14 semi-structured interviews with cisgendered women, men and genderqueer, trans, non- binary and genderfluid people situated in the Netherlands. By putting in conversation both dominant and marginalized voices, I unravel how toilets form a relief to some and an obstipation to others. I take on a social interactionist approach and draw on queer theory to understand how gender separated public bathrooms and interactions within the spaces constitute of and reinforce gendered in- and exclusions as narrated by my interviewees. Using a thematic analysis, I map out and analyze key themes and discourses which my interviewees employ while making sense of the public bathroom space.
Keywords: public bathrooms, sex/gender binary, gender policing, cisnormativity, heterosexual matrix, queering space
Table of content
1 To pee or not to pee: that is the question ... 5
Introduction to the bathroom question ... 5
Politicizing and contextualizing the bathroom question ... 8
Thesis outline ... 9
2 Background: on how we came to pee separately ... 9
Historical and intersectional perspectives on how we came to pee separately ... 10
The public toilet as a feminist issue ... 11
Engendering bathroom design and interactions ... 13
Theoretical perspective: on bathrooms and binaries ... 15
3 Research Method ... 17
Conducting semi-structured interviews ... 17
Sampling, recruitment and rapport ... 18
Data analysis ... 18
Limitations ... 19
Positionality ... 20
4 Designing inequalities ... 21
Prologue: understanding gender and sexuality ... 21
Navigating binary bathroom signs ... 23
Inequalities in bathroom accessibility ... 26
(Cis)gendering bathroom facilities and design ... 29
5 Doing gender and gender policing ... 32
Mapping gendered bathroom cultures ... 32
Gender policing ... 38
Coping and Queering ... 43
6 When peeing is political ... 47
(De)politicizing the public bathroom ... 47
Toilet activism and making intelligible the right to pee ... 53
Reimagining the bathroom space ... 56
7 Conclusion and discussion ... 62
Appendix A: Study Sample ... 64
Appendix B: Recruitment Post ... 64
Appendix C: Interview Guide ... 65
References ... 67
1 To pee or not to pee: that is the question
Introduction to the bathroom question
How come my father and I can use the same toilet space at home, and must wave each other goodbye when using public toilets? How come I still have to wait in line, while he is already done? On what grounds have public bathrooms become separated on the questionable basis of sex in the first place, and what to do when you do not identify with either of the bathroom options at all? Although the public bathroom space might seem as a natural, self-evident, goal- oriented practicality, I have come to understand it as a gendered space of meaning-making, social conformance and surveillance which becomes increasingly interesting, contrasting and questionable to me.
In the library where I spend most of my time writing this thesis, I noticed something interesting about the use of public bathroom signs. Although I never wear dresses, I still entered the door with the dress-wearing silhouette sign without a single thought. When I was done using the toilet, I passed the elevator on the way back to my seat. The seemingly naked or pants- wearing silhouette figure, the ‘male’ bathroom symbol, was depicted next to the elevator. Since that moment, I always imagine myself walking up to the service point, asking “excuse me, where can I find the ladies elevator?”
What would happen if I put up a ‘women’ sign at the elevator, would we be enraged for suddenly the image of a woman is what is institutionalized as a universal sign of humanity? We were all born naked, however, women have been put on a dress to oppose them to men, in a Western context at least. As philosopher Simone de Beauvoir put it “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” (1973:301). I do not wish to advocate for a ladies’ elevator, I wish to illustrate how the questionability of public bathrooms should not only be the question of a small genderqueer minority to which, ironically, the majority would have to conform by the rising demand for gender neutral toilets. I argue it is a question for all its users. At the same time, I acknowledge how some are more affected than others. I wonder how public toilets have come to be gendered at all, if what we all must do is pee, poo, and wash our hands?
What stuck with me especially about the bathroom signs is the message they portray to those who do not fit in either one of them: there is literally no place for you. At the same time, the criteria that need to be met in order to fit in either one of the boxes are unclear. Even though the bathroom signs most clearly refer to gendered appearance, which changes across cultures and time, they do not divide people based on their clothes per se but based on the underlying, and importantly, the questionable basis of the sex/gender binary.
The bathroom signs symbolize cisnormativity, heteronormativity and carve out the lines for gender policing on the dubious basis of clothes and appearance as signifiers for sex and gender2. This subjects especially queer and gender non-conforming people to gender-based violence and gender panic (e.g. James et al. 2016: Philling 2007: Cavanagh 2010). They often carry the unequal burden of having to mend this gender panic, using various coping strategies such as re-emphasizing certain body parts to claim on one’s ‘rightful place’ in either of the bathroom sides (Mathers 2017: Browne 2004). Even when you are lucky, as one of my interviewees said, not to encounter violence, one is nevertheless prompted to make a gendered choice every time when entering a public bathroom, confronted with binary ideology in which queer existence is unintelligible and unaccounted for.
Various voices rise to abolish binary bathrooms altogether or install more gender neutral/all-gender bathrooms3 (e.g. TNN n.d.). At the same time, counterarguments rise to defend gender-separated toilets. As sociologist Sheila Cavanagh articulated, “those who are ill at ease with transgender and transsexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or intersex people are, ironically posting questions about their own safety, rights to privacy, and access to public washroom facilities in ways that are unique to the present” (Cavanagh 2010:13). In an age of uncertainty about gender identity and the body especially for those who are cisgender (Cavanagh 2010), these questions may reflect fears about the instability of gender itself (Kopas 2012). Thus, the bathroom has become a key symbolic space of attachment to binary gender ideology and the ‘separation of the sexes’ as well as resistance to it. Therefore, these bathroom- specific debates must be read within the wider context of questioning gender.
2 Cisnormativity is the idea that everyone must be cisgender, which refers to people whose gender they were assigned at birth matches their bodies and personal identity (Schilt and Westbrook 2009:461). I will extend on this in my theory section. Although the term ‘cisgender’ has been used to re-emphasize how cisgender is not
‘normal’ but only one of many identities, it has been critiqued for its essentialist implications. Mindful of these issues, I will nonetheless use it in this thesis for it allows me to highlight the experiences of normative and non- normative gender identities.
3 I use both terms, as gender neutral is the most common wording and all-gender is oftentimes preferred as it does not erase or neutralize gender but includes all genders.
Although in the Netherlands an increasing number of gender neutral bathrooms have been implemented over the last decade (e.g. TNN n.d.), the public and political debate is still very much divided on the question of its necessity. What has been institutionalized, is the necessity of sex-separated toilets in work environments (Arbeidsomstandighedenbesluit, 1997). These working laws should contribute to safety, health and wellbeing in relation to labor. What remains unclear is how sex-separated toilets do so, while they can be especially unsafe and detrimental to the wellbeing of non-cisgender people due to gender-based violence (e.g. James et. al. 2016). Laws as such reflect and institutionalize gender norms. As political scientist Heath Fogg Davis (2018:211) argued, “a very effective way of excluding someone from being in public […] is to deny them access to public toilets.”
As the public bathroom is a space in which dominant dichotomous conceptualization of gender is made more concrete than anywhere else in society (Browne 2004:338), I believe it is a site worth investigating. In this thesis, I seek to understand how people in the Netherlands navigate the different inclusions and exclusions proffered by the bathroom as a gendered space, posing the following questions.
1. How do cisgender and queer people navigate sex/gender segregated public bathrooms in the Netherlands4?
a. How do cisgender and queer people navigate sex/gender segregated public bathroom facilities and design in the Netherlands?
b. How do cisgender and queer people do and police sex/gender in gender segregated public bathrooms in the Netherlands?
c. How do cisgender and queer people navigate the public bathroom debate?
By conducting semi-structured interviews and critically analysing my data, I seek to give answers to these questions. As former studies have focussed either on queer bathroom experiences (e.g. Philling 2007), or on cisgender bathroom experiences (e.g. Greed 2019), I provide new insights into what is at stake in the public bathroom debate by including both dominant and marginalized voices. I believe what lacks in current research is a holistic approach in which sex/gender binary ideology is understood as of influence on all bathroom users, however more subtly to some and more bluntly to others. Putting both cis and queer experiences into conversation with the broader public, political and academic debate on the public bathroom
4 I use both the terms ‘cisgender and queer’ as well as ‘normatively and non-normatively gendered’, as the first terms are more commonly used and understood and the second terms more clearly refer to which genders are and are not constructed as the norm.
question can help investigate how possible cisgender attachments to binary bathrooms stand in relation to the violence it exerts on people to whom this distinction might be detrimental.
What is at stake when it comes to the public bathroom question is both its binary divide for all its users and its impact on those who do not ‘fit’ in either one of the two bathroom options. As the public bathroom has become a key political issue on how gender and sex are constructed, experienced and policed in society more widely, it is important to me to find answers to my question. As public bathrooms should first and foremost be a relief, and if it is not, I want to know what makes it a relief to some when it is an obstipation to others. Who benefits of this system, and who does not?
Historically, toilets have “both reflected and enforced societal assumptions about gender and served as important sites for societal change” (Gershenson & Penner 2009:7). Therefore, I will dedicate this thesis not only to further understanding how the sex/gender bathroom binary facilitates and constitutes exclusion, but how it is resisted, queered and questioned too, opening up possibilities for queer joy and reimagining’s beyond the binary. Although my focus lies on the sex/gender binary, I will be attentive to how the bathroom question is an intersectional and historical issue of in- and exclusion based on race, class, ableism and sexuality, too.
Politicizing and contextualizing the bathroom question
Not all understand the public toilet as an issue worthy of personal, academic or political attention. I personally experienced this when being asked about my thesis, which was usually met with confusion. What could possibly be studied in such a self-evident space? Public toilets often stay in the realm of what sociologist Matthew Kopas amongst others have called cultivated inattention (2012). Throughout this thesis, I will be attentive not only of what is politicized and pointed out, but especially of what is normalized, legitimized and depoliticized for it holds just as much, if not more information of what is accepted as normal. The current public and political debate on gender neutral toilets, as well as the body of scholarly work on public bathrooms show us if anything, it is not just a toilet (e.g. Cavanagh 2010: Kopas 2012:
In the United States, the ‘bathroom bill’ that criminalizes the use of the preferred bathroom by transgender people, show how much national politics has been involved with and reinforced gender panic (e.g. Schilt & Westbrook 2015). The need to police especially trans bodies must be read within the wider context of transphobic movements, such as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF). As articulated by philosopher and activist Veronica
Ivy, TERF’s claim “that trans women are men who demand access to women’s spaces (and thus women’s bodies) without their (cis women’s) consent.” (2018:484) TERF-ism has been criticized for misusing cisgender women’s safety and biological determinism as a weapon against trans rights, taking on a position of victimhood while reinforcing the same narratives that subject especially trans people to violence. As it is one of the key discourses in the protection of gender separated bathrooms, I will be especially attentive of these narratives.
Many of the studies cited thus far come from American scholars, as little academic knowledge has been produced on the Dutch public bathroom question. One of the reasons might be especially the naturalized status of gender separation (e.g. Kopas 2012), which itself is often left unanalyzed outside of queer and feminist studies. I suggest that American scholars have been more aware of the socio-political implications of public bathrooms regarding the racist history of toilet segregation (e.g. Sanders 2016). When it comes to Dutch context specifically, I will be especially attentive of contradictions, as the country has been simultaneously perceived as LGBTQI+ tolerant in theory as well as conflicting and conservative in practice (e.g. Hekma
& Duyvendak 2016: Kešić & Duyvendak 2019).
In this chapter, I introduced the bathroom question and emphasized on the academical, political and personal urgence to finding answers to my questions. In the following chapter, I situate my research questions historically and in academic literature to help me understand my respondents’ contemporary experiences within a longer academic, public and political debate of public bathroom in-and exclusion. I elaborate on my theoretical perspective, in which I take on a symbolic interactionist approach and draw on queer theory.
In chapter three, I elucidate the methodology of my study. I elaborate on my sampling, recruitment and rapport, and expand on my data analysis approach. I position myself as a researcher, drawing on philosopher Donna Haraway’s work on situated knowledges to situate my position within personal, political and academic context to become accountable for the knowledge I use and produce (1998). In the following chapters, I present and analyze my findings. In chapter four, I analyze how public bathroom design is constitutive of various inequalities as experienced and narrated by my interviewees. In chapter five, I examine how gender is done and policed in gender segregated bathrooms. In chapter six, I extend on the ways in which the public bathroom debate is navigated and I zoom in on reimagining’s of the bathroom space with its ancillary constraints. I end my thesis with a conclusion and discussion.
2 Background: on how we came to pee separately
In this chapter, I situate the public bathroom question in historical and intersectional perspective and critically review what is known academically on how the sex/gender binary has come to matter in public bathrooms. First, I expand on the knowledge produced on public bathrooms as historical spaces of intersectional exclusions. Then, I critically review how academic knowledge has been developed on binary public bathroom, showing how the feminist question often refrained from questioning the binary itself on the premise of specific female needs and safety. Lastly, I expand on my theoretical perspective and conceptualization of the bathroom as a gendered space of meaning-making. This chapter will help me situate my respondents’
experiences and opinions within a longer historical context of in-and exclusion and within academic theories on gender and sexuality.
Historical and intersectional perspectives on how we came to pee separately
The first case of sex-segregated bathrooms allegedly began in the Parisian upper class (Cavanagh 2010). Public bathrooms had only existed for men until then, as women’s mobility was limited and restricted to the domestic sphere. At that time, “womanly virtue resided in piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity” (Welter 1966:151). Binary bathrooms long enclosed and protected especially the idea of ‘respectable’ upper-class, white femininity. This shows how bathrooms were built on sexism, classism and racism.
As sociologist Sheila Cavanagh articulated, “the gendered logic of toilets must […] be understood in terms of white settler colonialism, capitalist consumer culture, heterosexuality, gender, disability and class-based exclusions” (2020:173). She emphasizes how gendered toilets have been used by white settler colonial nations to divide people on the racist premise of modernity and civilization, because a more gendered society would equal to a more respectable, civilized one. The sex/gender binary and the ideological opposition of men and women itself has been understood as a Western construct which has been imposed on people
of color (e.g. Oyēwùmí 1997: Herdt 2020). Moreover, European designed toilets were understood as superior to indigenous squatting toilets, even though they are costly and wasteful (Anand & Apul 2014). Differences across locations, time and cultures highlight how the sex/gender binary itself is no ‘natural’, universal phenomenon, and public bathrooms, therefore, are not natural nor self-evident, but a socially constructed space of in- and exclusion with wider implications on how norms around gender and sexuality are constructed and regulated. Thus, regulation around toilets must be read within larger systems of regulation around race and gender.
In the United States, toilets have long been used to segregate people of color because of the racist fear and oppression of black bodies (Sanders & Stryker 2016). Race and class still come to matter in public bathrooms, as genitors are often paid minimum wage and disproportionately represent lower classes, racial minorities and immigrant populations (Anthony & Dufresne 2007). Class-based exclusions are visible through ‘customers only’- policies, which makes capitalist accumulation a condition for toilet accessibility (Cavanagh 2020). Homeless people, who depend most on ‘public’ toilets, are often denied access directly or indirectly by the increased number of paid toilets in train stations (Anthony & Dufresne 2007). Moreover, the ongoing struggle for differently abled people to access public toilets depict how ‘public’ toilets must not be mistaken for universally accessible, for some people are deemed more ‘public’ than others.
Adequate toilet provision still is a global political issue, especially for those who cannot just ‘go anywhere’ like cisgender men often can. According to the UN, one in three women lack access to safe toilets, even though safe sanitary is a human right (UN 2014). Although the UN is prone on safe sanitary as a human right, safety for trans, non-binary and other non- normative gender and sexualities is not as often considered. This comes to show not everyone is included in the terms ‘public’ and ‘human’ when it comes to human rights on sanitation, and human rights as a whole. What could be more dehumanizing than not being included in the right to pee safely? Throughout my thesis, I will be attentive of intersectional exclusions, and reflect on how they come to take shape in the Dutch context of feigned tolerance.
The public toilet as a feminist issue
When women in Europe started entering the labour force in the late 19th century, separate public bathrooms for men and women became common practice. Before that time, there were no options for women to be found, for they were supposed to be at home (Kogan 2010). As Clara
Greed, emerita professor of inclusive urban planning, articulated, ‘the lack of toilet provision for women, as many feminist writers have long argued, was no oversight but part of systematic restriction of women’s access to the city of man’ (2010:121).
Like public bathrooms, many separate facilities were installed for women made up the
‘weaker’ force in need of ‘protection’ and were to secure their ‘proper’ position opposed to men (Kogan 2010; Sanders & Stryker 2016). Although binary bathrooms are built on sexism and gender panic (e.g. Mathers 2017), they have similarly been viewed as an emancipatory feminist political issue to push for basic provision of women’s restrooms in public so that women could become students, consumers, and workers (Kogan 2010).
Feminist scholarship confronted patriarchal planning ideologies (Patel 2017: Anthony
& Dufresne 2007) and demanded a consideration of female concerns, such as menstruation, in a male dominated world of city planning (e.g. Ramster, Greed & Bichard, 2018). At the same time, separate public bathrooms uphold the idea of opposition and distinction by reinforcing the idea that women should change diapers, men should pee standing up and queer people do not exist or should conform, to name only some of the gender norms that public bathrooms reinforce (e.g. Anthony & Dufresne 2007). Still, discourses of female needs and safety are used to protect gender separated toilets, even though the reason women would be safer in binary bathrooms is especially because of the ability to avoid violent male behavior, which is unlikely to be solved by reinforcing gendered oppositions (e.g. Kopas 2012).
In general, heterosexual men tend to be the least comfortable with people violating gender norms (e.g. Bosson, Prewitt-Freilino & Taylor, 2006). A study in the field of group processes and intergroup relations further examined if women’s support for transgender access to bathrooms depended on whether they viewed trans women as a threat to women as a category (Outten, Lee & Lawrence 2019). Although only a small group of women echoed ‘real’ TERF narratives, many cisgender women express some aspects of protectionism towards the female category at the expense of trans women’s rights. Interestingly, the very category that has been used to oppress women is now used to re-entrench women’s rights.
In feminist scholarship, especially the gendered bathroom separation itself has shown to be a persistent and often unquestioned norm. While the public and academical debate has shifted towards the issue of trans, queer, non-binary and other gender-nonconforming accessibility, it seems as if we are less occupied with the notion that the gender binary itself is discriminatory and questionable too. As sociologist Matthew Kopas argued, “our deep attachment to the practice is thus hidden until separation is threatened in some way” (2012:5).
Engendering bathroom design and interactions
Binary bathroom constructions create and sustain gender inequality in various ways (e.g. Davis 2018). The biggest distinction between what we call ‘male’ and ‘female’ bathrooms often consists of the absence or presence of urinals. Interestingly, in one study, around 40% of cisgender men indicated they did not prefer to use urinals due to anxiety or ‘pee shyness’ (Davis 2018). Still, urinals grant men a great advance. Public bathroom floor spaces are of equal size for men and women (Perez 2019), which is often formalized in plumbing codes. This results in more men being able to use the toilet at the same time than women by the use of urinals. To me, this is especially an example of how the idea of equality is in practice unequal.
Ironically, there seems to be a persistent tendency to continue to blame women themselves rather than the male-based design (Perez 2019), for women would be slow and would have to pee more often. The naturalistic fallacy of the gender binary has become so ingrained that we more easily understand women as ‘naturally’ slow then understand the bathroom space as constituting of this difference5. What this illustrates, is how the public bathroom divide is legitimized by and reinforces the idea of the ‘natural’ opposition between men and women, which creates and reinforces social inequality.
This opposition between men and women can without much difficulty be labeled as
‘natural’ for we have forgotten how we have learned to fit it. From the earliest stages of life on, worries about gender normality are transmitted by parents to children (Cavanagh 2020). The way we position ourselves while peeing is gendered, exemplified by toilet-training instructions which reassure parents that sons will without a doubt learn to stand at the urinal. In ‘Take A Seat Boys!’ LGBTQ researcher Nanette Gartrell wonders why we train boys to urinate standing up, even though when they have grown up, they still fail in keeping the toilet seat clean for the next user (Gartrell 1995). Gartrell describes how teaching boys to stand up exemplifies anxieties around ‘fitting in with other boys’. Anxieties around masculine urinary behavior expands beyond dirty toilet seats and masculine belonging and exemplifies how gender panic is especially invested in the continuation of binary gendered characteristics and practices. The idea that a ‘real’ man should stand to urinate underlies, for instance, the drastic medical maltreatment of intersex boys whose pee hole is not at the exact tip of the penis (Orr 2019).
5 The naturalistic fallacy equates what exists with what ought to be (e.g. Smuts 1992). Not only has it been criticized for its selectivity in what is to be called natural, but it has been criticized for its normative implications on that which it to understood as natural must be ‘good’ and that which is not to be understood as natural must be ‘bad’.
Sociologist Sheila Cavanagh was one of the first academics to write an extensive piece on queer public bathroom experiences (2010). In her study, she found that people experienced violence in public bathrooms, such as beatings, harassment and police arrests. Bathrooms were perceived as unsafe, especially because “non-trans people invested in heteronormativity want bodies sorted into oppositional categories – male and female” (73). Cavanagh emphasized on how both sexuality and gender identity came to matter in public bathroom spaces, arguing that “obsessive investments in urinary segregation by gender is about a perceived threat to sexual differences and to heteronormativity” (2).
Various studies have mapped the prevalence and many-sidedness of experienced gender policing. It ranges from experiencing discomfort for having to pick a gendered bathroom side and facing denial of appropriate bathrooms at work (Factor & Rothblum 2008: Grant, Mottet
& Tanis 2010), to avoidance of public bathrooms, refraining from eating and drinking and being called out or sent away for using the ‘wrong’ bathroom (James et al. 2016). Less common but very intrusive is the (sexual) intimidation and violence experienced by queer and gender non- conforming people, as well as the health problems concerning their kidneys and Uretha. In this light, the importance of gender neutral bathrooms for feelings of safety and inclusivity is highlighted (e.g. Porta et al. 2017).
Not only trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming people face gender policing.
English professor of social and cultural geographies Kath Browne, for instance, showed how masculine cisgender women in public bathrooms were often asked if they were in the ‘right toilet’, were accused of being male trespassers, or were kicked out by nightclub staff (Browne 2004). Browne coined the term ‘genderism’ that entails all verbal, non-verbal and physical violent behavior based on the alleged trespassing of gendered norms, which I will also use throughout this thesis. The women interviewed by Browne used various strategies to avoid genderism. Some tended to avoid public bathrooms at all. Others tried to reaffirm their rightful place in the women’s bathroom by pointing to their breasts, of which Browne argued that
“women who challenge normative assumptions of ‘women’ are read as men can look to their bodies in order to (re)place themselves within the category ‘women’ and thus be intelligible.
Bodily parts are seen as ‘proof’ of one’s position as a man or a women” (2004:341).
Canadian social justice and equity scholar Danielle Philling built on Brown’s work to study the experiences of (gender)queers in women’s public bathrooms (2007). Philling highlights the importance of both gender and sexual performativity as a basis for discrimination in women’s public washrooms. As one of her participants articulated, “I don’t know how you could separate my gender from my sexuality. It’s all interconnected. Am I harassed because I
appear to be a dyke? Am I harassed because I appear to be native? Am I harassed because I appear to be just a woman in general? How can you really tell?” (93). In line with Pilling, I will be attentive of how intersections of genderism, homophobia, racism, sexism, classism and ableism are foregrounded when thinking about the public bathroom as a space of exclusion.
Research on this topic has not yet been specified to the Dutch context, and has often lacked a holistic approach when it comes to understanding the bathroom as a question to all. In this thesis, I aim to give insight in whether similar patterns of gender panic play out in the Netherlands, in which I expect a more hidden sense of binary attachment to be foregrounded for the Netherlands portrays as a predominantly tolerant country to which interviewees might want to comply while holding similar fundamental beliefs. As anthropologist Gloria Wekker articulated, “it’s strong attachment to a self-image that stresses being an innocent and just, small ethical nation, being a victim rather than a perpetrator of violence.” (2016:49). Even though Wekker focusses on race, the Dutch paradox of tolerance – as I will show - very much obscures the view of gendered, class-based and other exclusions too.
Theoretical perspective: on bathrooms and binaries
After having situated my research in broader historical and academical perspective, I now further elaborate on the theoretical lenses I use in order to answer my research questions. I take on a symbolic interactionist perspective, and draw on gender studies and queer theory. A symbolic interactionist approach will help me understand how humans react based on the meanings they attach to things, such as walking through the ‘right’ bathroom door (Blumer 1986), and will help me understand both meanings are derived from and arise out of that very social interaction.
In this light, I understand binary bathrooms as a gender interpellation, which calls upon us to recognize a certain door and space being meant for us, based on the misrecognition that our gender is something given and fixed of which certain traits and behaviors must follow (Kukla 2018). I will be especially aware of incongruencies. For instance, bathroom signs do not necessarily represent the biological determinist discourse, in which the depiction of a penis and a vulva would have been more applicable. They resonate more closely with American philosopher Butlers’ concept of gender performativity; the way gender is expressed and becomes interpretable (or uninterpretable) to others (1990). Especially this concept will be key in analyzing the way my respondents do and police gender in public bathrooms.
When it comes to the definition of sex, I draw on Butlers’ work Bodies That Matter (1993), in which sex is defined as “an ideal construct which is forcibly materialized through time” (12). When walking into a bathroom with a dress on the sign, one’s body is materialized and identified by this sign as female. It can also fail to materialize. A person who does not identify with either of the signs, or who does identify with one of them but is considered not ‘masculine’
or ‘feminine’ enough to do so, is considered unintelligible, abject, failing to materialize within the gender binary. I deliberately use the words sex and gender interchangeably for I believe the two to be highly intertwined and similarly socially constructed. As Butler states, “sex is already gendered” (1993:11). I draw on the work of Butler to help take on a critical stance towards taken-for-granted knowledge on sex and gender, challenging its essentialist and deterministic implications (1993 1990).
Queer theory more broadly will similarly help call into question conventional understandings of gender and sex in the public bathroom space by deconstructing the categories and oppositions that sustain them (Jagose 1996:97). I understand queer as “a relation of resistance to whatever constitutes the normal” (Jagose1996:99), in which the normal in this case constitutes of the heterosexual matrix and the sex/gender binary that is institutionalized in public bathrooms. The heterosexual matrix, as defined by Butler, is the “hegemonic discursive/epistemic model of gender intelligibility that assumes that for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses female) that is oppositionally and hierarchically defined through the compulsory practice of heterosexuality” (1990:151).
As sociologist Kyla Bander-Baird articulated, “sex-segregated bathrooms are technologies of disciplinary power, upholding the gender binary by forcing people to choose between men’s and women’s rooms” (2016). Heteronormativity and cisnormativity are important interlocking factors of this disciplinary power, as it renders both non-cisgenders and non-heterosexuals as alien, exposing them to gender policing and gender based violence.
Cisnormativity can be understood as “a hierarchical system of power that structures legal, administrative, and policing systems, produces the “hypervisibility” of gender variance”
(Collier & Daniel 2019:1). Heteronormativity refers to the idea that there are only two genders which reflect binary biological sex, in which only sexual attraction between these opposites is natural (Kitzinger 2005). I will be especially aware of instances in which these structures are shown, normalized or resisted.
3 Research Method
After having contextualized my research within broader gender scholarship and theory, I now set out and reflect on my methodological approach. I first extend on my data collection method, elaborating on my choice for semi-structured interviews. Then, I reflect on my approach to sampling, recruitment and rapport. I lay out the interview process and data analysis. Finally, I position myself as a researcher to become accountable for which knowledge I use and produce.
Conducting semi-structured interviews
In order to understand how people navigate sex/gender segregated public bathrooms in the Netherlands, I conducted semi-structured interviews. I created an interview guide that allowed me to structure my interviews while leaving space for probing and openness to new topics and experiences (see: App. C). Semi-structured interviews as a research method are valuable as they allow me to explore subjective viewpoints and gather in-depth accounts of people’s experiences (Flick 2009). For experiences are the main focus of my study, I deemed one on one interviews to be suitable. Especially those having had negative, unpleasant or violent experiences might be less willing to share their experiences in a group setting.
I chose to take on an informal contact style to increase the likelihood of interviewees feeling comfortable talking to me. After every interview I asked how the interviewee had experienced the interview, if it had been different from their expectations and if there was anything they especially did or did not appreciate and what I could have done differently.
Similarly, I asked every interviewee if they wanted to pick an alias for themselves. Some did, some left the choice to me. Some especially asked me to pick a gender neutral name.
The introduction I have written served as my guideline, however, the way and order in which I discussed these formalities were changing every interview (see: App. C). Throughout the process of interviewing, I regularly revisited my interview guide to reflect on my questions to add, rephrase or revise questions. In doing so, interesting preliminary findings could inform further exploration in the following interviews.
Sampling, recruitment and rapport
I interviewed a total of 14 respondents, of which 5 queer, non-binary, trans and genderfluid people, 9 cisgendered people of which 5 women and 4 men. In Appendix A, I visualized my sample when it comes to age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and ‘most occupied with’. I do not perceive these categories as fixed or as entrenching any outcome. However, it gives a broad overview of how my interviewees identified and what my sample might lack, such as diversity when it comes to ethnic identification and age. Although my focus lies on how sex/gender comes to matter in public bathrooms, a diverse sample ideally is sensitive of intersectional experiences of in- and exclusion.
To find participants, I used convenience sampling. I recruited participants through my personal network which was the least costly in terms of time, effort and money, which was most suited for this thesis study. I anticipated a large response from especially cis women and some response from cis men and a smaller number of responses from queer people for my network consists mostly of cis people. Therefore I chose to notify various institutions through Instagram and e-mail about my studies, focussing especially on institutions and organisations that were likely to be run by or have various queer contacts (see. App. B).
I noticed some resistance within myself to ask people I directly or indirectly knew to identify as queer, for I did not want them to feel like the ‘token’ speaker. Eventually, my sampling method turned into a snowball sampling when participants started to recommend participation to people they knew might be interested. Especially for sensitive issues, of which the bathroom question can be perceived as one, this method can be well-suited (Biernacki &
Waldorf 1981). The downside of this way of recruitment is that it is likely to stay within the realm of close contacts which decreases the likelihood of attracting a diverse sample, and increases the likelihood of attracting people who are already invested in the topic. In the next section, I will reflect on the interviewing process and elaborate on my data analysis.
After the interview process, I transcribed the interviews using ATLAS.TI for open coding, using codes such as safety, hygiene, queering space, gender policing and inattentiveness. This allowed me to conduct a thematic analysis on the recurring themes, analysing themes of interest while identifying new themes (Evans 2018). As humanities scholar Ceryn Evans states, thematic analysis is especially suitable “if you are interested in examining the way that people
make meaning out of their experiences, as well as how they construct their social worlds through meaning making, but also want to retain a focus on the ways in which these experiences will be informed by their material experiences and contexts” (2018:3). This approach is especially suitable as I will not only examine the way people make sense of their bathroom experiences but similarly take their experiences with the bathroom as a material space of in- and exclusion as a sociological account in itself. Informed by my epistemological and theoretical background, I will especially be attentive of narratives of bathroom inattentiveness, narratives of naturalness of the gender binary, cisnormativity, heteronormativity, (de)politicizing of the bathroom space and counter-discourses that resist or queer dominant gender discourses.
Saturation can be harder to reach when focussing on multiple gender identities, as I did, as opposed to focussing on one. However, while public bathrooms make up such a specific location, I found sufficient recurring themes to thoroughly analyse. Moreover, while the interviews lasted an hour or more, most interviewees believed they had extensively expressed their experiences with public bathrooms. What the semi-structured interviews offered is a variety of public bathroom experiences and accounts, of which the gender binary construction and its effects are the constant factor that all had encountered and made sense of in various ways and places. The downside is similarly the account of various bathroom locations, which makes the experiences less specific to time and space. However, as most interviewees were based in either Amsterdam or Utrecht, many interviewees had similar descriptions of bathrooms they had encountered. Moreover, I asked all interviewees which bathrooms they used most, where they were located and what they looked like. Hereby I could contextualize their experiences and understand how, where and why construction, social setting, design, time or place comes to matter.
As already mentioned, my sample lacked diversity especially when it comes to age, ethnical identification and class. This might be due to lack of diversity in my network and lack of means to extend recruitment possibilities for the scope of this thesis. In the next section, I will elaborate on the concept of positionality and what it has come to mean during my current study.
In this section on positionality, I will reflect on what parts of me, my experiences and my knowledge have come to matter during the conducting of my research. I understand my former chapter as an important part of positioning, for the historical and theoretical framework informs through which epistemological lens I will come to make meaning of my participants stories.
This lens I understand as co-constructed by me, my participants and the scholarship I draw on.
Following philosopher Donna Haraway, I want to go “beyond showing bias in science, and beyond separating the goods scientific sheep from the bad goats of bias and misuse” (1988:578).
I take on Haraway’s approach of situating my knowledge, to be accountable for the lens through which I approach and co-construct interviewees partial realities. As Haraway articulated,
“feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object. It allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see” (583).
To me, this means I am never only a ‘researcher’, ‘cisgender woman’, or only a ‘white Dutch’, neither do they have the same meaning in every context. Moreover, ‘situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals’ (590). This goes not only for my interviewees, but for myself as a researcher. I believe positionality and knowledges to be co-constructed. Different aspects of position come to matter in different manners depending on the context and social interaction. For instance, some of my interviewees created a certain understanding with me, referring to “our bubble” (Jordan) as a space of heightened awareness and tolerance towards gender diversity. Others created a certain distance towards me, saying
“you wouldn’t notice” when talking about urinals (Peter), in which our genders became juxtaposed. Throughout my analysis, I elaborate on some important instances out of my interviews in which my positionality became foregrounded as a significant co-constructor of what is being made sense of. In the next chapter, I explore how my participants navigated the sex/gender binary within the public bathrooms space, design and facilities.
4 Designing inequalities
Since the writing of this thesis, I saw the bathroom space with a heightened awareness of gendered implications. One instance was especially etched in my memory. I was camping with my boyfriend somewhere in the Netherlands. An ironing board was hanging on the wall of the
‘women’s’ bathroom space. I asked my boyfriend if there, too, was an ironing board hanging on ‘his’ side. There was not. I couldn’t help but wonder where the ironing board would have made more sense, for clothes stereotypically designed for men need ironing more than those for women. And who is expected to do the ironing here? Even though such an observation might seem insignificant, to me, it shows how binary bathroom design and facilities are built on and reinforce traditional gender norms. As cultural studies professor William Cummings emphasized, “bathrooms … accentuate otherness” (2000:271).
I therefore explore in more detail how the sex/gender binary comes to matter within the public bathroom space, design and facilities as experienced by my interviewees. Before I come to the analytical core of this chapter, I start with a prologue which sets the stage for the rest of this chapter. Here, I map out how my interviewees conceptualized gender and sexuality, which helps understand their perspectives on sex and gender in the bathroom and its ancillary inequalities. Next, I expand on how binary bathroom signs were navigated, and how interviewees either naturalized is gendered implications, or pointed out and criticized them.
Finally, I elaborate on the effects of cisgendered, sexist and male-favored bathroom design and facilities as narrated by my interviewees.
Prologue: understanding gender and sexuality
To come to understand the intertwinement of personal perceptions of sex and gender and the (in)attention to gendered bathroom inequalities, I lay out how gender and sexuality was conceptualized by my interviewees. First, gender was often considered static and self-evident, especially to cisgendered people it was understood as ‘simple’, while they related non- normatively gendered to confusion and struggle. This idea is illustrated especially by the following account.
‘I don't really like ‘gender identity’ that much. […] I understand that for some people it is more of an issue if they don’t know it very well themselves.’ – Brad
This quote is illustrative of how the term ‘gender identity’ is often understood as designed for
‘those who don’t know’. Brad especially supplemented his perceived self-evident identity by biological notions of sex, hormones and the ability to have children. Peter similarly expressed such self-evidence, saying “for me it's just very simple, when I look in the mirror I know how things are” which strikingly shows how it has become very clear which cultural codes are read as ‘male’ and ‘female’, making it easy for those who conform to understand their identity as
‘natural’ and ‘fixed’ while rendering those who do not follow the codes as vague or struggling.
Gender was often understood as more of a social construct, whereas biological sex was seen as static and ‘factual’. As Judith Butler states, however, “sex is already gendered”
(1993:11). The notion that sex is not already gendered underlines the endurance and perceived naturalness of the binary biological sex categories as pre-human and pre-interpretation.
It is noteworthy that trans, genderqueer and nonbinary people linked struggle to the misunderstanding of others rather than to being non-normatively gendered in itself. These disparities come to matter when understanding the bathroom as a space of cisnormativity. It speaks to the question of trans and nonbinary people as being vulnerable, which seems static and unchangeable, or being made vulnerable in a binary system.
Second, especially queer people mended their sexual or gendered identity to become intelligible in dominant language. Luke for instance, said “if people have never heard of the concept then I'm bisexual for convenience.” The term bisexual does not do right to Luke’s sexual identity as pansexual, a term that does resist thinking about attraction in binary genders.
As I will show later, having to make intelligible queer identities and its ancillary bathroom experiences to others was a recurring theme.
Third, while gender identity was perceived as rather static, sexuality was approached with a greater sense of openness. This constitutes not only of more freedom to identify oneself as queer when it comes to sexuality, but also constitutes of more empathy towards sexual diversity of others. Sexual diversity seems to have become much more normalized, at least in theory, as opposed to gender diversity. Identifying as other than cisgender when one does not experience gender dysphoria shows how the gender binary, perhaps more so than heteronormativity, is experienced as a very much ingrained, stabilized and enduring category that is only to be deviated from when deeply felt so. This became entangled with a reduced capacity to understand or empathize with non-cisgender experiences. As illustrated by Peter,
‘for some reason it's easier for me to empathize with the fact that you could also be gay. Because I don't have any experience with that [trans experiences] myself I find it very difficult to empathize.’
Fourth, binary language and thinking were persistent throughout the conceptualizations of non-normative identities. In this following quote, Jordan expresses how they resist and reinforce binary gender norms at the same time.
‘It is very funny, because gender fluid actually means: I don't care. But I really fall into those stereotypes of man or woman [...]I feel like I'm doing it kind of wrong or something. Well, of course you can't, because it's my own thing.’
Jordans expressions, even as they challenge the way we normatively understand sex and gender, simultaneously remind us of what it means to be ‘female’ or ‘male’. Especially this is what makes the interviewee feel as if they are doing something “wrong”. Even though it is their “own thing”, they reinforce certain stereotypes they wish to resist. As gender studies professor Jack Halberstam articulated, “the very flexibility and elasticity of the terms ‘man’ and ‘women’
ensures their durability. To test this proposition, look around any public space and notice how present formulaic versions of gender and yet how few are unreadable or totally ambiguous”
Static views of gender, having to make intelligible queer identities and experiences and the difficulty to express oneself outside of gendered terms were recurring themes throughout interviewees accounts of identity. These findings come to matter for understanding gender separated bathroom experiences, for it is a main site of gendered politics in which understandings of the gendered self and others come to matter. In the next section, I expand on how interviewees experienced, made sense of or resisted the binary and cisnormativity in the navigation of public bathrooms signs.
Navigating binary bathroom signs
Binary bathroom signs are an explicit manifestation of gendered binaries and segregation (see:
App Fig. 1). Three recurring narratives can be distinguished in the perceptions of the signs.
First, almost all participants called the signs outdated and stereotypical. Secondly, some were actively reimagining or queering the signs, exploring their possibilities beyond the binary.
Third, almost all participants similarly accepted them and legitimized them as universal toilet
signs under the discourse of pragmatic clarity, learned behavior and universality. First, I will show how the signs were read as outdated. Lisa, for instance, described in detail how the silhouettes display stereotypes on masculinity and femininity.
“I see quite a stereotypical woman with a dress on [...]. The man has very broad shoulders and the woman has sloping shoulders and much thinner legs which makes you think why they did that?”
Stereotypical ideas on male and female clothing and bodies were undoubtedly recognized in the signs. These ideas not only reinforce binary associations around gender, but also inscribe certain ‘appropriate’ characteristics around femininity and masculinity. For example, Luke recognized the notion of ‘thin is beauty’ in the legs of the ‘female’ silhouette, showing how the female body is to be skinny whereas the male body is to be muscular.
Three women mentioned how they resembled the ‘male’ silhouette more because they usually did not wear skirts or dresses. No cisgendered men recognized themselves in the female sign at all. This comes to show how only the male figure is to be recognizable as universal sign of humanity. As philosopher Monique Wittig wrote “… indeed there are not two genders. There is only one: the feminine, the ‘masculine’ not being a gender. For the masculine is not the masculine, but the general” (1983:64). Even though contested by Butler for its essentialist claims, the idea of the man as default has indeed shown persistent in the toilet cistem6, rendering women and queer as ‘other’ and less likely to be accounted for.
Even though women recognized themselves in the male symbol more, they recognized undoubtedly that the dress-wearing silhouette referred to them. As Kukla emphasized, “pretty much the only thing that members of a gender consistently share is that we recognize such gendered interpellations as aimed at us and give them uptake” (2018:14). What I find striking is how even though the strangeness is recognized, it is still undoubtedly followed, speaking to a broader development of questioning binary worldmaking and outdated (female) stereotypes while lacking viable alternatives for change.
Although the signs were read as outdated and stereotypical, the signs were easily naturalized and legitimized as a self-evident sign of direction. This is illustrated by Peter:
6 Cistem is a term coined by Nigel Patel, used to refer to “ the systematised power which oppresses, subjugates and marginalises transgender people. Hence the structural sex segregation of bathroom spaces creates problems for those who are viewed as being at odds with a cistem characterised by a sexgender binar.” (2017:1).
“It's kind of a learned thing, I'm aware it's kind of almost stereotype maybe, but it's also just a sign. Just like a P sign that shows where you can park.”
The comparison with parking signs naturalizes and legitimizes the stereotypical, binary representation of gender on the silhouettes. It being “just a sign” depoliticizes its meanings and effects, and this line of thinking resembles the notion of toilets being ‘just practical’, which makes it difficult to denounce it as a possible space for political issues and inequality which is worthy of attention and action. Gender-marked doors, as Kukla argues, are powerful tools for instituting identities and social relations, dividing people into dichotomous genders and rendering that sortation as ‘obvious’ (2018). Jordan similarly reflected on how normal binary bathroom signs have become to them.
‘Of course I've lived with this sign all my life, so it's not weird to me. I don't find it offensive that that woman is wearing a dress, because the logo is just so normal to me. If you look a little closer at such a thing, you would think… Is that man naked? And how do you dress that woman?
But personally it doesn't matter to me.’
Even though the signs do not represent their identity as gender fluid, they simultaneously criticize them and accept the strange nature of the sings because of having grown so familiar to them. In this case, the reason the signs are not weird to Jordan is especially because they have known it all their life. Learned behavior, interestingly, forms its legitimization.
It must be recognized how the signs also granted opportunity for queering, pointing to various institutions in which these signs are easy disregarded because of their queer-friendly vibe, or pointing out how for gender validation does not come from signs itself but from people’s behavior and attitudes towards them. In this light, some participants proposed alternative reading of the binary bathroom sings and suggested we should read the signs as a category of clothing-based division.
“Look, how I'd like to see it. You can wear pants here and you can wear a dress there.
I'd like to, but of course I can't see it that way. It is of course something you could do only for a moment, in an artsy way.” – Petronella
For Petronella especially, who struggled choosing bathroom sides for they do not represent their identity as non-binary, this would be a great solution. Petronella reads the signs quite literally,
based on performativity of gender on the body more so than of biological sex to which the signs indeed do not literally refer. They similarly emphasize how they understand this as a creative, queer reading exercise more so than a realistic scenario. The highly assumed status of the gender binary in the signs sits too deep to seriously read them otherwise. Even the signs that must imply an all-gender toilet are often signified by a binary-based depictions that is either male, female or a combination of both, as the following account illustrates.
“They just have a sign with a shifting figure of what should be seen as a man with pants on and then one with a dress on, and if you move it back and forth, it becomes two different pictures.
So it's open to everyone […]”- Rose
This particular sign is read as open to everyone, although its visual messages seems to portray
‘open to men and women’. Even the queering of binary bathroom signs does not go without the binary. As articulated by philosopher Nancy Hirschman “all of these moves, even as they challenge our categories, simultaneously remind us of what the category means; dressing
‘butch’ would not have the intended effect if we did not already have a concept of what ‘men’
dressed like” (2013:656). In effect, as stated by Philling, gender ambiguity hereby becomes
“deviance, thirdness, or a blurred version of either male or female” (2010:20). As we will touch upon later, this must not be understood as only detrimental, as that perspective takes away agency of non-normatively gendered to be subversive and actively question the norm.
To conclude, binary bathroom signs were both criticized for its stereotypical, outdated nature, reinforcing cisnormativity and male and female opposition, as well as normalized and naturalized as familiar and universal. These findings help understand how the gendered separation of the bathroom in general is criticized or legitimized. In the following section, I elaborate on the causes and effects of inequalities in bathroom accessibility.
Inequalities in bathroom accessibility
Not only bathroom signs symbolize for whom bathrooms are and are not built. Various experiences narrated by my interviewees illustrate the causes and effects of gendered inequalities in bathroom accessibility. I elaborate on the lack of gender neutral public toilets and the lack of (charge free) seated public toilets, arguing the toilet cistem is not only designed on the premise of cisnormativity, but favors cisgender men especially.
One of the least noted but seemingly most obvious form of cisnormativity in bathroom design is the lack of gender neutral/all-gender toilets itself. In most buildings, either no gender
neutral toilets were to be found, or they were hard to find for there was only one. The lack of gender neutral toilets exemplifies the omnipresence of cisnormativity, the assumption that everyone is cisgender and the alienation of those who are not.
“At my school for example, I have to go to the fourth floor to a gender neutral toilet. It is like the exception to the rule. And I find that very strange. […] If I had the choice I would always go to the gender neutral toilet I think. Just to show that I think this is important.” - Ant
Ant especially understands the lack of gender neutral toilets as ‘strange’ and sees the instances in which there are gender neutral toilets as an opportunity to make a statement on its importance.
The “exception to the rule” exemplifies how the installation of some gender neutral toilets still reinforces what is and isn’t considered the ‘normal’ toilet. The gender neutral bathroom itself is criticized for its ever-categorical implications, for “the creation of a third restroom option that is set physically apart from the men and women’s restrooms fortifies the principle of sex- segregation as normative” (Davis 2018:208).
For non-normatively gendered participants, the lack of gender neutral toilets was experienced as a form of inequality with heightened exposure to gender-based violence. The presence of a gender neutral toilet constitutes of queer joy, for one cannot be immediately gendered by the bathroom door.
“When I'm somewhere and there's a gender neutral toilet I always think yeah, *laughs*, I just like that, and then I feel more comfortable because you don't immediately get a male/ female stamp on you.” -Sam
The instances in which people like Sam can experience this comfort seem to be scarce, for the freedom of institutions to make their own bathroom policy, as Davis articulated, “means that people […] never know when or where they might be harassed and or ejected from the restrooms they need in order to be in public” (2018:207).
One of the bathroom inequalities that was especially foregrounded is the notion that there are much more public bathroom options available to those who can stand to pee. Those who used the female bathroom expressed their frustration about having to wait in long lines, having to pay for toilet facilities or not being able to find any suitable toilet facility at all. Some expressed health-related worries about catching an UTI because of it. This did not only apply to the public bathroom design in buildings, where often urinals grant cisgendered men more options to pee in the same amount of space, but this was especially experienced outside, in the