Thousands of gender non-binary and trans people in Australia face an every day dilemma brought on by the need to choose which bathroom to use.
Gender non-binary or gender queer individuals don’t conform to traditional gender norms. They have fluid genders identities that sometimes change depending on their environments, from day to day and moment to moment.
Not conforming to specific genders can be a traumatising and frightening experience when needing to use a public bathroom, a place that consciously separates us into only two binary genders.
Mariela PT is a non-binary person who is forced to use the women’s bathroom when in public.
As a non-binary person Mariela uses the pronoun ‘they’ to describe them self. Despite being born with female traits, their gender identity does not align with this.
“I have always felt slightly distant from the traditional experience of being a girl - not so much the community of girlhood and sisterhood, as I always liked being a part of those groups - but I never quite felt like a girl,” Mariela said.
For Mariela the lack of gender neutral bathrooms in public places creates a frightening and confronting physical and mental situation that often can’t be avoided.
“Despite the sense of physical and mental safety, I struggle to feel completely at ease using the women's bathroom, because to choose to enter that space is to put myself in a position of facing gender violence,” Mariela said.
Being forced to choose a gender, when making a decision as to which bathroom to use, causes Mariela to question the validity of their gender identity.
“Every time I am forced to make the decision to enter the women's bathrooms in public, I cannot stop myself from spiralling into a mini existential crisis,” Mariela said.
“On the rarer occasion that the decision is instinctual, I question the validity of my non-binaryness (sic). Even on the days where that decision is difficult, I still fall into dysphoria, dysmorphia, and discomfort.”
The issue of non-binary bathrooms isn’t one that is on the radar for most people world wide but Mariela said the issues are further reaching than simple bathroom politics.
“I believe that people seeking to support this movement need to take a holistic and intersectional approach: commit not just to having conversations about bathrooms, but also about violence against trans, non binary, and GNC people, about the lack of recognition of these people identities in other areas,” Mariela said.
For Mariela, and thousands of non-binary people out there, the prospect of more gender non-binary bathrooms is comforting. They combat problems with bathroom accessibility and are becoming increasingly popular around Australia.
The Commonwealth public service are leading a push for more gender neutral and inclusive bathrooms after it was announced the Department of Environment and Energy would have gender non-binary bathrooms. It is also understood the new Department of Treasury building with also have them.
Dr Sen Raj is an advocate for bathroom equality and he argues there should be more non-binary bathrooms across all venues, offices and institutions in Australia.
He says that no matter what term you give it, uni-sex, gender neutral or gender fluid, they are an important part of creating a more inclusive world.
“Whether you use the term “unisex” or “gender neutral” to describe a bathroom, I think it’s important that they are available for people to use regardless of what (if any) gender someone identifies with,” Dr Raj said.
In tongue-in-cheek fashion, Dr Raj even pointed out that we all use a gender neutral bathroom every single day of our lives.
"We should have gender neutral bathrooms in all places. We have gender neutral bathrooms at home, so why not have them in other places too?" he said.
In an increasingly polarised world our poos and wees are becoming progressively politicised by partisan politicians.
Conservative Liberal Senator, Eric Abetz, is reportedly outraged by the prospect of non-binary bathrooms on Commonwealth property.
In May, he told Fairfax Media he felt the public service had gone into “overdrive” over political correctness and that the Treasury was flushing money down the proverbial non-binary toilet.
"Most Australians would expect the Treasury of all departments to focus on bringing down the debt, not finding creative ways of increasing expenditure within its own department,” Abetz said.
"Understandably, many men and women would feel uncomfortable sharing facilities in a work setting with the opposite gender.”
We contacted Senator Abetz’s office for an updated response on the matter, people can change their minds on issues so we gave him the benefit of the doubt, but we did not receive a response.
Getting into the nitty gritty of the toilet situation, the difference between gender neutral and gender exclusive bathrooms really doesn't have to be so polarising.
When talking to Mariela about their experiences with non-binary bathrooms, they said one way people can support their cause is by simply acting as allies.
“Perhaps our binary/gender conforming allies could help create space for these groups to form,” Mariela said.
One ally to non-binary people is Greens NSW MP for the inner Sydney seat of Newtown, Jenny Leong, She said everyone should feel comfortable on the toilet, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
“What’s most important here is that everybody has the right to feel safe, comfortable and respected in public places, regardless of their gender identity. Providing gender-neutral as well as male and female toilets is a very simply step we can take to achieve that,” Ms Leong said.
Leong has been a strong advocate for inclusive spaces all over the city and the state of New South Wales, with bathrooms being on her agenda. She says there is no reason why we shouldn’t create an environment where everyone can poo and wee in peace.
“This is a simple but important measure we can easily take to be supportive of gender diverse people. There’s no good reason why workplace and public bathrooms shouldn’t cater for everyone,” Leong said.
The MP for Newtown even believes we are creating a negative and less inclusive space when we foster the “institutionalised” gendered approach to bathrooms.
“This sort of institutionalised gendering of everyday life can be really traumatic for gender diverse people. Gender neutral bathrooms remove one of the many unnecessary obstacle this community faces every single day,” Leong said.
These are comments that advocates like Dr Sen Raj backs up.
“Gender neutral bathrooms can provide people with safety and comfort in ways that segregated bathrooms cannot. Trans and non-binary people have spoken extensively about this,” he said.
Although this issue that doesn't affect every Australian, it still affects many. The only way to get to a place where gender neutral bathrooms are all over the country is if there is more lobbying of government officials on all levels.
Lobby opponents of non-binary bathrooms, like Senator Abetz, show that people care about these issues. Contact your local Council and tell them to put gender non-binary bathrooms at the local sports fields and parks. Visit your local State and Federal MPs and tell them that this issue is something you care about. Sending a message to the decision-makers and taking democracy into your own hands is one way to promote the cause and potentially make changes to legislation.