If we are serious about the perils of heteronormativity, as it would seem we should be based on how often that word is used, then we should be doing far more than we already are. While I believe Swarthmore does well on this front, it could go further to cement progressive ideas about gender and sexuality. If we truly want to promote the idea that normative gender roles and identities are not necessary, then we should actually enact policies that reflect that. Swarthmore should eliminate all gendered bathrooms, making them all gender-neutral.
Is it not hypocritical to denounce normative gender standards but have bathrooms that reflect such standards? Sure, most buildings have gender-neutral bathrooms, but many dorms do not, and even in those buildings which do have them, getting to them requires going out of one’s way. If someone does not consider themselves to fall into what we might call heteronormative genders, the burden is placed on them to find a bathroom they feel comfortable with. Contrarily, those who do identify specifically as either male or female can easily find bathrooms catered to them, set up two by two under the normative standard of gender duality. Why should this privilege be given?
Not too long ago many in this country felt it necessary for blacks and whites to use separate bathrooms. That idea has been summarily rejected, and with good reason. There is no reason other than pure discrimination to dictate which bathroom a person may or may not use based on some group characteristic. If this is true for race, then why not for gender as well?
I see no necessity in separating the genders into different bathrooms. What happens in there is private, there is no communal activity that somehow requires one to have certain genetalia. Using the bathroom is a personal activity, a private act, so why must I be in a room only open to men? We do not believe in separating the genders for anything else, yet we defend this. Many gender boundaries have broken down over the last century, particularly with regards to education. Swarthmore, founded as a coeducational institution, should be on the bleeding edge of this change, as it has long accepted that men and women need not be separated.
Everyone seems to be afraid of this one issue, everyone seems to be more comfortable not fully addressing this for fear that it will cause an uproar. It is the one piece of our normative and puritan heritage that is still tacitly defended. The administration would not dare claim that there is some fundamental difference between men and women that requires them to be separate, yet the bathrooms imply this. Instead of standing for what is right, we have decided to go with what is comfortable. Standing against heteronormativity requires us to confront things that we ourselves are still uncomfortable with. If we let discomfort win, progress cannot be achieved.
Universal gender-neutral bathrooms do not, as some might claim, give preference to those who do not identify with one of the classical genders at the expense of the majority who do. Instead, they take gender out of the equation altogether. Everyone should be able to use every bathroom, as they are able to use every other public space. We don’t have gendered buildings or gendered classes, nor are roommates required to be of the same gender. Why do we protect this one last bastion of gender division?
Gendered bathrooms are discriminatory; there’s no two ways about this. Yes, they discriminate against a relatively small minority, but discrimination is wrong regardless of scale. Gender-neutral bathrooms allow everyone to have a place where they are accepted, leaving no place they cannot go just because of who they are. Yes, they will make people uncomfortable, but that is sometimes what progress requires. It was uncomfortable for the military to allow openly gay soldiers, as it was uncomfortable for society to desegregate. This is on a smaller scale, but it is no less important. Wherever segregation or discrimination exists, it should be fought and brought down.
Having bathrooms based on gender implicitly promotes a culture of heteronormative gender. It implies that people fall into two categories, and when individuals don’t they have to go to a different, separate place. Gender-neutral bathrooms are inclusive, they show that there are not just two categories, and accept that many people don’t want to have to categorize themselves or go out of there way for a different bathroom every time they need to take a leak.
This should not be a difficult call; of all places, we should be ahead on this one. We shouldn’t be promoting heteronormativity, we shouldn’t be implicitly requiring self-labeling. Everything and everywhere should be open to everyone. If we truly reject the black-and-white idea of two perfectly distinct genders and accept the idea of a multitude of gender identities, a continuum, then we should put that into practice. This may be one of the last instances of institutionally supported normative standards on campus, so let’s do something about that.