Trans toilets

Sign for toiletsThere have been high profile cases on the matter of which toilets trans people should be able to use – see here, for instance.

A solution from Thailand: the ‘third sex’ toilets. This link is to a short video, explaining why a school in Thailand introduced a toilet for those pupils who considered themselves transsexual. The pupil interviewed seems quite content with the set up.

A model to be replicated? Or a risk of further marginalisation?

15 thoughts on “Trans toilets

  1. Fascinating. Interesting too that 10% of the biologically male identify as trans, though perhaps unfortunate that they still get described as boys. Impressive that the school is so accommodating at least with regard to toilets, though one wonders about FTMs, not mentioned.

  2. R-

    That happened at Ohio State University a few years ago. I don’t think it was a change that happened throughout campus, though. Basically, the dorm where my sister is an R.A. has entirely unisex bathrooms. They were put in a few years ago when a MTF transperson was living in the specific dorm. The person wanted to use the women’s restroom, but the women of the hall were uncomfortable with that. So unisex bathrooms were put in. They’re not communal. It’s set up so a toilet, sink, and shower are all in a small room that locks from the inside. So only one person is inside at a time (in theory; I think this would make shower sex much easier than in a communal dorm).

    On the one hand, I applaud the university for setting something up. On the other hand, as I said, I don’t think this is an all-campus initiative. And it still has the assumption that men and women cannot and should not share bathrooms. Still, it’s an improvement.

  3. ‘Third sex’ is such a horrible label.

    Way to Other the trans population. Like we don’t have enough dehumanisation, marginalisation, prejudice, oppression, bigotry, blah blah blah, to deal with as it is…

    And why is it always about the bathrooms?… No it’s okay, I can guess…


  4. Yeah, the more I think about it the less I think the school’s solution is a good one. It’s nice that they tried to do something, and nice that the kid they interviewed thought it was good. But pretty crappy in the end (pun intended by the time I finished the sentence).

  5. I like the idea of unisex bathrooms as well, not because the idea of a “third sex” bathroom is displeasing but because it isn’t going to become wide-spread (at least not any time soon, I feel).

  6. Separate is not equal, to coin somebody else’s phrase…

    I attended a Trans Community Conference recently and all the toilets were unisex. AFAIK it worked fine. And that was in a police hq building, so if a bastion of society can offer that facility without any problems, then I don’t see why schools can’t.

    But then I’m probably biased.

  7. I recently read Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the politics of difference, in which she thoroughly criticizes approaches to justice which consider the practical elimination of difference the ideal of justice. (Think, for example, of Susan Moller Okin’s bit in Justice, gender, and the family about how she wants gender to matter as much as eye colour.) Instead of this ideal of a homogeneous society, Young argues for an ideal of a heterogeneous society, in which one’s membership in social groups is an opportunity for self-definition rather than the primary form of marginalization.

    I found the approach fascinating, and I’m enjoying trying to use it to think through these kinds of issues. So: While unisex bathrooms might be the simplest solution (we don’t have to worry about how many bathrooms are needed, or who goes in which one(s)), it doesn’t strike me as anywhere close to the just solution. For one, in unisex public bathrooms in ordinary contexts (department stores come to mind), there’s simply too much opportunity for creeps to spy on women. I think there are good feminist grounds for valuing spaces for women only, including bathrooms.

    At the same time, I generally agree with Helen’s sentiments at #4. Focussing on bathrooms is probably a distraction from, say, transphobic violence and the harm caused by stereotypes. And creating a “special” bathroom risks marking transsexuality as Other, rather than one of several equally legitimate possibilities. So perhaps the better question to ask is: what makes the transsexual/bathroom issue such a big deal (at least among cissexual people), and how do we address that?

  8. Noumena said: For one, in unisex public bathrooms in ordinary contexts (department stores come to mind), there’s simply too much opportunity for creeps to spy on women.

    If “creeps”are going to “spy” on women, then they’ll do it anyway, regardless of whether the toilet facilities are unisex or not.

    But I’m curious: has anyone ever been able to provide figures to back up this assertion? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understood the reality to be that far more women are sexually attacked (that is the subtext, I take it?) by people they know, in places which they might have considered safe.

    I think there are good feminist grounds for valuing spaces for women only, including bathrooms.

    Depends why you deem them necessary, and also how you define ‘women’. Are trans women, women? Would I be allowed to enter these women only bathrooms, for example – are you going to require panty checks at the door? This seems to me to be just another take on the ‘safe space’ argument. Which, from where I’m sitting, is all about spaces for certain people to feel comfortable at the expense of others. Oh and looky, there’s that word again: Other. Gaahhhh!


    As a trans woman, may I just confirm that I am not a monster, pervert or a freak. I did not ask to be born with this medical condition. I am simply trying to build a life where my gender dissonance is manageable. To have non-trans people telling me where I can and cannot pee while out in public is really not helpful. Frankly, it makes me wonder just who, exactly, has the problem here?

    Noumena is absolutely right: there are many more important issues – and discussing public toilets (for the zillionth time) is a distraction from the real work that we all need to do, trans or non-trans.

  9. I don’t have enough information to comment intelligently on the Thai situation or the kathoey identity choyna mentions above, but my worries about the implementation of a third bathroom option instead of the a unisex bathroom option in the US are: (a) that “trans-only” bathrooms might mark trans folks as targets for violence and intimidation much more easily than unisex bathrooms; and (b) “trans-only” bathrooms seem at cross-purposes for those trans folks who feel most comfortable living in stealth (that is, not disclosing their natal sex/that they are trans).

  10. I feel like I should clarify, just in case: I was aware that the use of “women” in “women’s spaces” is problematic — and, indeed, points us back to the deeper problem. But, in the same spirit as my earlier comment, this doesn’t mean that we should just toss out the concept of woman. To do so puts us in the bizarre position (as feminists) of denying the existence of a certain oppressed class, albeit with problematic and unclear boundaries (women) who, as part of their oppression, are subject as a class to harass and abuse, including in the form of members of the privileged class (men, strangers and otherwise) invading their privacy and spying on them in the bathroom.

    And it’s true that this will happen anyway (given patriarchy), whatever the bathroom arrangements. But that’s a sort of fatalism that slides down a slippery slope to sentiments like “domestic violence will happen anyway, so there’s no point to keeping men out of domestic violence shelters”. (While unisex bathrooms might actually work out okay in real life, the reason many DV shelters are not unisex is because unisex shelters were tried and failed disastrously.)

    This, of course, again points us back to the deeper problem, which I think might be: if justice requires protected spaces in which members of the privileged class are forbidden to enter, then how, in general, do we accommodate the needs of individuals who straddle (or better: disrupt) the boundaries between the classes?

  11. 1) Unisex bathrooms are usable by people of either/any gender, right? So they are not specific for use by trans folks, which is different from the third gender bathrooms in the article? It seems to me that unisex bathrooms is more in line with Young’s writings on justice and disability rights, in that accessibility acknowledges difference, re-centers our thinking and makes the world easier to live in for everyone (if I’m remembering right; it’s been a while!). Plus they’re often single-unit, and clean!

    2) This reminds me of the protracted discussions in the feminist blog o’sphere around trans and radical feminism from around this time last year, on alas, feministe, and especially i blame the patriarchy, which were particularly instructive (maybe you remember them).

    3) I have to say that I side with Helen here… even if we affirm that there are good reasons to have women-only spaces, with bathrooms for some reason occupying the site of greatest gender anxiety, the presence of transwomen in the bathroom would not necessarily come up against this (as Rachel notes). Nor does it mean that we abandon the concept of women. Unless we are treating transwomen as women on permanent or protracted probation, or as de facto (yes! i got a latin term in!) undercover men. Which would be wrong.

    4) I also think it would perhaps be best to distinguish between bathrooms and shelters, though I have read accounts of transwomen being particularly at risk for violence due to dv shelters being unwilling to accept them (i believe that brownfemipower documented some of these cases).

  12. That’s interesting….. but a woman who looks like a men using men’s toilet is still very weird.. so for women like that, do they share toilet with mem who looks like women? hmmmmm

Comments are closed.