Gender-neutral washrooms are the way to go -

Gender-neutral washrooms are the way to go

Prof. Pettigrew explains his support for more open urination


Photo by daveynin on Flickr

If you want evidence that universities are places where basic assumptions are questioned, check out this story about students in Regina and Winnipeg pushing for gender-neutral washrooms.

The point of such gender-neutral facilities is to provide a place for those who do not fit neatly into the normal divisions of male and female. If this seems confusing, consider the case of an old undergraduate buddy of mine who I will call “Andy.” Andy was, genetically speaking, female, but had her hair cropped short and liked to sport a Greek fisherman hat with a men’s shirt and jeans. She was tall and fit and if you were just passing by her on the street you would be hard-pressed to fit her into the usual categories of men and women. That, of course, was sort of the point. Once, a mean-spirited store-owner mistook her for an effeminate man: “You look like a girl,” he sneered.

Now imagine someone like Andy trying to choose a washroom on your campus and you may have a better sense of why gender-neutral makes sense. Some people may get nasty looks—or worse—no matter which binary category they choose.

A number of Canadian universities already have gender-neutral washrooms. Western, Victoria, and McGill, according to reports, all have at least some. My own august institution, Cape Breton University, converted some existing male-female washrooms a few years ago, at the urging of the Student Union’s sexual diversity coordinator and the faculty association’s equity officer, Kate Krug.

According to Krug, the administration was not initially enthusiastic about the idea, but came around when it was suggested that they had a duty to accommodate students for whom the regular washrooms were insufficient. Administration, it turns out, has a different view. CBU’s Communications and PR Director says: “no one recalls any opposition or controversy.”

Controversial or not, the male/female washroom division is one of those things that few seem to question until someone points out that there are, in fact, big questions to be asked. We are so used to the distinction that it seems not just obvious, but inevitable. That is, until you find out that guy you always thought was a guy isn’t. And maybe isn’t a girl either. But still really needs to pee.

Todd Pettigrew (PhD) is an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University.


Gender-neutral washrooms are the way to go

  1. Interesting. I am old enough to remember back when the engineering building at Carleton university had no washrooms for women. We had to go next door to use the facilities. Then they finally converted one of the old men’s washrooms into a women’s washroom. More than one female student commented that it felt odd to use a washroom with urinals in it!

  2. I have to be honest: I find this notion ridiculous. No matter how a person chooses to appear on the outside with their dress, their hair, their makeup, even their surgical alterations, the biological fact remains that if they have to urinate, they must have a penis or a vagina. If the former, use the men’s room where all the other penile creatures go; if the latter, well, you get the idea. If something as trivial as choosing a restroom has become such a stressful situation for these individuals, perhaps they ought to consider what that implies about our biological make-up.

    • Solomon, you may want to do a bit more research before you post on this subject. Nobody — male, female, or otherwise — pees out of their vagina.