Why I think bathrooms in every school should be genderless

Supplied / iStock
Supplied / iStock 

Brisbane's newest public high school made news recently when it announced all of its bathrooms would be open to all, regardless of gender.

The first I knew about it was a headline that flashed across my phone, "Fury as school kids forced to share gender-neutral toilets". 

My first thought was: who has the energy to be furious about that? Have they seen what's going on with global warming, and people starting bushfires? How about we save our fury for stuff that actually matters?

Also, the word "forced" seems a little OTT, don't you think? I can't imagine teachers at Fortitude Valley State Secondary College marching teenagers in lines to the ominous genderless loos and watching over them as they pee. 

Not that I'm being intentionally obtuse, it's just that language matters. I understand that if a child spends six hours a day at school, they will at some point need to use the facilities – and if those facilities are not divided as per the child's gender, then yes, they will need to use one of those bathrooms. 

But I guess my questions is…so what?

My son is transgender 

I put the issue to my 15-year-old son, who happened to be born female. He's gone through some tough experiences – both at school and outside of school – in knowing which bathroom to use. Luckily, he goes to a supportive school that has allocated some staff toilets for kids that don't feel comfortable using the girls' or boys' toilets. 

Changing gender isn't always a binary issue – and there can be a lot of grey area in between while making the transition. While some kids – or adults, for that matter – wake up one day and decide that is the day they change, others can take days, weeks, months, or even years to get there. And what do we expect those who identify as non-binary to do?

These issues are still relatively new in our society and nobody has all the answers yet. And for the record, my son told me while I was writing this that he generally holds on if he needs to go at school if he's nowhere near the staff bathrooms because he feels so uncomfortable.

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My son told me he thinks all bathrooms should be genderless, and he had a very good reason.

"Transgender people only make up about one per cent of the population," he told me. "I don't think everyone should necessarily have to change just to make them feel more comfortable."

Which is more generous than I am – I don't see why we shouldn't do something that doesn't hurt us in the least if it makes other people feel better about themselves. 

Treat one another with dignity and respect

But I digress.

"I just don't get why we split the genders at school and in public toilets when every bathroom in every home in the country is genderless," he continued. "Why is it that once we get outside the home, we suddenly have to separate?"

My son went on to say he was baffled by the attitude that men and boys are animals, and women and girls need to be protected from their filthy toilet habits.

"First, that's not true in my experience," said my son. "And second, if there are people out there like that, we need to hold them up to a higher standard, not excuse that behaviour and hide them away."

And just like that, my 15-year-old turned a complex problem into a simple one. Put urinals in a far corner or adjacent chamber where you don't have to look if you don't want to, and open bathrooms up to everyone. 

And hold everyone to a standard that means we treat one another with dignity and respect, instead of making excuses and hiding our problems. 

For me, Fortitude Valley Secondary College has got it right. The fact that nobody has to choose a label to use the bathroom is a massive step forward, and everyone should just get over themselves. If you've got to go, you've got to go.