Toilet philosophy

Everyone needs a safe place to pee. I am deeply concerned about the ways in which current ‘debates’ around toilet access are working to reduce safety in all kinds of ways. I’m making the deliberate choice not to focus on trans issues here because I think people who see this as a feminist issue won’t be persuaded by that, but may be willing to consider some other points. But to be clear, I support the right of trans people to be able to pee safely. I support the right of everyone, regardless of gender or presentation, to be able to pee safely.

First up, when we narrow who is allowed to use which toilets, the odds are we do that based on visual judgements. This can only reinforce very narrow and hetro-normative takes on gender. A trans-woman who passes well may have no trouble using the toilet, where a butch lesbian may find herself threatened and harassed. Making toilets unsafe for butch lesbians is not any kind of win for women, feminism or female identity.

Non-binary people also exist. Some non-binary people do not appear very gendered at all and if we focus toilet access on narrow gender stereotypes, non-binary people are going to have a harder time of it. Non-binary people need to pee, and should not have their right to a safe wee depend on conforming to gender roles that we really don’t want to conform to.

Not all women look femme. Some of us are tall. Some of us are muscular. Some of us do not remove our facial hair. Some of us, quite naturally, have a lot of facial hair. The right of a woman to identify as a woman and pee in a toilet should not depend on how female she looks to anyone else. The most likely extra consequence of trying to keep trans women out of toilets, is that cis-women who do not, for whatever reasons, represent in straightforwardly female ways, will not have a safe space to pee. This is not feminism. This is radical exclusion.

Intersex people also exist, and also need to pee and may or may not look like one or the other gender.

Who do we empower when we make it harder for women who look a bit masculine to use toilets? We give power to haters. We give power to people (usually men) who want to hurt and harm trans women. These are often people who would also enjoy an excuse to hurt and harm lesbians and any woman perceived as unpleasing to their male gaze. These are not people who need more power, or more excuses to bully and assault female and female-ish people.

If we focus on stranger danger in toilets, we also do ourselves a gross disservice. You are much more likely to be assaulted by someone you know than by a stranger. The bathroom where you are at most risk of being attacked is one in a private location – your home, a friend’s home, maybe your workplace. When we focus on stranger-danger, we draw attention away from the reality that most victims know their attacker. And we’re creating a situation in which casual attackers may have more scope for action. If a woman can be approached, harassed or assaulted for being in the ‘wrong’ toilet – how safe are any of us?

It is not feminist to narrow women’s scope for presentation. It is not feminist to increase the risk of violence and injustice for lesbians. It is not feminist to run the risk that women are unable to pee safely. It is not feminist to encourage ideas that will empower and encourage abusive men.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Toilet philosophy

  • neptunesdolphins

    Sigh. I know all about the toilet wars. What people seem to really forget is how many regular males go into female restrooms to rape, put hidden cameras, or slide cell phones under the stalls….. I was a witness to one man pop into a women’s toilet to rape the woman – this was at the library in the reading room (very public place). We readers stopped and trapped him. So, I guess people when they discuss “safety” just discount that sort of thing. Nothing to do as to how someone presents themselves…

    • TPWard

      Since you raise the point that people forget “how many regular males go into female restrooms to rape,” how many is it?
      This is a question of risk management. One is too many, but prevention carries other risks as described in this post. We cannot determine what’s the right level without specifics. Would you kindly bolster your statement with some?

      • neptunesdolphins

        In the past three months as documented by the Wash. Post, 5 incidents. However, my point is that the standard argument is “safety for females from males (i.e. transmales)” is a bogus one. I stated it badly.

      • neptunesdolphins

        I researched it further since it is a serious question about risk.
        The incidents were people putting in phones or secret cameras in women’s spaces. One was a school principal’s office where the pom-pom team would change clothes.
        Only one incident was an actual person following another person into a woman’s bathroom.

        Therefore the greater risk is not in humans going into rest rooms but humans secretly depositing cameras or phones in restricted spaces. So the focus should be on how to sweep these spaces for hidden cameras. The school principal’s office one was disguised as a smoke alarm. Only when they tested it, did they discover what it was. Now, they are trying to uncover who and how.

      • Nimue Brown

        thank you for raising this. And yes, the impact of technology on privacy and security is definitely a thing.

      • TPWard

        I appreciate the clarity.

    • Nimue Brown

      Safety tends to come from numbers and awareness more than anything else, doesn’t it?

  • neptunesdolphins

    I meant “transfemales” not transmales. Sorry.

  • Up In Your Business

    I just wish North Carolina would get rid of HB2 because I’m tired of peeing in the bushes.

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