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.