A Safe Place for Everyone

Imagine being unable to use public washrooms because of who you were or how you looked.

Having to always get your bodily functions in order before you left the house, because there was no real chance of relieving yourself at any public facilities.

We all fear judgment and exposure when it comes to our excretory experiences, but what if even so much the act of entering a washroom—say in a movie theatre, or a mall, or at school—was fraught with dangers both real and imagined?

If you’re trans you don’t have to imagine any of this stuff—that’s your life already—especially the school bathrooms part.

Since 2005, Queer Concordia has called for gender-neutral bathrooms to be installed in all the university’s buildings. The bathrooms were supposed to be ready by Fall 2008, but the project faced a hold-up because appropriate signage had yet to be determined.

Recently, both the Concordia administration and the Concordia Student Union were informed by The Link that an anonymous student had taken matters into their own hands by “gender neutralizing” 12 single-stall bathrooms in the EV building, successfully implementing what both bodies had been promising for years.

How ironic, then, that that was exactly where the project had petered off—“appropriate signage.” This neglect on the school’s part left one student no choice but to unilaterally decide on the signage. And the appropriate signage is still yet to be determined.

For two weeks, the signs on the bathrooms—which were paid out-of-pocket by the student, who just wanted to establish in practice what had been caught up in bureaucracy for the last five years—stayed where they were, unaltered.

This gesture offered transgendered, transsexual and gender-variant students a safe space to use the university’s bathroom facilities. For trans students—who negotiate “passing” on a daily basis and who continue to face gender-based harassment and violence—these spaces are really important and should not be denied.

This is a matter of equality.

Stats Canada doesn’t even have a definitive number of transsexual individuals residing in Canada. The question wasn’t even on a census, but discussions about adding it to the 2011 census are underway. This only reflects the fact that transsexual people need to be addressed as people.

Bathrooms have a long history of being sites of struggles against discrimination, as racial minorities, the disabled and women have historically been kept out of certain spaces under an exclusionary rationale. Not having gender-neutral bathrooms on campus is essentially in the same vein of discrimination—not only is it biased against certain students, but it also excludes members of the Concordia community from feeling secure in the spaces where they can feel the most vulnerable.

As the individual who “gender neutralized” the bathrooms has shown, it doesn’t take five years and $30,000 to get the job done and make all folks on campus feel like they have a space to piss in peace—all it takes is the initiative to change a sign.

Providing students using the university’s facilities—no matter how they choose to identify themselves—with freedom from fear of attack is the responsibility of the administration. Concordia needs to choose between being an establishment that sees a minority like trans students as second-class citizens, or an establishment that makes the rights of those people a priority.

By the looks of it, though, they’re still transitioning.

—Alex Manley,
Literary Arts Editor

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 11, published October 26, 2010.