by Gracie Bucklew
Pee and poop: We all do it! Where I do it is, understandably, regulated. But where trans people do it is, appallingly, policed. (Please note: I am a cis person writing about trans issues. I am not an expert.) Almost comically, the great “transgender bathroom debate” has been hot recently in the wake of the Trump Administration’s reversal of public school transgender bathroom protections. For an issue with such a simple, minimal-impact solution, there are some vehement opposers out there to the switch to non-gendered restrooms in schools.
School is where kids spend the vast majority of their time every day for most of every year from the time they’re around five to around 18 years old. Spending so much time there, kids undoubtedly need to use the restroom at their school a lot. Partially undressed during every use, kids are very vulnerable in the restroom, so they must feel safe enough in it to do their business and get back to learning. Many trans students don’t feel safe enough. For some, the choice between the girls’ room versus the boys’ room is the choice between getting yelled at or getting beat up, neither an even remotely acceptable option. Instead of the benign utility it should be, the school restroom looms as a torturous battleground for trans students. Putting their body in danger, many students refuse to use the restroom at all during each school day until they return home. Many leave campus altogether if they’re fortunate enough to have a nearby community center or store in which to relieve themselves. Their struggles are immense.
Aside from the physical threats of using the school restroom, there are very real psychological impacts. Choosing a gendered restroom can induce great stress in trans kids. This is because of the uncertainty they may feel about their gender. Forcing students to choose, routinely as young as Pre-K, forces them into restrictive boxes too small and too rigid to fully encompass truly any of our gender identities, but certainly not that of non-binary and many trans kids.
According to Lisa Love, Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) Health Education Manager, SPS’ policies regarding restrooms read something like “‘Students have the right to use the restroom . . . that aligns with the gender identity that they consistently assert at school.’ And so, that’s great for a kid who identifies very much in a binary trans way,” she says, “but we don’t have a lot of language about how schools really should be moving toward creating all-gender restrooms.” This discretion to have or not to have all-gender restrooms in school is evident in our district.
In my over 20 hours of calling, emailing, and investigating our district’s schools, I confirmed that 49 of Seattle’s 101 public schools have at least one gender-neutral restroom for students (I did not get a response from 17 schools). Breaking it down further, eight of the 16 high schools, six of the 13 middle schools, six of the 11 K-8 schools, and 29 of the 62 elementary schools have a gender-neutral restroom for their students.
Many of these schools’ sole gender-neutral bathroom is the standard single-occupancy one connected to the nurse’s office. Now, this is fine, but not great. Having the only gender-neutral restroom in a school be part of the nurse’s office (and single-stall) contributes to the stigmatization of trans and non-binary people. It resonantly “others” them. It makes their gender medical. It suggests that their gender should be kept separate and secret. It shouldn’t be around “normal” kids. Not to mention it’s also just really inconvenient and out of the way.
When a school does have a gender-neutral restroom that isn’t the standard single-occupancy one connected to the nurse’s office, it has often come about through student activism and demand. This is awesome in the youth empowerment sense, but pretty pathetic that schools don’t have this necessity until students are forced to demand it, often in the face of intense pushback. What about elementary-school kids who are too young to effectively advocate for themselves? And closeted kids who don’t want to out themselves through demanding a gender-inclusive restroom? And kids who don’t have the energy or drive to put in the work to get one? And kids who’d rather suffer using the restroom than challenge authority?
In short, establishing all-gender restrooms in school maximizes social integration and participation, ensures safety and comfort, and minimizes stigma. We must not settle for what we have now. Half is not enough. Every Seattle school must have adequate all-gender restrooms for their students.
Please comment how, if at all, this article impacted you. I crave your feedback, thoughts, and praise!
Gracie Bucklew is a musician, artist, Unitarian Universalist, intersectional feminist, and activist and contributes a regular local pop-culture column to the Emerald. She is currently a student at The Center School. She lives on Beacon Hill with one of her moms, and is a lifelong resident of Rainier Beach with her other mom. She loves her friends, cats, and ice cream.
Featured image is a wiki commons photo