I’m sitting right now in 41 Wyllys Room 112 for the Open Forum on Gender-Neutral Bathrooms and Trans* Activism. This forum is co-hosted by WesDEF, Wesleying, Open House, and QueerWes, and will be facilitated by WesDEF – specifically, Mariama Eversley ’14 and Leah Bakely ’16.
This will be a safe space for people to discuss their thoughts, concerns, and opinions of the recent trans* activism that has been de-gendering bathrooms in the last few weeks. Given that this is a safe space, Wesleying (in this case, hermes, sneeze, and I) will not be recording the names of participants. This will also be a serious liveblog. We will be providing an as-close-to-verbatim-as-possible record of what is said in the forum without critiquing opinions with which we may not agree.
We’ll be going over definitions and vocabulary surrounding trans* issues at the start of the forum, but check out TransWhat if you’re interested in a short glossary of relevant terms and information on what it means to be trans*. If you’re bewildered by the fact that this discussion forum exists or are wondering why all the bathroom signs have vanished recently, read my post “All Gender Bathrooms Now” – Pissed Off Trans* People on the DIY Gender-Neutralizing of Wesleyan’s Bathrooms. I’ll also be putting a few more features related to this up in the next few days.
Click past the jump for the liveblog.
Thanks to everyone who came to the forum!
Summary of some things we discussed:
-Comfort and whose comfort is priveleged
-Tolerance and accessibility
-Talking through difference
-Gendering of the every day
-We need options! (Future action)
THANKS TO WESDEFS FOR TONIGHT. It was difficult and amazing to be present here and hear from different points of view.
Facilitators put up their email: firstname.lastname@example.org. They would love to help anyone who would like to put together working groups to approach this situation.
Facilitators are wrapping things up.
I somehow had the last comment: The administration does not view multi-use gender-neutral bathrooms as a possibility. Also, taking down bathroom signs poses an issue for students who need accessible restrooms and can’t find them.
BZOD: Interview with Dean Mike Whaley to come!
“Changing the bathrooms once won’t do anything. What happens when we graduate? We need to get the administration on board to some degree to make a lasting change.”
Student: “I want to problematize the idea that public spaces should have gendered bathrooms. If I’m studying in Olin, I shouldn’t have to leave if I have to go to the restroom to go home.”
“I wanted to address something mentioned here: the idea that public spaces shouldn’t have gender neutral bathrooms like private spaces. I want to problematize that. It’s just as valid if not more valid that these public spaces need gender neutral bathrooms.”
“It’s not just cis-gendered people who are uneducated on these matters, and cis-gendered people aren’t universally uneducated either.”
Student: “Oberlin has gender-neutral bathrooms, and they have an E on the door. This stands for ‘Everyone.’ If you want it to be a male bathroom, you turn it to an ‘M’. If you want it to be female, you turn it to a ‘W.’ If you want it to be single-use, you turn it to a ‘3’ for ‘me’. I think it’s really innovative and cool.”
“These discussions are very difficult to have, but that doesn’t mean we should stop having them. And that’s something to remember.”
“We should consider people in the room who aren’t saying things and consider who they are, what they might be thinking, what they might feel.”
Student: “Don’t forget that this conversation happened. Keep it going. Keep talking about it.”
Suggestion: “Hampshire has all gender rooms. None of the bathrooms in Sweden are gendered. If we could put it out there that this is a thing that happens and get people who wouldn’t necessarily come around to this to have more exposure to this, that gender-neutral bathrooms are a thing, there might be more reception to it.”
“The second all of us leave this room, what can we do to try and make things different or better?”
The facilitators are shifting us toward a more action-oriented final few questions. It’s worth noting that, after over an hour and a half, there are probably still 40 people here.
Student: “Whether you are comfortable using a gender-neutral bathroom may be more of a product of where you’re from than who you are at the core. I’m an RA, and our floor had one bathroom that was gendered at the beginning of the year. We had a forum about why people were uncomfortable about this. We set up a safe space and talked about our differences and opinions and ultimately decided to not use the urinals and made the space gender neutral.”
Another student responds to that: “We need to address people who are very religious who aren’t particularly outspoken about these sorts of things and don’t come to these events. They’re not represented here and often don’t speak up about being religious because of how many of us at Wesleyan view religion as an oppressive system. Those people aren’t necessarily as willing to use all gender bathrooms.”
Response: “Gendered bathrooms – as well as the male/female icons – is very limiting. Also, gendered restrooms are rather white supremacist. I think we need to talk more about how gender is racialized and race is gendered. Welfare reform acts in the ’90s (?) would deny service to low-income people-of-color families that weren’t seen as the typical nuclear family. You think of the image of the welfare queen and processes of racialization, and how men of color are often hypermasculinized. For me, denaturalizing gendered restrooms is also about taking apart white supremacy and other similar structures of oppression.”
Question: “What is the argument for making all bathrooms gender-neutral versus making some gendered, some gender-neutral?”
Question: “What spaces on campus do not have gender-neutral bathroom?” Answer: 7 buildings, by the University’s count. Downey House, Olin, Van Vleck Observatory, many CFA buildings – but this doesn’t take into account some buildings with single-use restrooms only for faculty.
“I think that the sexual assault discussion, in this debate, can often be used as a tool of heterosexism.”
“As someone who is androgynous and who has gotten challenged outside of Wesleyan in both male and female bathrooms, how do you deal with that? I don’t want anyone who is sexually assaulted to feel uncomfortable, but how do we deal with that now?”
General question: Is there a way to not make people feel uncomfortable when it comes to bathrooms?
Trans* student: “Some of us feel that gendered bathrooms invalidate us on a deep and personal level. Does suggesting that people who are not comfortable using all-gendered, multi-use bathrooms invalidate them in the same way?”
Student brings up the idea that gendered restrooms reinforce trans* invisibility.
Student: “I think it’s important to try and distinguish between issues of triggering vs. safety. Obviously that difference can be complicated, but the film here touches on all gender bathrooms but also the issue of sexual violence in bathrooms. Safety does not render triggering points irrelevant.”
Student: “Sexual assault and trans* issues are separate, but are also unfortunately intertwined. I think the best way to deal with the varying concerns here are to have both multi-use and single-use bathrooms, and have some multi-use bathrooms be gendered and some not.”
Student: “I think that the safety issue is definitely important to the bathroom concept but I feel like it’s also important in life. Safety is something that you should feel everywhere, and people don’t feel that way. We should make everywhere safe. One solution to even this bathroom dispute is stopping sexual assault to begin with.”
Student: “Is the answer to these problems to make cis-gendered people deal with the same problems that trans people deal with?”
Student: Safety issue important in relation to bathrooms but also in relation to life.
Another cis-gendered person who is a survivor of sexual assault: “There’s a need for a safe space in bathrooms in general – not just for people who are trans*, but also for survivors of sexual assault. We need to accommodate people in spaces across campus, in general.”
Student: “On my hallway, the bathrooms were gendered. I came out at the end of the year as trans*, and I kept using the male bathroom because I felt uncomfortable making the switch, and that really sucks and is difficult. You need to look at the issue and how bathrooms are being used.”
Student: “There are two issues: safety and comfort. I think that at the base of it, the bathroom is a bathroom. It’s a place where you go in and do your business.”
Leah: We don’t expect a consensus on what action to take to emerge but let’s talk about a few more points then discussion of action.
Sexual assault survivor: “I personally think that a living space/dorm is different from where you go to classes or eat. I think that gender-neutral bathrooms definitely make sense there. I also think that there are some people who will never feel comfortable in a gender-neutral bathroom.”
“When I was a freshman at Wes, we voted for the bathrooms on our hall. We all voted for gender-neutral bathrooms, and we outlawed the use of urinals because urinals were there. It was uncomfortable at the time, but it’s something that I got used to.”
Student shares that a friend of hers was assaulted when trying to use an all-gender single use bathroom partially for being gay. Another student says that this sort of homophobic violence is part of a larger problem.
Question from a student: “How do we make bathrooms NOT gendered spaces in general?”
Student: “One of the problems that has come up with regards to sexual assault is that many trans* people suffer sexual violence in gendered restrooms.”
Student: “So we’ve been talking a lot about sexual assault and making sure that survivors are comfortable in gendered and gender-neutral spaces. One problem some people have with that is that trans* people and people who are gender non-conforming do face violence in bathrooms. It’s just an interesting point.”
Student: Make a point about accessibility– idea of making more gender neutral spaces but not all– important for us to have gender neutral be available as ones.
“Student staff should be trained to direct people to multiple bathrooms – not just gendered restrooms.”
“Nobody should have to out themselves as trans* to find the bathroom.”
For those of you just tuning in, some major points we’ve covered thus far:
1. There are a lot of questions about the idea that sexual assault survivors feel more safe in gendered bathrooms than gender-neutral ones.
2. Single-stall bathrooms don’t always increase safety, so it shouldn’t be assumed that we should head for more single-stall bathrooms.
3. The activism surrounding taking down gendered bathroom signs was a deliberate action, where those who orchestrated it decided not to go to the administration beforehand because they felt that administrators would not be helpful.
4. General question: Why is it important to feel comfortable in bathrooms?
Clarification from a few students: QueerWes was not involved in this action. QueerWes is essentially a network for queer students to get in touch with each other. Pissed Off Trans* People are a separate group.
Sexual assault survivor: “I personally think that having only all-gender bathrooms is also oppressive – and I don’t think the way to deal with an oppressive system is with another oppressive system.”
Question about the consensus of QueerWes on restrooms (there isn’t one).
“It’s interesting seeing how the comfort or discomfort of cis-people is being put on an equal plane with the experience of trans* people, who often feel unsafe and that they can’t enter that space. Perhaps the cis-people who feel uncomfortable with using all-gender bathrooms should go seek out single-use restrooms, sometimes in other buildings.”
Another student: “I would like to hear opinions on marginal improvements to accessibility (adding more single-use bathrooms) and whether people would see this as useful or reformist.”
Also, here’s the QueerWes Facebook page:
I’ll be doing a post that will include administrative responses soon too, so that’ll include Pat Tully’s blog entry.
Responding to earlier question about getting involved: the materials for de-gendering bathrooms and information about this was posted on QueerWes.
And read through the comments for some interesting points.
Student mentions Pat Tully’s blog entry about putting bathrooms up in Olin.
Another student: “I think it’s important to note the faculty response to this. The signs in PAC have been put up by a disgruntled faculty member who keeps putting them up.”
“Has anyone looked through the Argives about what the administration has done in the past to try and help trans* students and work with trans* students in building projects? I think some of the administrative frustration comes from people trying to be inclusive in the past, but now being told that they have fallen short.”
Student commends sexual assault survivors who spoke up.
Student ResLife worker: “As someone who works for the administration, there ARE people who you can definitely approach. I think that too often, we think of the administration as Michael Roth. Michael Roth has fallen short consistently, but there are lots of people in North College who are open to helping with these sorts of things. Having had conversations with a lot of people who work in North College, we should know that they are there and should not immediately discredit them.”
“We talked to one dean who said, ‘I was involved with trying to get a gender-neutral bathroom in Olin. Sorry I didn’t follow up over the summer!’ That sort of stuff indicates why we chose to do what we did to deal with trans* issues on a day-to-day basis.”
Answer: “It was a deliberate choice to not consult the adminsitration before taking direct action, largely because of skepticism confirmed by lived experience that the administration has to wade through and project so much diversity-accepting, allied rhetoric as part of their job, but knowing that, behind that, there often lies an indifference and de-prioritizing toward different groups on campus.”
Question: “Was the administration approached beforehand about this?”
Question: “Could we have more background with regards not to WHAT happened, but to HOW it happened. I personally would have loved to have been involved in some capacity, but didn’t find out until the door was shut and the sign was being take down. I feel like it was difficult to get involved in this movement. I’m curious as to what the greater vision is for Wesleyan’s bathroom situation.”
“Wesleyan also bills itself as an accepting place, but barely meets accessibility requirements. I wonder where trans* people stand on that.”
Another student: “Touching on this discussion of single-use restrooms, I want to bring up something that came up on a comment thread of a Wesleying post about gender-neutral bathrooms. There was a sexual assault victim who said she was triggered by single-stall bathrooms but was fine with gendered multiple-stall bathrooms or gender-neutral multiple-stall bathrooms. I just think it’s important to throw out there that not everyone feels safe in single stall bathrooms.”
I don’t know why I’m prefacing things with “student.” Everyone here is a student.
NOTE: Much of what I’ve written has been very paraphrased– apologies to anyone in the room with me who feels I haven’t done their response justice or feels I didn’t understand clearly. I’m trying to repeat as well as possible but fingers are slow.
Student: “There are 9 gender-neutral bathrooms in Usdan, but I don’t know where any of them are. There’s one that’s usually out-of-order on the first floor, and there are many buildings like Olin that don’t have gender-neutral restrooms. There are also lots of buildings that have gender-neutral bathrooms, but they’re not useful.”
Student: Wesleyan advertises itself as SO accepting and SO progressive but still doesn’t have enough, accessible gender neutral bathrooms.
Another student: “I was just going to say that one thing to recognize is the disparity between single-use bathrooms versus multiple-stall bathrooms. One thing to put out there is that single-stall bathrooms are a safer space. But for example, at Red & Black, there are single-stall bathrooms that are still gendered for no reason.”
Student response: “Sexual assault can happen to anyone, everywhere, and I think that the fact that we link it to bathrooms is the fact that we consider bathrooms a gender-separated space… There’s nothing stopping us from having both [gender-neutral and gendered spaces.]”
Student: Society makes us think that bathrooms are a gendered space and get used to that idea.
Initial sexual assault survivor: “I think it’s ignorant to ignore that most sexual violence is committed by men on women; that’s a fact. I think it’s unfair to say, ‘Oh, if going to the bathroom is a trigger, you’re just going to have to accept that.’ In places where there are multiple options, I think that’s ideal.”
Student who works at Usdan: “Yes, I do put up the male/female signs because, over Homecoming weekend, I saw a grandmother walk into what was the male bathroom when there were a lot of males in there, and she came out really scandalized and anxious. In places like Usdan where there are lots of non-students, I don’t think that sort of culture shock is productive. Especially in Usdan, where there are 9 gender-neutral bathrooms – and 2 female, and 2 male.”
Response to sexual assault survivor: “I think that point assumes that cis-gendered people are the only ones being sexually assaulted, and people are not always assaulted by people of the opposite gender. I’m a survivor, I identify as a woman, and I was assaulted by a woman. Having binary-gendered bathrooms doesn’t address my concerns. There are lots of public spaces that are not binary-gendered that we learn to deal with on a regular basis – like empty hallways when a guy walks by. I think the reason we’re uncomfortable with gendered bathrooms is because we understand them as a gender-separated space.”
Response: “Now might not be the time to come to a consensus as we try to unpack these issues.”
A student asks, “Is there a general consensus on what the ideal change in the bathrooms or facilities would be? I’ve gotten mixed ideas, and I just don’t know what that is.”
Response: “I’m a survivor of sexual assault, and I feel very uncomfortable having the only bathrooms available be gender-neutral. I feel like I and other sexual assault survivors should have an option with only women.”
Another question for students: “I wonder if anyone is willing to articulate why they or others on this campus should remain binary gendered?”
Question: “Is anyone willing to articulate an argument for why gendered bathrooms should remain on campus?”
Student: Wesleyan tends to act like it’s a paragon of virtue where rape culture doesn’t exist.
A student poses a question to the room: “Do you think the threat of sexual assault is a good excuse for keeping gendered bathrooms?”
Student brings up previous statement made in video about men not being able to control themselves as excuse for need of gender divided bathrooms– and wonders if this is a good reason for dividing bathrooms?
Another guideline: Don’t use “male-pronouns” or “female-pronouns.” Actually name them.
Another student talks about hir experiences as a trans* person: “This issue [of gender-neutral bathrooms] needed to come up, and vandalism was the only way for it to come up. And even though I use the women’s restroom and no one’s given me trouble, I’m always terrified going to the bathroom, and that’s just not fun.”
Discussion of the manifesto by Pissed Off Trans* People: “It focuses on how having binary-gendered bathrooms on campus makes it difficult for trans* or gender non-conforming people to use bathrooms on campus, but it also reinforces the invisibility of trans* people on campus and in general.”
sneeze: As well as makes mention of undocumented workers as well as people of color experiencing more surveillance in bathrooms
Student is giving an overview of the process by which the gendered bathroom signs have been removed and replaced. “It hasn’t been restricted to one group or one person. It’s been a pretty widespread effort.”
We’re also talking about the manifesto created by the group, “PissedOffTrans*People”.
We’re now discussing the gender-neutral bathroom activism that’s taken place around campus for the past couple of weeks.
Student discusses reason for activism and Facebook group “PissedOff Trans* People”.
Response from other student: “I think that this artificially breaks things into a binary between angry/not-angry, which isn’t particularly productive.”
Question from student about trying to gauge feel of room asking if anyone is angry about the removing of bathroom signs.
In addition, there are now around 60-65 students in attendance.
Some more discussion guidelines:
* Don’t say “male-bodied” or “female-bodied” – instead, use “male-assigned” and “female-assigned”
* Use “assigned sex” instead of “biological sex”
* Avoid use of FTM or MTF, especially if you are a cis-person
here’s the trailer for the video.
“If we were worried about making bathrooms that prevent people from being assaulted, we’d have all single-use bathrooms that have a door that locks. When you focus on sexual assault, you pin sexual assault survivors against trans* people.”
Quote from the video: “The real question if we’re going to talk about safety [in restrooms] would not be a bathroom that was gendered but a bathroom that you completely controlled.”
This video is called “Toilet Training,” for anyone who wants to check it out later. It’s about a half-hour documentary.
Idea of segregated bathrooms as sort of prevention of sexual assault discussed in video. Person speaking discusses belief that this notion presents a misunderstanding of “what we know about assault”.
We’re now watching a short movie clip from the Sylvia Rivera Project about bathrooms that are segregated by gender.
When referring to gender non-conforming or trans* humans, it’s best to use trans* people or trans* folks. Avoid “guys”
Male/female assigned – Gender/sex assignment at birth by doctors, state, etc.
“Transgender” is an adjective– not a noun. As in, transgender female rather than that person’s a transgender.
Genderqueer – Non-binary trans identity
Now the facilitators are discussing some vocabulary with words and definitions.
Trigger words erased quickly as not to linger. It’s really a good idea to never, ever use them.
Facilitators are putting up a list of trigger words:
About 50 students are in the room.
Running list of community guidelines:
* “I” statements
* Active listening
* 1 mic – only one person speaks at once
* Assume good intentions
* Respect pronouns
* Open mind
* Step up, step back (leave space for other people to speak)
Some of the community guidelines so far: Use “I” statements, actively listen, and assume good intentions.
Homies on homies joining us for the talk.
Here we go. Mariama and Leah are establishing community guidelines for the discussion.
Hey everyone! We’re sitting in 41 Wyllys Room 112 – not Room 115, because we wanted a bigger space. Come on over if you’re not here yet!