OMETIMES you stumble upon a story on a Friday night, way after midnight, a bottle of wine down, when doing the ‘I-need-a-wee’ dance to the toilets.
Blurry-eyed and with a desperately full bladder, I had to make a rare decision: men’s loos to my right, or gender-neutral toilet to my left. “Ah, so this is pee-politics in action,” I think.
As a woman I chose to use the latter, as any trans, gender-fluid and/or non-binary person would.
I was at HOME arts centre in First Street and this was the first time I’d personally noticed a toilet signed-posted as ‘gender-neutral’. Of course, unisex toilets are now commonplace, but this is different. It is a statement, it's saying ‘trans people, gender-fluid and non-binary persons are welcome here. Please, pee in peace’.
For many, the very notion that where you piss could be in any way political is absurd. It’s just a toilet, after all.
In fact, HOME bosses were rather laissez-faire about the whole thing:
“We are clearly not the only public space in Manchester with gender-neutral toilets and the use of toilets without either male or female designation is increasingly used,” they said.
“We initially introduced gender-neutral toilets two years ago when requested by the Queer Media Festival... Toilets on our second floor operated as gender neutral spaces during the Festival. This was felt to be helpful and we received no complaints,” they added.
I press on, 'Any more to add?'
They say: “Well, we don’t have any more to say, really.”
But there is more to say. If like me, you are happy with the sex you were assigned with at birth, chances are the only obstacle you’ve faced when making number one is a lack of loo-roll.
So here’s the significance: one in eight trans people have recorded abuse, with a third of trans people claiming to have been discriminated against when visiting a cafe, bar or restaurant. When using public restrooms, there have been many recorded instances where trans people have been asked to leave.
...nearly 32% of trans people avoid using public restrooms.
"I get stared at, I've been spat at, I've been shouted at, 'transgender, tranny, transvestite'," said Morganna Snow to the BBC in 2016, a transgender woman who was asked to leave the women’s toilets in a local nightclub. She explained it left her feeling 'violated' and 'stripped of her identity'.
Like most acts of discrimination, these instances are mostly fuelled by fear (of the unknown and the different). But, when it comes to more inclusive toilets, what are people (‘cis-gendered’ people) really afraid of?
“When the question of gender neutral toilets comes up there are some people who are worried about many things,” says Louie Stafford, Trans Programme Co-ordinator at Manchester’s LGBT Foundation. “However, the reality is that everyone uses gender-neutral toilets on a daily basis - they are in your own home. Over time people will come to not even think about them and they will be a part of normal life.”
Manchester’s LGBT Foundation say the effects of gendered bathrooms are clear and state that nearly 32% of trans people avoid using public restrooms, with many reportedly limiting the amount they eat and drink to avoid using public toilets. They say 8% have had an urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or other kidney problem as a result.
With reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, and with London Mayor Sadiq Khan suggesting more gender-neutral toilets should be built in the capital's public spaces to 'help trans and non-binary people feel more comfortable', signs suggest things could be improving.
Here in liberal Manchester, with one of the most well-known and outspoken LGBT communities in Britain, is a city that could make gender-neutral toilets a citywide initiative.
Isn't this a right that we should all enjoy? After all, it's just a toilet...
Take the University of Salford, earlier this year it announced plans to become the first trans and non-binary friendly institution, starting with gender-neutral toilets across the campus.
“The University of Salford has a proud history of welcoming trans students and we’re keen to build on this,” explains a university spokesperson.
“Although there is no benchmark for this, we’ve been working with national and local organisations, as well as working closely with our own trans students to develop an action plan outlining what we can do better.”
The move came after support staff noticed a significant increase of students who had sought help with gender transition or were exploring their own gender identities. For the university, gender awareness also includes working with local charities and trans students, as well as introducing non-gender specific titles, such as ‘Mx’, for student registration in September 2018.
The University of Salford aims to become the UK's first trans-friendly campus
It’s a bold and considerate move by the university. However, outside the safety of campus and The Village, this level of acceptance is not always felt. Some women feel a move towards gender-neutral toilets nationwide could put vulnerable people at risk, whilst reducing a level of privacy some women feel they need in public restrooms.
“It’s worth pointing out that many smaller cafes in the city centre and a lot of the coffee chop chains, such as Costa and Starbucks, where facilities are limited to one or two enclosed locked cubicles, tend to be gender neutral.
"Chapter One, Bar 38, Home and the Police Museum in the city centre have gender neutral toilets, as do many of the LGBT venues in the Village, such as Molly Bar, Via and Queer,” says Louie.
I’m not one for gendered jokes, but it’s often said that a majority of a woman’s night out is spent in the toilets. In my case, that’s true. I cry, I do my makeup, I make friends in club toilets. I’m able to do this without risk of discrimination. But this is a privilege I never realised I had.
Isn't this a right that we should all enjoy? After all, it's just a toilet. Maybe it’s time to flush our gender-based bias down the bog as well.