Student Life

Slice of Life: Peeing in peace

It shouldn’t be so hard to make washrooms gender-neutral on campus

Ah, gender-neutral washrooms: so controversial (sigh), yet so simple. News flash! Everyone has a gender-neutral washroom in their home, and everyone deserves access to a facility that suits their needs. But the call for more gender-neutral washrooms goes far beyond that. It’s about advocating for the right to feel safe in a washroom—a right cisgender people often don’t think about.

Many ideological and physical constructs of society, right down to the way washrooms are designed, exclude many LGBTQ+ members. Non-binary people having to choose between ticking off ‘male’ or ‘female’ on certain forms; trans people having to choose which washroom to use—or choose to not use the washroom altogether—are all examples of these exclusionary structures.

D.T, a trans advocate and public educator for the Centre for Gender Advocacy, said it’s hard to pinpoint the exact number and location of accessible gender-neutral washrooms across the Concordia campuses. “I also have a problem with ‘single-stalled’ washrooms in general,” said D.T. “Why do we have to exclude ourselves, and further isolate ourselves?”

Ella Webber, a trans student at Concordia, said they found a list of gender-neutral washrooms on the Centre for Gender Advocacy website. It also has information about other resources available to trans and non-binary students, both at Concordia and around Montreal. “Concordia never mentioned that in [the] orientation which I went to,” said Webber. D.T. explained that the list on the centre’s website hasn’t been updated since 2016 and doesn’t account for construction on campus that may bar accessibility. “I think at orientation we should be notified about Concordia’s queer facilities like [the centre] and their resources,” said Webber. “When I do find [gender-neutral washrooms] it’s super helpful, and so much more comfortable for me as a trans person.”

Personally, I know there are single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms on the Loyola campus on the second floor of the CC building, in the Hive Café, and in the basement of the CJ building. D.T. informed me that, in the H building on the downtown campus, Reggies bar, the other Hive Café, plus the 5th, 7th and 10th floors, all have gender-neutral washrooms as well (although, due to construction on the 7th floor, the washroom is currently inaccessible—same goes for the VA building).

D.T. and the centre described the H building as extremely problematic in terms of accessibility, one of the reasons being that many of the single-stalled gender-neutral washrooms in the building are shared with wheelchair users. This means they are only accessible with an access code or key provided by the security desk on the first floor (not where the washrooms are). Trans and non binary students not only have to locate the gender-neutral washrooms that are actually open on all of three floors in the Hall building (total number of floors is 12), and plan to get the necessary key or access code, but, after all that, once at the security desk, they may be asked to justify their needs to the security officer. “They run the risk of being outed and asked intensive questions,” she said. “It’s super shitty.”

D.T. met with Andrew Woodall, the Dean of Students, a few months ago to communicate the centre’s goals—both short and long-term—for the gender-neutral washrooms project. Short term, they would like to see three types of washrooms: an all-gender washroom available to everyone, trans or not, regardless of their gender identity and expression; a men’s washroom for men, male-identifying or transmasculine persons; and a women’s washroom for women, female-identifying or transfeminine persons, explained D. T.

Long term, the centre would like all washrooms to be gender-neutral, thus “respecting everyone’s right to choose the washroom that is appropriate for them.” While Woodall was very supportive of the centre’s project and their demands, he said these changes would take time. “The centre is not satisfied with this response,” said D.T. She also explained how something as simple as changing signage to actually indicate whether a washroom is gender-neutral helps increase accessibility and awareness. “We don’t want only promises,” she said. “We would like the university to put a concrete plan in place to get us to our goal.”

I’m a big fan of the ‘my rights end where your rights begin’ logic, so let’s talk privilege for a second. Do you navigate your days thinking about where the next available and safe washroom is? Do you mediate your liquid intake so you don’t have to go as frequently? If you answered ‘no’ to the above, I’d suggest rethinking the privilege—yes privilege—you have of simply using a washroom. Everyone should be able to pee in peace.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

Updated on Jan. 9. 2024

In the original version of the article, one of the two sources was named fully. One of the sources has since requested to be left anonymous.


What does feminism look like in French?

Why gender-neutral language could be a step toward an equal and inclusive society

Language and thought are intrinsically linked. Our thoughts are informed by the words we use to describe them in ways that are difficult to measure and are easy to take for granted. The ways language fails to accurately describe reality has been a topic of interest for artists and philosophers for centuries. In English, there are certain linguistic norms and terms that have been criticized by new social movements.

Contemporary feminists question the use of male pronouns as supposedly gender-neutral. In writing and speech, hypothetical people are usually referred to as ‘he’; a group of people—regardless of gender identity—are referred to as ‘guys’; and when speaking literally of all of humanity it is common to use the word ‘man.’ According to the Stanford University website, using male pronouns in a neutral way contributes to establishing men as the norm, and makes women seem out of place or even invisible in various contexts.

Another problem in the English language is in the connotations the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ conjure up. In her book The Man of Reason, Genevieve Lloyd points out that chaos and danger tend to be associated with femininity, while order and reason tend to be associated with masculinity. Such representations of gender permeate contemporary media (think of detective films, where a femme fatale character threatens to undo their reasonable male counterpart), and they work their way into our language and thought in discreet and insidious ways.

There are many more ways that feminists are concerned with faults in the English language (for a comprehensive outline of various arguments in the field, I recommend checking out the “Feminist Philosophy of Language” page on Stanford University’s website, which I quoted earlier). But what does feminism look like in other languages—particularly gendered ones? I spoke to Christine Delmar, a councillor on female empowerment for the company Les 7 Directions in France, to hear about her perspective on feminism and the French language.

In French, the verbs, adjectives and adverbs used are dependant on the gender of the noun that they are applied to. Delmar noted in our conversation that one of the first things children learn when they are learning how to speak French is that “masculine wins over feminine.” This is like the ‘masculine pronouns as neutral’ problem in English I mentioned earlier, in that it obscures women and strongly implies that they are inferior or subordinate to men. “Learning of masculine dominance in school has a significant impact on the subconscious,” Delmar said.

Delmar spoke on the gendering of job titles in the French language during our conversation, and told the story of a French explorer named Alexandra David-Neel to showcase a problematic fault in the French language. She said that although David-Neel might be considered one of the greatest French explorers, there is no way to say that in French without using the male noun. Instead—since she is female—she is called the ‘plus grande exploratrice,’ which translates directly to the ‘best woman explorer.’

For certain job titles, it is more common to refer to them in the feminine or the masculine, depending on the type of work and the gender they are traditionally associated with. When gender is unknown, doctor is masculine (docteur) whereas nurse is feminine (infirmière), which reflects and reinforces gender stereotypes. This makes anomalies in these fields stand out even more, and works to maintain rigid gender norms and stereotypes.

In the fall of 2017, a French textbook advocating for gender-neutrality in language was released, according to The Atlantic. It has sparked a lot of heated debate, as many fear that a move towards making French gender-neutral would ruin the beauty of the language. However, the reality is that language is constantly changing, and we should try to make it change in a way that can more accurately represent society by including minorities and marginalized groups.

Gender-neutral language would be a step closer to a fair society, and I think that is well worth the effort it will take to achieve it. Perhaps English—a language that is naturally more gender-neutral—can purge itself of unnecessary and arbitrary gendered words or concepts to be more inclusive. This could act as a model for other languages in the global advancement towards inclusive language.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

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