BLURRING GENDERS – SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Gender Neutral Bathroom Signs
Gender Neutral Bathroom Signs 

Heading to the bathroom is a simple task for most people but for transgender men and women in our society it is a daily struggle. The walk to a door marked with recognizable signage—a stick figure with or without a triangle dress—is one more way that transgender people, especially transgender youth have to define who they are. Times are changing and with it our society is learning about transgender men and women in our world. Their rights, privileges, and comforts, have been lacking for far too long. The fight for transgender equality is not a new fight, but recently it has sprung into the forefront of political and religious conversations on the news and broken into brunch chatter and dinnertime talk between families and friends. Transgender men and women are braver than ever, standing boldly from their seats to tell society what needs to change. As citizens, we have more of an opportunity than ever to make these changes a reality.

To define transgender, is to describe a realization that can be confusing for those going through this transition as well as their families and friends and others surrounding them. The National Center for Transgender Equality explains, “Transgender is a term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.” The issues faced by transgender people are both intensely complicated and incredibly basic. There are healthcare issues and marriage legalities that vary from one politician to the other, putting the very personal needs of transgender people on a public and major scale. In contrast, there are simpler aspects to making life easier for those whose gender definition hasn’t been defined by their appearance: bathroom signs.

With the changing of times, comes the changing of signs in a growing number of schools, museums, stores and other public areas across the world. The gender spectrum has broadened since it was simply defined as the girls’ room and boys’ room. While some locations debuted a 50/50 gendered person, with one leg panted and the other dressed, transgender people do not feel half of a gender. They feel fully man or woman, even if that gender doesn’t match their physical parts. The Whitney Museum of American Art relocated into Lower Manhattan and lost their gender specific bathroom insignia in the move, replacing them with “All Gender Restroom” signage instead. On the opposite coast in Los Angeles, the Theater at the Ace Hotel neutralized their restroom signs as well. Nike indicates what you can find beyond the door with just a black and white image of a toilet, while Target has family restrooms, and Starbucks locations with gender neutrality signage are growing in percentage.

It’s not only large public places and corporations becoming more trans-friendly. An elementary school in San Francisco has made their restrooms multi-gendered. With millennials proving to be more accepting of varying gender norms, plenty of college campuses are welcoming “all gender” placards for bathroom goers. Universities such as John Hopkins, Michigan State, the University of Utah, Illinois State, and the New School in New York City are just a few progressive campuses making everyone feel comfortable when the common urge comes.

Caitlin Jenner's Vanity Fair Cover - July 2015
Caitlin Jenner’s Vanity Fair Cover – July 2015

Transgender rights would not have been propelled into the news if it weren’t for recent celebrities. Caitlyn Jenner, formally known as Bruce Jenner, patriarchal figure of the mostly female Kardashian clan, famously fronted Vanity Fair’s July issue after transitioning to a female form. Jenner is not the first, though she is debatably the most famous trans-woman of our time. Jazz Jennings is a fourteen year old transgender activist and YouTube star whose reality show I Am Jazz, shows the life of her and her family learning and living with a male born son who identifies as female. An annual report released in October by Glaad showed that the representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters on television is higher than ever. Emmy-winning Amazon series Transparent, follows a family as they discover that their father is transgender. These shows, whether starring fictional characters or real-life people give transgender men and women an identifier. While they can see something of themselves on television, others can also use these platforms as a place of education about what transgender truly means.

The search for equality for transgender men and women is an intricate debate, filled with many honest, open, and difficult sides. Houston remains the only major city in the US without nondiscrimination protections since the Equal Rights Ordinance was recently unaccepted. Republican 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson has said about bathroom usage, “It’s not fair for them [transgender people] to make everybody else uncomfortable,” echoing a common complaint that a private bathroom would create special protection for transgender people. Although signage can easily be changed, locker room etiquette for transgender students remains difficult to determine between what is right and wrong. On a larger scale, the question of why youth in high school locker rooms have always lacked privacy while changing begs for an answer. It’s not only transgender students who may not want to bare all; it’s gay and lesbian students, overweight students, students with disabilities, and even the average, everyday student whose body and its inevitable changes he or she wants to keep to themselves.

University of Bristol Poster
Poster by University of Bristol’s LGBT+ society 

Transgender equality is often a question of societal norms. Much of what used to be standard is being challenged all around us, not just for transgender men and women. One thing rings out as true in this search for equality—it is farther along than it has ever been before. In the last few months, high school students have celebrated their transgender peers becoming homecoming queens and varsity cheerleaders, Jewish reform groups have pushed their religion to accept transgender members, and there are companies that have begun specializing in lingerie for the transgender customer. History has proven that fights for equality are time consuming ventures, yet the transgender community is steadily making waves. The number of people sharing their stories and coming out as transgender is growing, thereby catapulting societies into change, growth and acceptance. As sexes gain fluidity and the rules of what defines a man and woman continue to blur, equal rights will adjust to give everyone what is deserved—starting with a welcoming bathroom.

Article by Kaylee Denmead for The Untitled Magazine

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