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On Potties and Privilege

A Spork (combination of spoon and fork) person stands flummoxed in front of two washroom doors - one marked with a fork and one with a spoon.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the washroom. I was about to enter one of the two single-stall gender-neutral washrooms that we use here at the Centre when a man came down the hall and said assertively, “Excuse me, I’d like to go in there.” His manner conveyed entitlement– that he believed his right to use that space superseded mine. Looking a bit incredulous, I responded wittily, “Uh, OK. There’s one right there, but…OK.”  With a shrug, I walked all of 8 feet to the door he had just passed by, the one with the clear sign saying, “Washroom”.

What was that about?

Let me back up a bit. When VSAC moved into this building last September, the 2 washrooms on our floor were designated – one for men and one for women. It was a high priority for us to have them be gender-neutral so that our space feels welcoming to all genders.  It did take some time and advocacy to get the strata company to change the signs but they finally did so at least half a year ago.

What does that have to do with anything? A couple of more details: the washroom I was about to enter used to be marked “Men”; I am a cis-gender woman.

So here are my theories:
1. he is familiar with the building, thought it was still a men’s washroom, and so felt entitled to supplant me;
2. he has noticed the change in signs but disapproves of them and wished to make a point; or,
3. most charitably, he was told the washroom was the last door on the right, did not observe the one just before it, and was in desperate need of the facilities.

Whatever the truth for that person, my assumptions were that options 1 or 2 were at play, and that influenced how I experienced this event. I got the message I was in the wrong place. Later in the day I noticed a hesitancy to use the “men’s” washroom.

What was an unusual experience for me is all too common for many gender-variant folks.   As I reflected on my privilege as a cis-gender woman, I was also surprised at how much this interaction stuck with me.   How much more profound would the impact be if I ran the risk of similar or worse encounters on a daily basis?

For more, check out this video about gender discrimination in restrooms.