Problematizing Hetero Normative Space: Possibilities of Unisex Toilets

all gender toilet

“There will be a time, when tourists will come to India to visit the colourful toilets”, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the Swachch Shakthi -2019 awards ceremony. The Swachch Bharat Campaign,’clean toilets’ target, Swachch Sundar Shauchalaya contest, have all raised an active debate around what toilets we should be able to use. On an average, a person uses the toilet for about seven times a day, which adds to about three years of our life in a toilet. Toilet, a critical chapter in the history of human civilization cannot be accorded an inferior place. It is a critical link between order and disorder and between good and bad environment.

As the numbers of toilets constructed in rural areas ready to hit the target, the transgender and the ‘gender nonconforming people face a major ‘toilet crisis’ in the country. As one of the public spaces that are frequently unequivocally segregated, bathrooms are often experienced as locales of symbolic and physical exclusion by transgender, gender nonconforming people and the specially abled. They have been historically discriminated by class, race, physical ability, sexual orientation, as well as gender. Gender separation is the norm for public bathrooms everywhere – restaurants, theatres, academic institutions etc have all made a board in front of the door, marking the territory.

Toilets are one of terrene’s servile and inconceivable sites that have often been looked on improper and inappropriate by the hegemons in the discipline. They are often described as “liminal zones” which are meant to be discussed behind closed doors. The change room dilemmas faced by many traces back to deep rooted attachments to the continuation of the gender system. Public bathrooms remain an everyday institution that separates gender by its norms, raising the hurdle of who really belongs in public, civic, and professional life. The gender panic among various detractors in modern facilities is nothing other than what is defined as the heterosexual genital security. Hence, the institutionalization of a unisex toilet design is an important concern where we talk of gendered architectures which make people to think of sex, gender, desire, comfort, space and power.

‘A unisex public toilet’ is a public toilet that people of any gender or gender identity are allowed to use. Gender-neutral toilet facilities help transgender populations as well as the gender non conforming people. They are also beneficial to people with disabilities, the elderly, and anyone else who may require the help from someone of another gender, including parents who wish to go with their kids to the washroom or toilet facility. In an age where men and women share apartment buildings, sit side by side on public transportation etc, sexes peeing together is lacking unusual aspects.

Thousands of years ago, when Greeks and Romans had public restrooms, they were not concerned with privacy. They sat next to each other while going to the toilet. It was not until the Victorian time, beginning in Great Britain, that sex segregation started in the toilet area. Later, when the women’s growing presence in the factory workforce rose, it set off a paternalistic move to “secure” women from the full power of the world outside their homes, and isolate from men’s—women’s restrooms at libraries, parlors at department stores, separate entrances at workplaces and banks, and their own auto on trains, deliberately put at the simple end so male travelers could valiantly endure the worst part in case of a collision. Sex separation was seen by categorizers at the time as “a sort of cure-all” for the period’s social tension about working women.

The implementation of an all sex restroom shall be a relief to the rising transgender population in the nation. Unisex toilets were introduced in many parts of country, such as Mysore, Bhopal, and Kerala. Its benefits were much advertised by the government too. However, people could not just come out from the normalcy. When the fourth largest railway network in the world has an ‘all gender toilet’ in which there are no reports of gender assaults inside nor uneasiness in its utility (except the stench), large public spaces – especially bus stops and railway stations should try incorporating it. As a democratic space, unisex toilets in fact, promotes gender equality and equal access — against the need for privacy without reifying gender.

Unisex washrooms would make childcare much more easy. It permits trans guardians — and all guardians — to go with their children into bathrooms, regardless of their sexual orientation. We grow up with a gender neutral bathroom in our family to no crisis. Hence, as we increase the number of stalls for a cleaner nation, proper toilet lieracy awareness, greater privacy and inclusion of all the populace should be the absolute answer. Using the restroom is a right, not a privilege, which we all deserve.

Bulbul Prakash M.A Politics and International Relations Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam


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