Unisex toilet anyone?
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - August 20, 2019 - 12:00am

Will a gender-neutral or unisex public toilet see the light of day soon?

I and a designer friend discussed such possibility in light of the controversy generated by the arrest of a transwoman in a mall in Cubao, Quezon City. The transwoman was arrested after an argument with a janitress who tried to prevent her from using the female restroom.

Since I and my friend are both liberal-progressive leaning, the question of whether or not a male person who looks, behaves, and considers himself a woman should be allowed to enter a female toilet was no longer an issue. We’re both into design (me with user-centered and user-experience (UC/UX) design specialization) so our discussion revolved around the design attributes of a possible unisex toilet or washroom.

In any case I have no fuss about transgender people using the same men’s toilet I’m in. I mean, what’s in a toilet? You do your business there, and you’re out in a minute or two. No one regardless of gender preference really makes a scene there. But I could not say the same about what women might feel with transmen or transwomen around in the same toilet.

From a designer’s perspective, the design of spaces like public toilets has to ensure that these spaces not only meet the needs of users but also reflect contemporary social values. Goutsos (2005), for example, argued that a public washroom can neutralize current “artificial notions of two separate genders” that may no longer reflect social norms, “thereby creating a space that does not discriminate, but is rather inclusive of all its users.”

Senate president Tito Sotto’s opinion reflects the prevailing view that a public toilet is a site which is separated by the presumed biological sex difference between men and women. Yet many transgender individuals nowadays use their preferred toilet regardless of their biological makeup, and such instances rarely generate any controversy. Transwomen in men’s toilets may cause a brief glance from straight men but rarely does a scandal ever happen because as I said, one’s business in a toilet is pretty straightforward.

The controversy usually arises when transwomen or transmen who use either male or female toilets are subjected to more than just curious glances and end up being verbally abused and overtly excluded.

This has led to suggestions that we must start offering gender-neutral or unisex toilets in public spaces and learn to live with it. From a design perspective, that may not be as simple as it sounds. Designers always try to meet the users’ needs and the result is the public toilet of today. Except maybe that female toilets should be designed larger and with more cubicles than male toilets (male urinals take less space), male and female toilet design has by usual standards met public needs.

It may take some time for gender-neutral toilets to become a mainstream feature in our public spaces. In Goutsos’ study, she found out that most women users still feel some discomfort to be in the same washroom with men or transgender individuals.

But in certain situations, gender-neutral toilets have been found to be successful. In some universities, for example, gender-neutral washrooms have been a feature since the turn of the century. Likewise in pubs and disco bars, customers do not mind the comingling of the sexes in the same public toilet or washroom.

If we’re afraid of scandalous situations that might happen inside a unisex toilet, we must remember that it is scandalous people who cause a scandal. His or her gender preference has nothing to do with it.

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