With only four all-gender bathrooms at Franklin High School (FHS), many transgender and nonbinary students are left with the difficult choice of either having to choose which gendered restroom feels safest for them or not using the restroom altogether. For many trans and nonbinary students, using gendered bathrooms poses a serious safety threat.
Co-directors of the film “Nowhere to Go,” seniors Finn Zelinsky and Avi Israel Davis, shared the origin of their film as “frustration with Franklin’s current all-gender bathroom system and the way gendered bathrooms function in general” and “a desire to leave this community more educated and inclusive than [they] found it.” Zelinsky, a transmasculine FHS student explained that he “[doesn’t] want future and current trans students to continue to have barriers around something so simple and necessary, especially when they are already dealing with the everyday stress of being trans in an uneducated and cisnormative society.”
Zelinsky said that in his case, deciding between “holding it” or using a gendered restroom is “interchangeable with choosing between invalidation and physical safety.” According to their website, the United States Trans Survey (USTS) “was conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality in the summer of 2015. Of respondents in the USTS, 1,152 were Oregon residents.” To be eligible to participate in this survey, respondents had to be at least 16 years old and identify with “trans identities, including both binary and nonbinary trans identities.” Out of the Oregon respondents, 13% reported being verbally harassed while accessing a restroom. Additionally, 62% of respondents “avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience.” Zelinsky echoed these feelings when he shared that, “even if a transgender person isn’t ever assaulted or harassed for using a gendered restroom, the fear that at any point it could happen is very real and very difficult to deal with.”
“I think that cisgender students have a wonderful opportunity to show up for their trans classmates in unfavorable circumstances (the lack of all-gender restrooms), yet they often fail to do so,” said Zelinsky. He explained that he was unsure whether cisgender students’ failure to respect the all-gender restrooms is due to a lack of knowledge and understanding or a disregard for trans and non-binary experience, “but the result is that all-gender restrooms are vandalized, locked by staff, or being camped out in for whole class periods at a time.”
Beyond the number of all-gender restrooms, the misuse and occupancy of these restrooms leads to trans and non-binary students having to decide what restroom to use instead. Just like all other bathrooms at FHS, when the space is misused and ends with damage, whether that be in the defacing of walls with graffiti or physical destruction of the space, the result is that bathrooms get locked. Just like with the gendered bathrooms, when they are locked, it becomes a challenge to find which ones are available to use, greatly limiting access, only with all-gender bathrooms the issue is exacerbated because there is already limited access to bathrooms.
Lana Rachielug, a cisgender junior at FHS said that “almost every time [she] ha[s] used a gender-neutral bathroom they are in complete disarray.” She explained graffiti covering the walls and toilet paper coating the floors. “People need to be mindful that that bathroom is the only bathroom some students feel safe in, and we have to keep it a clean space and stay out of it unless necessary, out of respect for students who use them regularly,” said Rachielug.
When all-gender bathrooms are locked, trans and non-binary students are forced to seek out a staff member to open or unlock the restroom. According to the USTS, “8% of respondents reported that someone denied them access to a restroom” in 2015. Zelinsky recounted a situation at an FHS event this year in which he “approached a security guard in a last-ditch effort to find an all-gender restroom but was met with very little understanding and what [he] perceived to be annoyance for asking, even after [he] tried to explain [his] situation.”
Due to the limited and necessary nature of all-gender bathrooms, cisgender students must prioritize these restrooms for those who need them. Rachielug explained that, “as a cis student, [she tries] to avoid using them out of respect for students who only feel comfortable using those bathrooms.” Israel-Davis agrees that it’s ok for cisgender students to use the all-gender bathrooms, “as long as they are mindful of trans students and put them first, as well as use it for its intended purpose.” The things outside of the intended purpose referenced by Israel-Davis is in reference to students who use the all-gender bathrooms as places to skip classes or hang out and participate in other activities. When students take advantage of these spaces for non-restroom related purposes, trans and non-binary students are again left with nowhere to go.
The misuse of all-gender restrooms is not just an inconvenience to other students, but poses serious health threats. According to the Oregon statistics from the USTS survey, “37% of respondents limited the amount that they ate or drank to avoid using the restroom in the past year.” Hydration and nutrition restriction poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of students. With nowhere safe to use the restrooms, some students feel as though their only option is to abstain from behaviors that would result in them needing the restroom while at school. Additionally, the inability to use the restroom can lead to urinary tract and bladder infections.
“Everyone needs to use the bathroom and everyone deserves to feel comfortable while they do it,” said Israel-Davis. Providing universal access to single use restrooms doesn’t only benefit non-binary and transgender people. These restrooms are vital for students with varying abilities, people with medical conditions, and people with caretakers. It’s time for a culture shift when it comes to our society’s restroom system. Israel-Davis explained how she wishes “there was a more clear culture of acceptance [when it comes to restrooms].”
While it may feel like there is not much you can do about this issue on an individual level, Zelinsky asks “cis students to be as mindful as they can when using all-gender restrooms, and choosing gendered ones instead at all times possible.” He continued adding, “while it may feel impossible to be helpful on this issue in the larger picture, […] you CAN help keep the few [all-gender restrooms] that we do have clean, unlocked, and accessible.”
“We are just as deserving of [as others to have] somewhere safe to use the restroom,” said Zelinsky.