Beyond the binary: Bathrooms must be inclusive of transgender communities

The sun beat down on me, as day one of the music festival was coming to an end. I had chugged all of my water trying not to overheat and urgently had to use the restroom.

I sprinted to the nearest restroom only to find an enormous line of people waiting. Once I reached the front of the line, a security guard started inaudibly hollering at my group. The security guard slowly began pushing his way toward me through the line of people, but a bathroom opened up and I took off into the stall.

Even though I felt uneasy about the incident, I wrote it off because the festival had claimed to be an inclusive, safe space. As a transmasculine person, bathrooms are one of the most uncomfortable places for me because my identity is not entirely male nor entirely female. When I face the question of entering the men’s or women’s bathroom, there’s no obvious answer. So, I thought I would face less discrimination because this space had boasted about its movement toward love and acceptance of everyone –– especially those who identity out of the gender binary.

The next day of the festival, I camped out at the main stage to ensure I would get the best view of my favorite artists. By the end of the day, my bladder was ready to burst, and I sprinted to the closest port-a-potties I could find.

Seeing no line, I approached a port-a-potty but was immediately stopped by the screams of nearby security guards.

My chest tightened, and my hand started to shake as they began to approach me. One of the guards exclaimed, “You can’t be here! This is a women’s restroom.”

This time, their anger was crystal clear –– I was violating festival rules by using the restrooms designated for women, and I needed to leave immediately.

I was confused because I hadn’t seen any signs and I didn’t understand how my presence in a single occupancy port-a-potty would cause any issues. And even if this was a women’s restroom, that’s the bathroom I felt safest in at the time.

With trembling hands, I reached into my pocket to grab my ID that marked my sex as “female” even though that’s not how I fully identify. The two guards spent a few minutes comparing me to my ID before they finally decided to let me use the restroom. I sat in the port-a-potty trying not to cry, scream and break down –– I was tired of constantly having my identity policed by others.

It is so frustrating not being able to attend a festival without having to justify my existence. When others are planning their outfits or what artist they want to see, I am strategizing for my safety. I am guessing what a stranger would assume my gender is, how much water I drink so I can avoid using the bathroom and what bathroom I can feel safe using while my ID says, female, but I present male.

But this does not just happen at music festivals. It’s at coffee shops, bars, gas stations, work … literally everywhere I go. Being transmasculine, I face numerous obstacles in accessing basic necessities. Bathrooms are one of the many daily activities that constantly occupy my mind that cisgender people around me take for granted. Not having a bathroom where I feel safe or that aligns with my gender prevents me from being in so many spaces.

If there’s no gender-neutral bathroom, I am forced to decide if it’s safer for me to use the women’s or the men’s restroom because both spaces often make me uncomfortable.

When I go into the men’s room, I have to ignore the confused stares I receive while waiting for a stall to open. Some days when I go into the entrance of the women’s bathroom, I’ll catch people glancing at the sign to make sure they’re in the correct bathroom.

What’s even more awkward is when the barista at the coffee shop, who is confused about my gender, hands me a bathroom key then quickly gives me the other key instead.

I purposely avoid studying on campus when I know I will be there for several hours. I want to focus on my academics, but instead, I have to run to the closest building that might have a gender-inclusive bathroom in the 10-minute break between my classes.

So, why is it that the campus inclusive restrooms map that lists all gender-inclusive single-stall and multi-stall restrooms at UC Berkeley has not been updated in almost three years?

It’s honestly unacceptable.

When a gender nonconforming person enters bathrooms made only for women and men, it inherently conflicts with society’s rigid understanding of gender.

And challenging social norms of gender often results in violence.

I was once physically thrown out of the men’s bathroom in a San Francisco club because security believed I didn’t belong there. Even though I had short hair, a button-up on and a deeper voice, it did not matter to him –– my choice to use the men’s restroom was instantly invalidated. When I tried to explain that I was just a transgender person who had to pee, I was then kicked out of the venue. This incident is just one example.

No matter if I feel that I made the right evaluation of which bathroom I belong in at the end of the day, I will never know if I made the right choice. I feel frustrated when people say, “just use the bathroom that most aligns with your gender identity,” because there is no binary cisgender space I can safely occupy. It doesn’t matter to me if I am in the right bathroom because the strangers around me are the final judgment of my choice.

The reality is that I also have it pretty damn easy. I have a great deal of privilege because I am able-bodied, white and pass as male. Transgender inclusivity does not mean just letting all people access bathrooms without stares, without commentary and without violence. It means thoughtfully incorporating transgender and gender nonconforming people into all spaces with love, with acceptance and with pride.

Mack Davey is a junior studying marine science at UC Berkeley.