There is a significant debate in the running of public spaces as to whether non-binary and otherwise trans (NBoT) people should be told to use the disabled toilet as a unisex space or not. As someone who sits in both categories, quite literally in reference to disability, I have a unique perspective on the issue.
Prior to being disabled, I used the women’s toilets because that’s just what I did. I do remember feeling out of place sometimes with the sort of gossip that can go on in that setting, but I didn’t feel like using the male toilet would be much better, not that the thought had ever really crossed my mind.
Since becoming disabled, on the rare occasion I encounter gendered disabled toilets, I automatically go into the women’s, and I imagine I will continue to do so as using the men’s toilets would draw unwanted attention or even harassment. However, given that I’ve mostly been using gender neutral spaces for a little less than a decade, I think if I suddenly became able-bodied, having to choose between gendered bathrooms would genuinely leave me in a bit of a pickle.
Disabled toilets are designed with certain disabilities in mind, primarily accommodating bulky mobility aids, or additional people who care for the disabled person. However, they also prove useful for a wide range of disabilities; those with visual impairments may find a typical bathroom impossible to navigate alone, or they may need room for a guide dog. Other, less visible conditions may mean that people need support to go from sitting to standing, can’t walk as far as the other bathrooms, need room to change ileostomy bags, or any number of silent conditions. As such it is impossible to determine exactly how many people require access to the already limited number of facilities available, without invading people’s privacy by forcing them to disclose personal information.
The demand for disabled toilets is already high, and directing NBoT people to those same facilities, as is often the policy in public spaces, only increases demand for both groups. No one is satisfied. In fact, some NBoT people also don’t want to have to navigate a cubicle with grab rails, cords that could be accidentally pulled, or sinks at very low heights. Some also feel self-conscious about using those facilities at all; the implication being that being trans is a disability, and disability is predominantly viewed as something undesirable.
Disabled toilets will frequently be unisex, but they were not necessarily designed with NBoT people in mind. Often there is room for only one disabled toilet, meaning it cannot be gendered without excluding some disabled people. It also provides suitable facilities for those with differently-gendered carers.
Disabled toilets should absolutely be a unisex space, not least because the disabled person themselves may be NBoT. This does not necessarily mean that NBoT people should automatically be directed to the disabled toilet per policy. If it is possible to create a separate unisex space then this should be encouraged, but this is not always feasible. Alternatively, harboring a culture of inclusivity and respect would make it significantly easier for people to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable for using, disabled, NBoT or otherwise.
We shouldn’t be policing whether we think a particular person should be using a particular toilet. At the end of the day, it’s a receptacle for catching and removing bodily waste, and most people know their gender and which space they want to use. It’s important to be considerate of sensitive issues surrounding both gender identity and disability, and that includes those who fall into either category passing judgement on others they find using “their” facilities. This is a trap I have fallen into on more than one occasion, and it’s tricky to get out of.
If you see someone using a toilet you don’t think they should be, don’t call it into question unless you absolutely know that they have no right to be using those facilities – which you can never know. Now, how about we all just mind our own business and show others the consideration with which we wish to be treated ourselves?