Gender Binaries on October 21, 2007

This day in 2007, I posted about the grievances I had/have with the social construction of gender in my then-blog, Peaceful Ponderings:


I despise the so-called “gender binary” and the ways in which it constricts the way we live. I have felt this way since entering college just over four years ago and the hatred has only grown. Most of the time it is easy to forget about it, but yesterday I was faced with a decision in regards to gender that I am ashamed of and needed to write down.

I was at a Barnes and Noble with a friend when we decided to take a bathroom break. Upon getting to the restrooms we found a long line weaving out of the Women’s room. Of course, no such delay existed in the Men’s room next door. I told my friend that we should just use the Men’s room and a lady behind me agreed. The three of us discussed such an action for a couple of minutes, none of us so much as taking a step in that direction.

A young man exited the Men’s room in question and I asked, “Are there free stalls in there?” He looked at me, unsure for a moment, before responding, “Sure. I’ll defend you if you want to go in.” I looked at my friend, shrugged and remained in the line I was in. Behind me, the lady muttered, “We’re all just sheep.”

The rest of the day I was beating myself up inside. Why hadn’t I gone in? What’s the difference if they are both bathrooms, used for the same purpose? Why must these invisible barriers society has erected to steer us in certain directions be maintained instead of deconstructed? Why can’t I practice what I preach?

Recently, more and more workplaces and colleges have implemented gender-neutral restrooms – seen by the public on the show Ally McBeal several years ago. Nonetheless, such implementations are still new and controversial.

I ask those who are skeptical, regardless of your anatomy: why do bathrooms need to be segregated?

Yes, segregated. Most people would think the word is misued in this case, but just as blacks and whites were separated 50 years ago or so, women and men are as well – not to mention gender nonconforming individuals – in a much more complicated way. Now, more than ever before, we are realizing just how wide the spectrum of both sexuality and gender identity are.

As transgender people gain more and more rights, more and more establishments must evolve with the times. There are transgender individuals who are born with male genitalia when they should have female, and vice versa; for them, the bathroom issue is one involving the either/or dichotomy we are used to. But, there are others who identify as gender queer, gender neutral, or any of a handful of labels who do not fit into the “male” or “female” categories. Some may appear androgynous, others may perform gender in any of an infinite amount of ways in which they feel most comfortable. Which bathroom do them choose when they are only faced with two choices, neither of which describe them?

Most of use never even think about these decisions. Most of us are never called a pronoun we do not identify with. But, what about those of us who do? One of my friends is a self-identified gender queer person. Ze (a neutral pronoun used by many sociologists) has been called “he” and “she” on different occasions; ze makes people uncomfortable in that way. The two of us took a spinning class in college one semester and one wouldn’t think exercising would result in emotional discomfort, but we didn’t know that the instructor would segregate the class in the way she did. The instructor would say, “All women start peddling!” and five minutes later, “Okay, men, now!” My friend didn’t know which group to peddle with, so ze chose one or the other, disregarding whether the other classmates were staring at hir (another gender neutral pronoun) or not. I would not have been aware of this issue it if weren’t for my friend, and I was uncomfortable for hir.

As more transgender people are coming out of their own closets, society must keep up and adjust with them. If your workplace or school does not have gender neutral restrooms yet, think about suggesting them. According to, there are currently 1001 gender neutral bathrooms in 300 cities in the U.S. You can enter a city and state to find out where it’s safe to pee. Hopefully that number will continue to rise.

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Filed under Gender, Social Justice

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