Home » Gender neutral bathrooms: The social, psychological and physical implications.

Gender neutral bathrooms: The social, psychological and physical implications.

by Media Xpose

By: Devan Moonsamy 

We live in a time at which the LGBTQ+ community has experienced the most amount of freedom, acceptance and support. Despite these characteristics not being fully carried out throughout the very hetero-normative societies we were brought up in, it still enables and allows individuals to identify themselves, and now more so than ever, especially seen in and amongst the youth of society. Hence, we attempt to identify the social, psychological and physical implications of poor infrastructure and a lack of access to gender neutral bathrooms in a broadened scale, and how this affects the transgendered and non-conforming (TGNC) population(s).

It is important to remember that the traditional concepts of gender and binary conformation is being challenged on a daily venture by the LGBTQ+ community (Herman, 2013) thus, making it highly necessary to address the inadequacies and disparities between the cis-gendered, transgender and non-conforming environments i.e., restrooms and the access thereof. It is a human need to access bathroom facilities and in this it becomes apparent that accessing bathroom facilities should be made safe and secure for all individuals.

Analytical framework  

Jody L. Herman brings to light the effects of minority stress – known as the development of major stressors through daily disrespect, neglect and general disparity (Herman, 2013); the study breaks stress up into two main types: Distal and proximal stresses. The former pertaining to external events affecting the individual such as violence and exclusion, and the latter referring to a more internal node such as the individuals self-perception and identity comfort (Herman, 2013) – studies found that lack of access to bathroom facilities by the TGNC and other LGB members due to fears of prejudice, biases and discrimination against their communities and sexual orientation led to the avoidance of entering or using restrooms (Herman, 2013) publicly, in the schooling & working environment. Within this exists the many physical, social and psychological detriments that affects the TGNC and LGB communities respectfully.

Environmental influence and impact 

Given the lack of gender-neutral restrooms in the schooling environment it can be identified that the youths affected report substantially poorer mental health conditions (Wernick & Kulick, 2017) and a direct effect of this can be showcased through their academic performance, demonstrating a much poorer performance than their cis-gendered counterparts. Transgendered students experience more frequent instances of harassment, bullying, as well as, more targeted emotional, physical and even sexual assault (Wernick & Kulick, 2017) when compared to their hetero-“normal” cis-gendered counterparts and their LGB cis-gendered counters. It is in these instances we can identify the increase in stress, anxiety, depression, a lack of community and a huge sense of exclusion on the TGNC members in the schooling environment. This then creates poor and unstable mental well-being among the TGNC community. Lack of bathroom access for TGNC persons has extremely negative social implications that encompass the issue, such as TGNC persons tend to avoid cis-gendered restrooms (in public, the school and the workplace) due to being at high risk of facing hostile treatment, verbal slurring and abuse (Wernick & Kulick, 2017). The constant restriction and limited access to bathrooms then has physical implications seen in increased rates of: dehydration, urinary tract infections and bladder infections, which becomes a serious concern (Wernick & Kulick, 2017). This further adds to the stressors and anxieties experienced by the non-conforming and trans community. Furthermore, it is important to note that high school students experiencing the on-set of adolescence require an environment that is most accompanying and enacted upon appropriately by the respective authority (Hardacker, et al., 2019) to ensure that the TGNC community can engage with and develop their sexuality in a constructive and respective manner. Potentially aiding them to counter the stigmas, discrimination and ‘hate’ projected in their direction.

The TGNC community experience an unfair bias within the job market as it stands, thus making it extraordinarily harder for them needing to deal with an unsafe restroom environment. The fear of verbal abuse, sexual assault, discrimination and hate persists prevalently in the workplace (Weinhardt, et al., 2017). Making it difficult for persons to maintain working in that environment and often leads to persons of the TGNC community leaving,but this then adds again to their social and mental well-being showing negative effects. An increased sense of exclusion, a lost sense of acceptance; affecting their state(s) of anxiety or depression. In many cases persons of the TGNC community attempt to change their environments for a more suitable one and opt for a change, but this just increases the disparities experienced by them and often they are denied access into new/different environments due to their orientation and non-conformity (Hardacker, et al., 2019).  

Due to the looming threats faced on the daily by the TGNC community – to which events that occurred in public restrooms often have merit – suicidal rates within the community present themselves at the highest percentage in comparison to any other community (Weinhardt, et al., 2017), be it the LGB cis-gendered or heterosexual cis-gendered persons. Risk factors contributing to the increased suicidal rates of the TGNC community are: Family rejection, internalised homophobia and being denied adequate access to restroom facilities (Weinhardt, et al., 2017). This highlights the importance of implementation of gender-neutral restrooms throughout all environments of life to help mitigate the negative implications (namely the risk of suicidal thoughts and increased rates of suicide in the TGNC community) of not allowing a TGNC member access to their own safe and secure restroom facilities.

Ultimately the lack of access to adequate restroom facilities for the TGNC community presents itself in schools, the public and the workplace. As discussed above we can deduce that the psychological effects can effect one’s personal, social well-being and the negatives surrounding this social aspect then proceeds into their physical and psychological well-being. Hence there exists this inter-connectedness of aspects and whilst they may not be avoided completely through the installation of gender-neutral bathrooms it will indefinitely reduce the negative effects and promote a stronger sense of acceptance, community and social inclusion. To alter the effects of poor mental health and negative feelings about being transgendered it is of utmost importance that the TGNC community are provided with public accommodation for their basic human needs and health issues (Puckett, et al., 2017).

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African Corporate Training Provider & National Learning Institute. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute. 

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | 083 303 9159 |

Email: admin@ichaftraining.co.za devan@ichaftraining.co.za | 

Website: www.ichaftraining.co.za |  www.devan-moonsamy.com

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