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You don’t Belong here! : The politics of Gendered Spaces

by Rohan Susha Mathews

A gender-inclusive toilet

You don’t belong here!

In homes, schools and workplaces, transgender people are often separated in ways that sustain gender stratification by reducing their access to socially valued knowledge. Knowledge and authority have been the dominant field of both men and women for a long time. While I agree that throughout history women have been oppressed by men when it comes to transgender regression both men and women are equally to be blamed. This comes in the picture of a society which refuses to think beyond the binary.

From church pews and temples to one of anyone’s basic necessities – Toilets, we have spaces differentiated based on the binary. In the light of all these events, we conveniently ignore our fellow beings dealing with gender dysphoria adding into their troubles.

For years, transgender rights activists have fought for their right to use the public restroom which aligns with their gender identity. Some argue that one solution to this impasse is to convert all public restrooms for unisex use, thereby eliminating the need to even consider a patron’s sex. In the Indian Diaspora, this might strike some as bizarre or drastic. Many assume that separating restrooms based on a person’s biological sex is the “natural” way to determine who should and should not be permitted to use these public spaces.

Opponents of transgender rights have employed the slogan “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” which evokes visions of weak women being subject to attack by men if transgender women are allowed to “invade” the public bathroom.

So why do we need legal protection against bathroom restrictions?

For Instance, the stakes are high for transgender students. Studies show that transgender students could be harassed, sexually assaulted or subjected to other physical violence when required to use a gendered bathroom. Recent studies suggest that over 50 percent of transgender individuals will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (a rate that is far higher than for non-transgendered individuals), and that (absent protections) using bathrooms could pose a significant threat of undergoing physical harm or harassment.

Sometimes I find it really agonizing, how people from the mainstream community think that an individual’s gender is something for them to command upon. Imagine the heartless fate of a girl stuck in a boys hostel or a man stuck in the women’s changing room.

In the midst of the current maelstrom over public restrooms, it is important to keep in mind that whether or not multi-occupancy, unisex restrooms are the best solution, our lawmakers and the public need to begin envisioning new configurations of public restroom spaces, ones far friendlier to all people who move through public spaces.

A gender-inclusive toilet

A gender-inclusive toilet. Location Courtesy: The Rice Mill Cafe, Goa

About the Author

Rohan Susha Mathews

Rōhan Sushā Mathews is a 21-year-old student of engineering in Dhārwad. Born into a conservative Syrian Christian family Rōhan has always faced troubles dealing with evident traits of femininity within him. During his short tenure at the Madrās Christian College, he has been subjected to severe pressure from most of the student community who chose to rather live in monolithic times. Beyond all of this, Rōhan is someone who takes great interest in understanding different cultures, traditions, and languages on deeper aspect. He calls feeding the hungry his passion and cooking his sacred art. He is a believer but has broken the binding chains of limited theology that churches smothered him with. He keeps searching for better understanding of religious texts with respect to their context and circumstances rather than blind faith.

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