If you were to ever ask a masculine presenting woman to give you a list of their greatest fears, it wouldn’t take you very long to find ‘using public toilets’. What’s a natural, thoughtless process for most, poses one of the most critical everyday challenges for gender non-conforming people.
Quite often the most prevailing discussions relating to the LGBTQ+ community and the use of public toilets are driven by gender-critical transphobes who argue that single sex toilets must be ‘protected’.
As explained by scholar Jack Halberstam, the ‘bathroom crisis’ is a result of gender issues being distilled and debated without real acknowledgement of the larger issues at hand. The recent surge of gender issues into mainstream political discourse has meant greater examination of gender as a social construct as opposed to a biological fact. As the spaces of the binary gender unravel and gender identities become more diverse it is inevitable that wider discussion will have to do away with these archaic conceptions of gender.
Failure to do so is why all objections posed by gender-critical commentators are flawed at their core. They offer a binary solution to a diverse problem. Whilst seeming like a solution, simply establishing non-gendered toilets without first acknowledging the varied gendered identities, buries the issue and leaves the rot to spread elsewhere.
Designations of gender exist as a tool for explaining differences between male and female, or more specifically masculine vs feminine. Masculinity is commonly defined as the conceptualisation of thoughts, characteristics and practices typical to men and boys, or more simply the ‘expression of manliness’.
This historical and cultural affirming of masculinity as being inherent to the cis-male body places masculine women as an explicit challenge on manhood.
The traditional definitions of masculinity serve to maintain a mythical and dangerous outdated hegemony. It is there to assert leadership or dominance over others. And thinking about it, some behavioural traits, physical appearance, interests and behaviours align more typically with men. For example, a tall person with broad shoulders will be initially recognised as being more masculine than a shorter person with a slimmer build. Much in the same way being a primary breadwinner is seen as more masculine position than being the primary caregiver.
In each of these examples, men have typically occupied these ‘masculine’ roles and therefore have asserted a social dominance over masculinity, but there exists a gap between the ascriptions of masculinity versus its designations. Like the gender binary, masculinity and femininity are largely physiologically defined when they are in fact psychosocial.
Furthermore, with the physiologically based gender binary, masculine and feminine roles as they are casted, are complementary to each other. It is this tandem that reinforces heteronormative gendered behaviours. Behaviours that determine that men and women are complementary opposites.
Lesbians and assigned female at birth (AFAB) non-binary people subvert hegemonic femininity implicitly when they display attraction towards other women or AFAB individuals. By seeking romantic gratification from a body that is not cis-male, they can be said to be assuming a role that is in fact reserved for men.
Within queer subculture, stud and butch lesbians, through androgyny perform masculinity outside the confines of manhood and by doing so introduce a fluidity and spectrum into what has been traditionally binary. Masculine presenting women who date other masculine women also introduce a more unconventional expression of masculinity that does not consider femininity as its natural counterpart.
Masculinity and femininity have often being conceptualised in tandem, with femininity framed as subordinate, frail and in need of protection. It is for this gross failure that frames lesbian and AFAB non-binary expressions of masculinity as a desire to be men and to attain the social privilege that comes with manhood.
It is the subordination of femininity that maintains the gender binary and presents the toilet crisis as more complex that it truly is.
When masculine women and AFAB non-binary people share their fear of using a women’s public toilet, they do so because they understand that whatever femininity or womanhood that they are attached to is secondary to their expressions of masculinity.