by Guest Contributor(s)
You may have noticed in the past day that the bathroom signs over much of campus were covered with posters stating “this bathroom has been liberated from the gender binary.” This was not a call for a policy change from the administration, but rather a statement of fact; Princeton’s policy has been for years that campus community members may use whichever bathrooms they are most comfortable with, regardless of the individual’s gender designation by the state. If that comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone – even among the transgender community on campus, many were unaware of this policy. This is due in large part to the persistence of signage designating the vast majority of bathrooms on campus as being for either male or female genders. Symbols have power, and this has led most to assume that gender segregation of bathrooms has continued. Individuals can feel empowered to police who can or should be in a given bathroom, resulting in unsolicited glares, comments, and more. To avoid the often-hostile environment of a gendered bathroom, many transgender students, especially those who do not identify as either male or female, make use of single-stall units, which are few and far between – many buildings do not even have one. This can cause serious medical complications, including UTIs. The lack of dispensaries or depositories for tampons in male-designated bathrooms, for example, can cause logistical problems for people with uteruses who feel safer in that bathroom environment. Others simply opt not to be open about their gender identities publicly, which can contribute to feelings of isolation and invalidation.
This situation is not conducive to an open and welcoming campus community. Why, then, has the University opted not to update the signage to accurately reflect their policy regarding bathrooms? Perhaps to avoid controversy, but that does little to remedy the existing problems. Those who may object on the grounds of a fear of walking in on someone at a urinal can be mollified by the implementation of signage that reflects what sort of facilities are present inside – a urinals or no-urinals scheme, for example. Such a change would have positive effects on the campus climate at minimal cost to the University, as no bathroom facilities would need to be physically altered.
If you still harbor reservations or objections to the notion of gender-neutral bathrooms, we would encourage you to look into the history of bathroom segregation by gender – it’s actually quite a new phenomenon, originating in the late nineteenth century. Like it or not, you have been using bathrooms alongside transgender campus community members for years, without issue. The campus bathroom policy has already been resolved – all that remains is the matter of campus education, and improving the signage system is the clearest path forward on that front.
Ariana Natalie Myers, G5 History
K. Stiefel, ’20
Note: K. Stiefel ‘20 is the Digital Editor of the Prog.