The Omni-Gender Bathroom

Recently, while visiting the library of a small east coast college, I found myself in need of a bathroom. I encountered this one:


Later that day I sought out the bathroom I usually use on campus: a nondescript single-user loo in the social science department, a place I’ll call Bathroom B. I wanted to visit Bathroom B partly because I had to go, and partly to see how it had changed since my last visit to the college at the end of the summer. Unlike the Omni-Gender Bathroom, Bathroom B is still trying to figure things out.

I work at this college several times a year, and have enjoyed observing Bathroom B’s evolution.  Every time I visit, Bathroom B sports different signage.  When I first encountered Bathroom B, it had a sign that read “Women.”  On my next visit it bore a hand-lettered sign: “Unisex.” The next time I saw Bathroom B it was simply identified with a glyph not unlike that of The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

That afternoon, I found Bathroom B marked with a strip of duct tape and the word “Women” in black marker—a return to its roots.  Given that I only visit quarterly, I imagine I’ve missed at least a few iterations of the bathroom’s identity.

What I appreciate about this particular campus is the students’ and faculty’s willingness to change with the times–only to reevaluate and change again. On the one hand there are transgender students who require a safe space in which to answer nature’s call.  On the other there are female students and professors who wish to use a cleaner bathroom than that typically frequented by male users. What’s the resolution?  No one knows.  But this once-banal bit of signage on a small room meant to satisfy a physiological function is now the hotbed of a series of wrought questions spanning biology, identity, safety, and selfhood.

Duct tape is sturdy, but not permanent, so I’m guessing Bathroom B will continue to evolve.  The Omni-Gender Bathroom seems to have found a more stable identity for itself.  Who’s to say which is the better destiny?



  1. says

    The problem with omni-gender bathrooms is that they become the ‘tranny bathroom’ and in places which force trans people to use those toilets, it outs us every time we use that facility. For those of us who really are gender non-conforming, it seems to be OK, but for those of us who are strongly gendered in a certain direction, it’s rather embarrassing and discriminatory. For all who use it, however, it is dangerous since it’s the ideal place for transphobic people to identify their next victim.

    You may have guessed that I’m not a fan of omni-gender bathrooms, or at least their existence if trans people are forced to use them!

    • shoffman says

      Emily, what if all bathrooms were Omni-Gender? I am wondering what the ideal solution is, from your perspective.

  2. Laurie says

    Thanks, Sarah, for another insightful post. I was in the San Francisco Women’s Building a few weeks ago and the signage on the bathroom there said something like, “This restroom is for all self-identified women. Please be respectful and help make this a safe place for all”. I just loved it. I suppose a cynic could say this is just another example of hyper-PC overkill. But I immediately thought about how I would feel as a transgender-variant-nonconforming -(your descriptor here) human. I would feel acknowledged, accepted and safe. It made me smile.

    • shoffman says

      Thanks Laurie!

      I think I was one of those cynics before having Sam. The issues that gender-variant children and adults face it hard to understand unless you live it, or live with it, or are simply open-minded, as you are. One mother I interviewed told me that he son had “opened her eyes.” Sam has opened mine too.

      I wish Sam’s elementary school would redefine bathrooms that way.

  3. Emily says

    I really hope bathroom B joins the Omni-Gender bathroom, lots of gender variant people need a safe bathroom and when you gotta go you gotta go!

  4. Melissa says

    I really dont have an easy answer to this one. Since we home school we dont run into that issue. in public places Chris always uses the womens room since I feel it is safer and we have never had issues. Of course where we live you would NEVER see an omni gendered bathroom anyway.

    I have always found it interesting that when gender issues are brought up the bathroom issue is usually one of the first brought up. I have no easy answer to this one. I dont know how this will be handled as Chris gets older.

  5. says

    There is very little I appreciate more than omni-gender loos. I was a little pink boy and am now a pink man who is often mistaken for a lesbian (I don’t get it either), omni-gender toilets are the only ones I’m fully comfortable going in.

    Earlier today I ran into a rather interesting play on the usual male/female/unisex option. One male single stall and one unisex single stall. I have no idea why they chose to label them that way, but it intrigued me. I’m used to there being a women/unisex if they’re not split or both unisex.

  6. says

    Sarah, I think my ideal solution would be to have bathrooms matching the genders which there are, which means male, female and omni-gender for those who identify as neither. That way everyone’s comfortable.

    However, above all, I just don’t want trans and gender variant people to be forced to use a toilet which puts them in danger. That shouldn’t be too difficult! :)

  7. Carly says

    I went to a very liberal college in the Midwest, and we used to vote the gender of bathrooms in shared spaces at the beginning of every semester. I think the rule went something like there had to be a gender neutral bathroom on every floor. It was really dorm-by-dorm, case-by-case, (some semesters you’d have 2 male 1 female, 2 neutral 1 female, etc…) depending on the population. This might explain the evolution of the signage?

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