Visiting the restroom seems a like a mundane and easy thing to do for most people. You walk in, do your business and leave. Maybe you stop to fix your hair or chat with someone while you wash your hands, but typically the most anxiety you’re going to run into is an empty paper towel dispenser. Up until recently for transgender and non-binary students, however, the experience has been much more complicated.
Luckily, for many transgender and non-binary students on the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus, this is becoming less of an issue. The library has just opened a new gender neutral bathroom for students whom going to the restroom has always been an issue. While there are other buildings on campus that have gender neutral bathrooms such as Benildus (bottom floor, near the vending machines), the library is the first location that is a. near the dormitories and b. a place where students of all majors spend their time.
“Bathrooms became a source of anxiety for me when I realized that I didn’t feel right in my own skin anymore,” says Cris Galvez, a transgender man and junior Creative Writing major. While Galvez was born female, he identifies as male and like many transgender individuals, has always had a difficult relationship with going to the restroom. When you’re anything but cisgender, going to the bathroom is not as simple as picking a door to walk through. Using the restroom meant for the gender you identify as might feel good, but if your sex (what’s in your pants) doesn’t match up with your gender identity, you’re likely to get a few stares at best or, at worst, beat up. If you go into the restroom for the gender you were assigned at birth but don’t identify as, you’re likely to feel anxious or frustrated because the sign on the door doesn’t match up with how you feel inside.
“It’s as simple as changing the signs,” says Librarian Sierra Parson. She wants the library to be an inclusive, welcoming environment, which is why she reached out to COLORS President Colin McIntire (who could not be reached for comment) about installing a gender neutral bathroom. COLORS is the Gay Straight Alliance on campus and is responsible for both the gender neutral bathrooms on campus and the gender neutral dorm that opened up this year. Together, Parson and McIntire were able to change one of the bathrooms already in the library from a single gender restroom to an “All Genders Restroom” as the new sign says. “I mean, we have six of them [bathrooms],” Parsons says. “I think it [having gender neutral bathrooms] is important.”
The administration was very supportive of COLOR’s initiative for gender inclusivity. “However, they did say at first that it wouldn’t be possible to achieve before the fall semester of 2015. This was in February 2014. We had to say “No way” to that. We insisted that the gender neutral hall and bathrooms would have to be instated no later than fall semester of 2014, and we ended up pushing hard enough!” says COLORS Vice President and Senior Film Major, Tom Grimes. He was part of the team that got both the gender neutral bathrooms in Benildus and the gender neutral hall in St. Mikes. When it comes to gender inclusivity, SFUAD is definitely ahead of the curve. While colleges like UNM have gender neutral bathrooms, very few campus have gender neutral housing options.
“I was super stoked to hear that there was a gender neutral bathroom in the library after all of the hard work it took to get them in Benildus and the gender neutral hall. It’s nice to have more safe spaces like that on campus,” says Shelby Criswell, a Sophomore Studio Arts major and creator of the popular web comic “Awkward Shelby.” Criswell identifies as Neutrois which falls under the umbrella term “Genderqueer,” a type of gender identity that does not fit into the gender binary. “It’s a huge relief to walk into a restroom to do your business and not have anyone look at you funny or tell you to get out.”
Galvez, like most transgender and non-gender binary students, wishes there were more gender neutral bathrooms on campus. “Personally, I think they should be all over the campus. Instead of just having a male and female bathroom there should be male, female, and gender-neutral [bathrooms] in every building. That’s probably pretty demanding, but a lot of people who identify somewhere on the trans-spectrum don’t feel safe using gendered bathrooms and it can cause a lot of problems for people who are just starting to come out.” While it might seem demanding to some, having a safe space to relieve oneself is extremely important and completely doable. COLORS Vice President, Tom Grimes, is hopeful about installing more of these bathrooms on campus.
It is uncertain where the next gender neutral bathroom will crop up next, but for now at least the library is a “free to pee” space.