Sunday, 29 August 2010

Toilets, the Transgendered, and the Law

To what extent should the law regulate which toilet a transgendered person can use?

Should equality law enable transgendered people to use the toliet of their choice, in respect of either public toilets or toilets on private premises (eg, pubs and restaurants)?

Or should the law relating to, say, breaches of the peace be used to prevent transgendered people, especially male to female (MTF), intruding into the "space" reserved for a particular gender?

These questions are prompted by a Twitter exchange I had today with campaigner Christine Burns following yesterday's blogpost on the extent to which the law should regulate how one dresses.

(The exchange is here.)

Any thoughts?


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


JuliaM said...

I really can't see the problem - assuming they will use closed stalls anyway (if male to female) then what does it matter?

I realise female to male is a bit trickier where the men's toilets are mostly urinal-style, but even they have at least one or more stall types to use, don't they?

Tony Lloyd said...

A while ago I wondered out loud why we don't just have unisex toilets. We manage with unisex toilets in the home, why not everywhere else.

I was told, rather forcibly, that it was because we men would leave the ladies in a complete mess as we are hopeless slobs who can't even put the lid down etc. etc.

That would make the problem one of gender roles (ie how one acts) rather than sex (biological make up).

So if we make "Ladies" and "Gents" refer to gender roles any transgendered would be self selecting. Wherever they thought was right would be.

chris said...

Della said...

I think anyone who is opting in to want to use the ladies, particularly in bars, at gigs or McDonald's on Oxford Street, is insane....there's always a massive queue!!

Then again, if unisex toilets means we all have the option of sharing toilets, then surely the queues will be shared and us girls can get in and out a lot quicker!!

I'm all for it!!

Zoe OConnell said...

Sadly, we're approaching a point where there will be active primary legislation on this matter and it's not going to be of benefit to the trans community.

I see you're already aware of the Toiletgate incident in 2008 - it was actually an off-duty LGBT police liaison officer who insisted on seeing a transwomans Gender Recognition Certificate. That flags an important issue for the trans community - laws that are supposed to help (Gender Recognition Act) can be misinterpreted and used against us as it was I understand it illegal for him to ask to see it, let alone make it a condition of access to the toilets. Importantly to my next point, a butch dyke was also denied access to the womens toilets when a steward believed she might be trans but I believe was allowed access when she threatened to punch the steward!

This all leads up to the Equalities Act 2010 which has caused quite a fuss in the trans community - see here and here for background but basically, come October is will be perfectly legal to discriminate in many cases based on trans status or perceived trans status. (Given that in most cases, people aren't going to know for sure if someone is trans or not - as far as I'm aware, it's impossible to legally prove one is not trans) This is quite worrying, because it gives places like hospitals free reign to do what they like on the basis it might make other service users uncomfortable. Even if the legality is questionable at the time, trans people are often not in a position to defend themselves if, for example, they're trying to access sheltered accommodation, counselling services or healthcare.

Once it's "common knowledge" that it's permissible to discriminate, people will latch on to that even if they're in the wrong.

@JuliaM - I'm aware of at least two cisgendered (That is, non-trans) men who will never use the urinals because of genital issues. I don't know the details but I know they do not consider themselves intersex at all.

Alan McIntosh said...

Surely, a transgendered individual using a female cubicle is less likely to be the victim of abuse etc if they use a woman's toilet, than they are if they use a male toilet?

Alan McIntosh said...

Lol, I would add with regards Tony's comments, at Uni I worked in the student union and had the unfortunate pleasure of having to go in a clean up the vomit etc from toilets regardless of whether they were male or female.
As an impartial judge and having seen a woman's toilet on a night out, I have to say the suggestion the women's toilets were kept in better condition by their users is laughable.
Give me the guys anytime.

Matt Greenall said...

I hope this comment is not too much of a deviation but the questions in this post remind me of an issue around arrests of transgender people. MTF transgender sex workers who I worked with in Madagascar, when they got locked up, would be put in male cells leading to harassment and sometimes violence. I understand this is quite common in other countries too.

Zoe OConnell said...

@Alan - After the Toiletgate Pride London incident, the stewards went back to refusing entry to transwomen to the female toilets. Apparently one transwoman was sexually assaulted in the mens toilets as a result so yes, it can and does happen.

Adam Fish said...

I actually became somewhat involved in a case like this earlier this year. We argued that for a publican to refuse access to the correct toilet for a trans woman is a violation of the 2008 amendments to the Sex Discrimination Regulations 1975. The case never went as far as court, as the pub chain in question conceded we were right once they realised we were serious.

The arguments that people usually make against allowing trans people to use the right facilities tend to revolve around the fiction that this would allow cis men to infiltrate the toilets and rape women as if in some torture-porn version of Some Like It Hot. That this has never actually ever happened doesn't discourage some right-wing people from using it as an emotive argument. You can find my (somewhat sarcastic) deconstruction of this here:

blue-cat said...

Ideally we should have:
1 ~ Urinals for stand up point & pee
2 ~ Cubicles for sitting down
3 ~ Disabled
4 ~ Family (for parents & kids)
Nearby, or the anti-chamber, should have an area for baby changing and a separate nursing area.

None of this needs gender designations therefore no 'you are in the wrong loo'. Simple!

Twitter: FuyoBC

KateKatV said...

To me, this is about where we draw pretty arbitrary boundaries and about what happens in single-sex toilets. The layout of those means that the reasons for discomfort would be different. As I understand it there is the opportunity for gentlemen to glimpse others' genitalia. That is not the case with ladies, where issues are more of modesty. When I check the mirror and discover the lining of my skirt is hitched up I expect anyone else there to understand why I have just stuck my hand up my skirt and started wiggling around, though I would prefer not to have to reveal my underwear to anyone. Cubicles are often a bit small to get full or long skirts just so. Also there's brushing hair and doing make-up, which many women prefer not to do in public. There is a convention that one does not watch a woman doing her make-up unless she is a friend.

What I don't like is when women bring boys into the ladies. I understand why they do, but I don't like having kids staring at me brushing my hair etc. and it's a nuisance if my skirt is twisted and there is a queue to get back into a cubicle. Also, one of the problems with unisex toilets is the puddles on the floor, which are a menace if wearing a skirt, and boys do not have good aim.

A transgendered person, regardless of 'direction', would understand the modesty issues so I can't really understand why anyone would mind.

With regard to the gent's, there the issues are rather different and opaque to me. However, what about gay men? Surely the issues are much the same as with transgendered people? Where do you draw the line? Until we have ten different loos everywhere - one for each of hetero, homosexual, transgendered, children and disabled - we'll just have to work with dress.

If you really want to get worked up about loo etiquette, what about disabled ones? When my back is bad I really appreciate the disabled loos that don't have the special key, but do not appreciate having to wait because someone else can't be bothered with the stairs to the main loo.

Dru Marland said...

I'm with Tony on this one; while the definitions of 'sex' and 'gender' are slippery and liable to evolution, I still see sex as what we are and gender as what we perform. So it seems self-evident that we should all use the toilets according to the gender we present as. And the notion of 'transgender' people 'intruding' upon space reserved for a particular gender manages to sound at least mildly offensive. You can usually tell what gender role someone is performing. And if you can't, are you going to call them out on it, and if so, why?

Zoe OConnell said...

@KateKatV - I've had the "What do I do with my son when he needs to go to the toilet issue" before now, I'm not too comfortable taking him into the ladies but he's only just now got to the stage where he's comfortable going into the mens on his own.

Going of at a tangent but perhaps interesting discussion points to illustrate that this isn't just a trans issue: Pre-transition, I also had trouble with baby changing being in the ladies. Luckily no mother I've ever met would object to a man going into the ladies to use baby changing if he loudly announces his presence and the reason why! I've also had trouble with RADAR locks on "accessible" toilets when alone with a child in a pushchair when the only other toilets are up a flight of stairs and there are no staff about with a key for the accessible toilets. I did write to the RADAR scheme at the time this started to become a problem to ask them to make sure there was provision for parents with pushchairs when pushing their scheme but they didn't reply.

NicholBrummer said...

If transgender people dress to their preferred gender.. then who'd notice?

Next question is if there should at all be a law that defines how toilets should be allocated. Is this not best left to (local) etiquette?

Philip said...

Why do we need gendered toilets at all? I have heard an argument for two toilets: unisex, and "man express".

Nevertheless, such quibbling doesn't make the issue go away - communal showers in swimming pools will be gendered for the forseeable future. Given @christineburns's interesting comments about actual vs perceived risk, I think the best thing is not to criminalise being in the wrong toilet/changing room but to criminalise actual sexual harassment or assault resulting from being in the wrong changing room. As a man, I have no qualms about sharing facilities with gay men; I can't see why I should mind sharing with FTM transgendered men either. I can and should, however, get justice for any inappropriate behaviour in toilets and changing rooms as and when it happens. (Obviously, it's hard for me to speak on behalf of cis- or trans-women.)

Rob G said...

In ightclubs, etc, it's not uncommon for women to use male toilets to avoid queues. If it's ok when everyone's pissed, why is it wrong when sobre ?

Also smacks of "we can so we will" bullying of minorities power trip. It can make some people with power feel more 'normal' if they can alienate marginal groups.

Maybe the complainers have toilet 'issues' themselves ?

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

Should the law be involved in which toilet a transgendered person uses?

Yes, in the same way that the Law has dominion over the manner and place in which a person sleeps.

edge of the map said...

It's unfortunate that the world in general is not as grown up as you guys.
As a woman, I would have no trouble accepting transsexuals at any stage of transition, or any style of dress in the 'ladies'. They suffer enough routine abuse from the bigots, so if they want to use female toilets, I hope they can do so in safety at least. Regretfully, not all females will be able to share the space without comment, and in some cases abuse or complaints.
In my understanding, gender, sexuality and other issues are not necessarily either/or choices. If, for the sake of practicality, we choose to label our public conveniences as "ladies" and "gents", we need to accept that some individuals will be faced with a dilemma. How they choose to resolve that is really none of my business. Actually, I find it much more offensive when people use mobile phones in the loos.
Above all, I think we need a bit of perspective. They just want to pee for goodness sake!

Cosmic Navel Lint said...

I think Edge of the Map has nailed it right there: you cannot dis-invent something or someone - that is to say, we cannot simply wish away or ignore that transsexuals exist, and have the same fundamental bodily functions as everyone else - and why would anyone, let alone the Law, want to become involved in a person's toiletry habits?

Transsexuals face enough daily challenges without legislating when and where they might spend a penny.

Sam said...

Back in 1996, when I was just 14, a transgender man began attending the church I went to (my father was the vicar). There was a heated discussion regarding which loo's this person should use, despite both the male and female toilet consisting of only two cubicles each ( no urinals). Eventually because of the bigoted attitude of a large number of the congregation it was decided that the this person would have to use the toilet in the vicarage. Needless to say neither the trasngender male or myself attended that church for much longer.

It saddens me that peoples attitude have not changed much in the last 14 years, but I am glad to see that there are now better laws to protect the rights of these people.

jonny maddox said...

For those interested in the legal arguments, the courts have already considered this matter in some detail. In Croft v Consignia plc [2002] IRLR 851, EAT
the EAT held that a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual was not discriminated against on grounds of sex when she was denied use of female communal toilet and changing facilities.
There is any interesting commentary plus references to some other cases, if you go to:


Elly said...

what I don't like is how the question is framed, making out the transgendered person is the 'problem' in this equation. should they be susceptible to laws making it a breach of the peace for them to go for a slash?

I think we need to start by questioning social attitudes to gender/transgender. questioning ourselves and our assumptions. e.g. should toilets be single sex at all? should there be a mixed sex toilet? should disabled people always just have one token unisex disabled toilet?

auntysarah said...

As a datapoint, I am a transsexual woman, who has been sexually assaulted in a female public toilet by a non-trans woman. *She* did not need protecting from *me*, quite the contrary.

Christine Burns said...

Oh dear. Earlier on I penned a comment setting out the essence of how I think people tend to come at this topic from the wrong angle. Unfortunately it appears to have disappeared into the ether after I pressed send. I'll try to reconstruct it again though.

Let's start from first principles. Trans people need to pee like everyone else.

If there isn't a safe place to pee outside of home then you are, to all intents and purposes, confined to a pretty small radius of home. Natacha Kennedy addresses that rather neatly here:

Why is anyone potentially worried about where trans people pee? Apparently this usually seems to boil down to a sense of possible threat to others sharing the same space.

What's the evidence on that? Well, as far as I've ever been able to determine, there has never been a case of a trans person attacking a non trans person in a toilet. Nothing. Zilch. You can rely that if there were it would have been prominently reported.

Conversely, there is ample evidence of non-trans people misbehaving in the loo. Others here have already referred to the 'toiletgate' affair, to cite just one example.

What this demonstrates that we have our concerns back to front. The vulnerability to be addressed is that of trans people, not that of non-trans people.

(There is a term for non-trans by the way. We refer to cis-gender people. Use it in the same way that you refer to homosexual vs heterosexual people.)

This argument has been developed into a political art form by the right wing in the United States. Over there, right wingers argue that passing city or state laws to protect the rights of trans people to access services would mean that cis-gender males could use that right to access women's toilets and commit assault. They mischaracterise civil rights bills aimed at protecting trans people as 'bathroom bills'.

So could we find some way to legislate this?

No. The problem lies with the impossibility of defining sex.

Forget what you think you learned about biology at school. They didn't explain the full picture .. partly because a lot of it wasn't known or understood until recently.

Gender is actually impossible to define in ways that aren't continually undermined by the exceptions. Consider the difficulty that Sports bodies have had with trying to police the area. Athletes like Caster Semenya confound attempts to make easy definitions.

There are dozens of different kinds of interest conditions. And I've encountered many cisgender women who, to my experienced eye, could be read as transgender. So, if I challenge you under some kind of bathroom law that says who can / cannot use a particular space, how would you defend that? Believe me when I say that anything you offer can be challenged as inconclusive.

Sorry if this has rambled. The original was far more succinct.

In summary though, just remember that the evidence points towards trans people needing to be protected. Examples such as the 'toiletgate' assault underline how excluding trans people from spaces where THEY would feel safe places them in harms way. To keep them in those safe spaces merely requires people to challenge their negative (and groundless) assumptions.

Oh .. and where on earth should physically interest people go to pee?

Christine Burns said...

Please forgive me. Text edit on the Mac (where I composed my message this time) has a charming habit of changing the word 'Intersex' into 'interest'. How fitting.

ceegriffin said...

Interesting that the issue of toilets has come up. I was approached by a member of the public who asked me if I knew of any unisex toilets in the vicinity of Parliament Square. I couldn't think of any. The reason for the request was because this person self-identified as Intersex.

I tried to engage with the City of Westminster's Equalities and Diversity Unit, via official channels, and came up against brick walls. They said that it wasn't an issue, and it would cost too much. I pointed out that if all toilets were converted to be unisex upon refurbishment, it would make no significant difference to costs, and would actually lead to a drop in the incidence of sexual activity in toilets, which almost inevitably is instigated at urinals.

Ban the urinal and stop the segregation!

Arkady Rose said...

A transwoman is a woman and therefore should use the female toilets. End of. To say otherwise is cissexism and transphobic.

The fact that there is no outrage here about the idea of a transman using the gents', only over the idea of a transwoman using the ladies', indicates also a disgusting undertone of misogyny to this debate.

For the record, I am cisfemale (that is, my gender and physical birth sex are both female), not trans.

flashsays said...

I appreciate that it's tangiential but to pick up on a couple of points about "disabled" toilets (the correct term for which is actually "accessible", since they aren't broken):

@Zoe - it's unfortunate that you had a pushchair and the main toilets were up a flight of stairs, but the RADAR scheme is not intended for parents (unless they are disabled, of course). Your complaint should not be that you couldn't get hold of a RADAR key because unless you are disabled (in which case you probably already have one) you have no right to it. Your complaint should be that the premises did not provide adequate toilet facilities for parents - perhaps a separate toilet/changing room on the ground floor.

@Elly - disabled people don't always have a single unisex toilet. In some cases there is an adapted cubicle within the ladies or gents. This can raise issues in itself when the disabled person has a personal assistant of the opposite sex, so generally a unisex toilet is preferable, it certainly avoids that issue.

Jo said...

In many ways this is an extraordinarily Anglo-Saxon obsession. I have a friend in France who cannot believe the manner in which this is so regularly chewed over in the UK, and how it features so prominently in debate.

Let's unpack it.

Why does this question even arise? Because of fear. Leaving aside the ACTUAL fact of there never having been a recorded incident of which I know of a trans person behaving inappropriately in a public lavatory and causing distress to another (it would have been all over the Daily Mail had it happened), the root of this fear must surely be that a pre operative trans woman would enter a 'female' facility and (a) Embarass people by exposing herself or, worse,(b) Take the opportunity to sexually assault another user of that facility.

I'm sorry to be blunt, but you have to take this thing right down to the heart of it to get to the reality of this fear.

And this of course exposes the implicit assumption beneath this fear, and it is horribly transphobic. That assumption is that there is a chance that this might happen.

Why does this assumption exist? It can't be based on evidence, as it's never happened. Indeed trans people are far more at risk from others in a toilet than the other way around.

Nope - the answer is that at the base of it all is the belief that trans people are actually at best NOT the gender they purport to be, at worst dangerously sick perverts from whom the cisgendered need protection. Particularly in 'vulnerable' places like toilets.

This whole debate actually sanctifies and reinforces these prejudices. They are pretty offensive.

The world, and British society in particular, should just GET OVER this.

Zoe OConnell said...

@flashsays - you've pretty much hit the nail on the head with the use of the term accessible as the way some places are constructed, they're supposed to be for the use of anyone who can't get up stairs either because they're less mobile themselves or because they have a pushchair. (The instance that really annoyed me was where there were two accessible toilets next to a baby changing/feeding room - the baby changing room had no toilets in. Both accessible toilets had RADAR locks installed) The trouble is the way RADAR were pushing the scheme as they basically accused anyone that didn't put RADAR locks on all accessible toilets of being ablist, even it that caused inconvenience to other users.

This was several years ago, I don't know if RADAR still do the same. I'm less involved in parent politics now but the volume of complaints I've seen from parents has dropped off, so I suspect things have changed.

Daniel Reitman said...

American law varies from state to state. Some states don't recognize change of gender. Others have a judicial procedure similar to change of name, but which generally are only available postoperatively. said...

@zoe imogen: The problem is that many proprietors think that they can provide just one toilet to meet several needs; accessible to disabled people as well as a changing space for families etc.

This is a whole discussion in its own right and is often a heated topic in accessibility circles. Sure, the accessible toilet should have changing space and other facilities, as you may get disabled parents who need to use it. But there should also be a separate "family" cubicle, with changing space, which a family can feel comfortable using, without being forced into taking young children into the "wrong" gender-specific toilet, having to take a flight of stairs to the loo, or any other issue.

The trouble is that many proprietors try to turn the accessible loo into a "one size fits all" space, and that's no good. Firstly, able-bodied people don't qualify for a RADAR key. But if the toilet isn't locked, it's likely to be abused, so disabled people generally need and want a RADAR lock. We are least able to be able to clean up before use or make do if the loo roll is out, etc. Secondly, often disabled people cannot wait and need the toilet to be free *now*. But I know from experience that waiting for a parent and one or more children to use the facilities - whether that involves changing or not - can take up to 10 minutes, when I might only get 30 seconds warning of a need to use the loo.

That's not a criticism of any parent but of the proprietor who tries to meet non-standard requirements in just one cubicle. It's horribly common and in my opinion disabled people and parents alike should be campaigning against this. We each have our needs and should each have our space.

Zoe Brain said...

To what extent should the law regulate which toilet a coloured person can use?

Should equality law enable coloured people to use the toilet of their choice, in respect of either public toilets or toilets on private premises (eg, pubs and restaurants)?

Or should the law relating to, say, breaches of the peace be used to prevent coloured people, especially black, intruding into the "space" reserved for humans?


Perhaps someone can show me the difference between these questions and the ones posed in the original article. Differences based on actual facts, rather than perceptions, prejudices and beliefs.

Disclaimer: I'm Intersexed - so have had my own issues in this area. I do now, however, "pass for white" so to speak, even to an OB/Gyn. It's only a chromosome test that would show how different I am from either the standard female (or male for that matter) stereotype. And not even then, it depends where the sample was taken from.

FWIW I believe there should be separate single-stall accommodations provided for those that need them, to avoid discomfort. That way anyone who has concerns with sharing the loo with blacks, jews, transsexuals, foreigners etc could have a place to go to just for them where they won't feel threatened.
It's important that this not be seen as a "punishment", but a genuine and humane accommodation for those afflicted by prejudice like this to avoid them being discomfited. No stigma should be attached to those who make use of these facilities.

Jack of Kent said...

There is an interesting discussion on this post at

I am taken to task for my clumsy wording; I am also criticised for showing transphobia and nastiness.

I accept my wording (in view of the analyses there) was clumsy, and I apologise.

I do not however accept that my clumsy wording demonstrated a deeper transphobia and nastiness.

But do what the commenters there have to say and make your own mind up.

Dru Marland said...

The EAT case of Croft v Consignia, cited above,which found in favour of the defendants, made interesting reading; two points in particular, namely:

The employee (a transsexual woman) was regarded as male, her 'legal' sex as interpreted by the EAT (where she would remain male until post-operative)

The management appeared to have abdicated their responsibility in this case by following the alleged wishes of employees, rather than identifying best practice and following it-

"Informal soundings had indicated, however, that female staff would not be happy with Ms Croft, who they had known as a man for many years, using their facility"

I wonder if this appeal would have failed now?

Christine Burns said...

My apologies for a clumsily written post yesterday. That's what comes of trying to rush something.

I'm intrigued by how this discussion has developed though.

This is a very unusual outing for a debate that has run and re-run as long as I can remember. It's unusual for the fact that there is so little airing of the views that are normally advanced on the topic.

I guess that is a tribute to the intelligence and liberalism of most of Jack of Kent's regular readers.

Even so, I suspect that some of those liberal thinkers may be wondering by now whether they were quite as open in their thinking as they had thought.

I notice that it has been (mostly) the trans people who had to introduce the idea that the topic is usually approached from the perspective of cisgender privilege and fear of 'the other'.

I hope that, if nothing else, readers carry away the lesson that has been repeated by several contributors: that assuming trans people to be the problem leads to travesties of judgement (such as Croft v Consignia).

It's unfortunate that Jack of Kent has been accused wrongly of transphobia.

Some of you might think that accusation is a reason not to engage with trans people, for fear of falling into similar bear traps.

We all hit this when venturing into discussion with highly marginalised people who've experienced continual bashing and have evolved hot buttons that they expect people to know not to press.

As an equality and diversity specialist myself, I've had to learn all the rules and no-go areas of language for EVERY diversity strand. It rapidly teaches humility.

As I say, "none of us knows, what we don't know we don't know". I've been corrected many times by people whose impatience and suspicion is manifest. I learned to approach this with consideration. I wanted to learn more about why people become conditioned to shoot first and ask questions later.

The term 'choice' is particularly sensitive for trans (as well as LGB) people. It has been used to deny justice.

Judges have sometimes been swayed by the idea that the discrimination faced by trans people is their fault for getting into the faces of cisgender people. It's like suggesting women of any kind are at fault for getting raped.

I've met hundreds of trans people through my work over the years and I don't think I've ever met someone who was not aware of what they faced when they transitioned. If they had a choice they clearly wouldn't have done so.

So, careless use of the word 'choice' (and a few other loaded expressions) tends to be interpreted as prima facie evidence of the mindset of the person concerned.

It's sad that Jack of Kent fell into that bear trap. He's not the first and won't be the last. I do ask trans people to investigate first before rushing to call someone a transphobe. Yet I also understand the sensitivity .. especially if the writer concerned has just spent another day in a world where harassment is continual.

Before calling that out, I do advise people to spend a day looking identifiably trans. I have never had a taker for that invitation.

But, as I say, it's been a far more temperate debate than most I've seen. Go and look at the comments under any newspaper article or blog on a trans story if you doubt me.

I do hope we can see more of that. And I'm sure people will soon realise that there is no animus behind the occasional liberal blundering into an unfamiliar place.

Zoe Brain said...

Jack of Kent - apology accepted, to the degree that an apology was warranted.

I think I made my point, hopefully without giving too much offence in return.

I'm sure people will soon realise that there is no animus behind the occasional liberal blundering into an unfamiliar place.
And if that's the worst blunder Jack of Kent ever commits, he won't have done too badly. I wish I could say the same for myself. These things, as they say, happen.

What's most important is that there was no malice intended. And there wasn't, it was obviously just an unfortunate turn of phrase, soon corrected.

I can work with that. I wish that all similar cases, or even the majority, were the same. Alas, in my own experience, they're not.

Dru Marland said...

This thread seems to be winding down, but, reverting briefly to the Croft v Consignia case cited, the conclusions of the EAT in this case may be usefully contrasted with the case in which I had a personal interest (Marland v P&O Portsmouth, 2006)in the judgement of which it was stated, inter alia, "....the insistence that she should use the male changing room .....amount(ed) very clearly to conduct which is capable of destroying the Claimant's trust and confidence in her employers if they are party to, or responsible for, such conduct"

athel said...

Jo said that "In many ways this is an extraordinarily Anglo-Saxon obsession. I have a friend in France who cannot believe the manner in which this is so regularly chewed over in the UK, and how it features so prominently in debate."

Before reading that I had been thinking of posting a comment along similar lines, but I now I will expand on it, as a British person who has lived in France for more than 20 years. Unisex toilets are rare in public buildings in France (though the coin-operated toilets on the streets are, I think, unisex, but it's quite a while since I've used one), but they are quite common in buildings. In the building where I work there are some designated as men's, some as women's and some without any indication of sex. I don't myself use the women's toilet, and I don't think most men do, but some women do use the men's toilet if the women's next to it is occupied, and no one has hang ups about using the unisex. Even in public buildings like the terminals of major airports it can happen that either the men's or the women's is closed for cleaning, and when that happens everyone uses the one that's available, and nobody minds. Most architects haven't grasped yet that women need more toilet facilities than men, and so it often happens that the toilets in the baggage-collection area of the airport the women's queue is longer than the men's queue for the two side-by-side cubicles in the same room. Most women are quite happy to save time by going into the men's cubicle, and if there is a woman who clearly arrived before me, I normally wave her in ahead of me when I'm next in line when the men's cubicle becomes available, and most women accept.

Some women avert their gaze when passing the urinals in a large menn's toilet, but not all do.

I have often had the impression (not confirmed by any serious investigation) that most French people (and to some degree other southern Europeans) do make the same connections between sex and excretion that seem to loom so large in the British mind. Possibly for that reason, it is rare to find graffiti in French toilets (much rarer than in the UK, anyway), and if one does find them they are likely to concern the relative merits of different football clubs.

athel said...

Two small corrections, one trivial, and the other not trivial but probably obvious:

... Some women avert their gaze when passing the urinals in a large men's [not "menn's"] toilet, but not all do.

I have often had the impression (not confirmed by any serious investigation) that most French people (and to some degree other southern Europeans) do NOT make the same connections between sex and excretion...

(This after previewing and editing at least five times!)

Alex Mair said...

Every premises should be given two options. 

Supply 7 toilets, for straight males, straight females, gay males, gay females, mtfs, ftms, and an individual cubicle for bisexuals of either gender. With every patron of the premises to wear an armband clearly stating there gender & sexual orientation. Failure to wear the armband = six months in jail. Doctors & people trained to use lie detectors should be employed by all bars, clubs, malls etc to ensure the armbands are correctly worn. Meanwhile armed security guards should be employed to ensure no one removes or changes there assigned arm band. 

OR have unisex toilets. 

Christine Burns said...

Jo and Athel have both referred to this as a British obsession. Interestingly when I wrote about the self same topic over 12 years ago, that is how I described it:

A Very British Obsession

The fact that we can still have to have discussions like these always starting from the same base principles tends to explain why there are yawns, eyes rolled, and a dash of impatience when they come round yet again :-)

Tim Trent said...

It's a toilet. Who cares? Go in, urinate or defecate or both, wipe where required, leave the place tidy, wash hands and go out again.

Or are your bits so special that no-one may see them by accident?

If so, may I humbly suggest the porn industry is a career move for you. You will become wealthy.

madlogician said...


Thanks for raising this issue. I hope you won't be put off exploring other transgender issues by the tone of a few of the comments in another blog.

I'm a cis straight male with several transgendered friends, including at least two who have been assaulted in public spaces.

NicholBrummer said...

I always had the impression that standing next to other men in urinals had some kind of male bonding effect. Until an american explained to me that it was proper etiquette for men to take stand away as far as possible from each other, and only stare straight into the urinal, to avoid any chance of seeing any penis but your own. Subsequently, I found this urinal etiquette being explicitly codified in american newspaper editorials.

Strange as it is: cultures differ more than one expects, especially when it comes to these kinds of hangups. The same is true when it comes to the use of certain taboo words, the 'power' of which is not always known to second-language (english) speakers.

In a world where everybody has to negotiate between (sub)cultures: should we not consider it a human right to stumble into the unavoidable faux-pas without immediately being met with anger, rather than maybe an explanation of said (sub)cultural sensitivity?

davidp said...

Missing from the discussion is the concern that some "dangerously sick pervert" cisgender males will dress up in womens clothing and harrass women in the toilet area, and there will be "no way to keep them out." Because it's an unexpressed fear, the holes in it aren't discussed (most notably that laws against harassment, which either exist or should exist, are sufficient to deal with this 'problem').

Still it's worth remembering, in this context, that many cisgender heterosexual males can be violent bastards to anyone different.

Dru Marland said...

Perhaps it's missing because it's recognised as a 'straw dangerously sick pervert' argument.

Has such an assault ever happened, do you suppose? -and would there be any likelihood of it happening as a result of formally permitting trans people to use the facilities consonant with their gender presentation?

I've seen some slightly hysterical propaganda on this subject from loony Christian right organisations in the States, but I don't think that they are saying "Heck, we don't mind the trannies, but if we let them in then it'll open the floodgates." They are simply characterising trans people themselves the as sick perverts. Which is a little disrespectful.

Bagpuss said...

As a cis-gendered woman, I was shocked when I learned about toiletgate, and my view reamins: a transwoman is a woman, and should be treated as such. A transman is a man and should be treated as such.
To seek to dictate that a transwoman should not use womens loos (or other fascilities) is just as discriminatory as to say a black woman shouldn't use the womens toilets becasue they are for whites only, or that a lesbian shouldn't use them becasue they are for straight women only.

Quite apart from considerations of equality and basic justice, what does it matter if the woman in the cubicle next to mine has slightly different plumbing to me?

Statistically, she is far more likely to need protecting from me than the other way around, and ghettoisng her puts her at greater risk, without in any way reducing the risks I might potentially face.

Gridlock said...

"Until an american explained to me that it was proper etiquette for men to take stand away as far as possible from each other, and only stare straight into the urinal, to avoid any chance of seeing any penis but your own."

I can't find the source, but "Americans would rather suck a cock than be called a cocksucker" works on so many levels.

SadButMadLad said...

What about the external urinals put up in city centres at night to stop the urinating in alleys and doorways? Men use them and happily pee in public. Why are they embarrassed when inside? Most of the time men are so busy looking at the wall in front of them and not looking anywhere else to avoid being called a "poof" that they wouldn't notice if a naked woman walked into the gents.

Technically women can use urinals as well. I've seen it done. Most women can do so with an aid (so long as their clothing doesn't get in the way).