Skip links

Gender neutral toilets – what are they and why should you consider them?

If you’ve been watching the news, reading the papers, or listening to the radio lately, you might have heard talk about gender-neutral bathrooms (or, more specifically, restrooms). They’re at the top of many people’s agendas right now, and you might be wondering if your school or business needs to make any changes.

We have seen an increase in enquiries for gender-neutral toilets during the last few years – with more and more clients recognising the benefits they bring, including efficient use of space and compliance with current legislation – and can only see this demand increasing through 2018 and beyond.

So, what are gender-neutral bathrooms? When we think of bathrooms we tend to think in binary terms: of the men’s and the women’s loos. A gender-neutral bathroom is one which does not segregate genders in this way; it is open to men, women, and others. This may on the surface sound like an unusual concept, but consider that many accessible bathrooms accommodate people with disabilities, regardless of gender. The same is true of restaurants, cafés and other small venues with only one stall.

Gender-neutral bathrooms are in the news because activists, organisations and venues are considering the benefits of scrapping bathroom segregation in communal restrooms, too. As times change and our understanding of gender progresses, we find ourselves asking if the current norms are the best way forward. Opinions on gender are changing, and our existing prescriptive bathroom rules are proving difficult for some.

For transgender people, picking which bathroom to use can be tricky, and even dangerous. Transgender women in particular can face violence, abuse, harassment and worse. Nearly 70% of transgender people say they’ve experienced verbal harassment in gender-segregated bathrooms, while nearly 10% reported physical assault. Shon Faye, a writer, artist, stand-up comedian and transgender woman, said in an article for Dazed Digital:

“When you look like a woman the men’s toilets aren’t that fun and when you look like a transgender woman specifically a very functional part of being out anywhere becomes immediately fraught with anxiety about being abused or beaten up.”

This leaves transgender men and women facing a difficult choice each and every time they use a public bathroom, weighing up the risk of being confronted for being in the ‘wrong’ bathroom. People who exist outside of the gender binary (those who identify neither as men nor as women) face a similar dilemma. It is very easy to see how the gender-neutral bathroom would relieve the anxiety these groups suffer by making any bathroom the ‘right’ bathroom.

However, it isn’t just transgender people who will benefit. Consider a parent with their child of the opposite gender in a shopping centre: the child needs the bathroom, and the parent must decide whether to accompany them into the wrong restroom, or let their child go in alone. With a gender-neutral restroom, the parent wouldn’t need to worry about following their child into the bathroom. The same can be applied to a person who requires a carer to assist them in using the bathroom.

Lewis Hancox, a freelance filmmaker and transgender man, explained to The Telegraph how he felt he had to use the only gender-neutral bathroom available: the accessible facilities.

“I looked like a man, but had to wait for a cubicle [in the ladies’]. It’s awkward, and you feel like people are looking at you. In some places I’ve had to use a disabled loo, which doesn’t feel nice because you’re taking it away from people who need it.”

Gender-neutral bathrooms make sense from a design standpoint, too. A single, larger bathroom is more economical in terms of space than two segregated bathrooms, and standardisation of facilities reduces the costs of building. People of all genders are able to use individual stalls, with floor-to-ceiling doors for additional privacy and bins for hygiene products in each. A dividing wall for additional privacy can serve to divide a communal bathroom without segregating by gender at the door.

By having a single bathroom for all users, you’ll save your business valuable square footage, which can be put to use for other purposes. You’ll also need to purchase and install fewer fixtures overall, which in turn in will reduce the amount of money and time you spend on maintenance and cleaning.

In Glasgow, new schools are being built without gender segregated bathrooms. David McEwan, Education Services Estate Programme Manager for Glasgow City Council, said: “Bullying is reduced, behaviour is improved, no graffiti, no soggy bombs on the ceilings. If we have children who are confused about their gender and worry, ‘Do I go to the girl’s toilet or the boy’s toilet?’ – well, it doesn’t matter.

“It saves a lot of space. New schools cost £3,000 a square metre so we need to make sure we are getting absolute bang for our buck.”

A culture change is happening now, and our infrastructure needs to be there to support the needs of the new generation of facility users. Paris Lees, a journalist and transgender rights activist, said in an article for The Telegraph: “If gender neutral loos are the way society goes, [society will] get used to that too. The important thing is that we make them good loos: granite sinks; secure doors; an endless supply of loo roll; nice soaps and hand creams wouldn’t go amiss, either. Gender neutral or not, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.”

At Interfix, we agree that the job is worth doing properly. If you’re looking to upgrade your washroom facilities, contact us and we can discuss your requirements.