Good, but not enough: gender neutral bathrooms at ETHS

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Good, but not enough: gender neutral bathrooms at ETHS

Illustration by Valerie Larsen

Illustration by Valerie Larsen

Illustration by Valerie Larsen

Jude Hollenbeck, Staff Writer

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For the vast majority of ETHS students and staff, the restroom is not a major focus of their day. There are male and female bathrooms in every wing, on every floor- in sight, out of mind. However, the restroom options are limited for students who don’t feel comfortable or safe going into a very intimate gendered space. From my knowledge, there are a grand total of five gender-neutral restrooms at ETHS, excluding ones in private suites. Two of those are in the gym wings, which leaves only three in the whole building that are feasible to visit during a regular class. To give some perspective, one is on the third floor Arts wing, by the Little Theater, another is around the side of the North Cafeteria and the third is around the side of the Hub. 

A quintessential part of my trans experience has been inner turmoil surrounding the public bathroom. Many cisgender people don’t realize that having to choose between a male or female restroom often puts us in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. You may have read headlines about bills being passed to limit trans people’s access to the restroom of their choice (although Illinois has done the opposite) or stories of hate crimes committed by a person who did not believe the victim belonged in the bathroom they chose. It’s easy to see that trans people are not given room to feel safe in this intimate space, although they should be. Going into a gendered space as a trans person brings an unavoidable risk of an invasion of privacy. Outside of the left-leaning bubble of Evanston, where every single-stall bathroom is legally required to be gender-neutral, I have been hassled no matter what choice I made. 

The worst time was when I went into a men’s room in Minnesota and two men noticed me as I was walking to the stall. 

One of the men said, “Wait, was that a girl?” 

“I think it was.” 

“What’s it doing in here?” 

“It thinks it’s a boy.” 

They then pounded on the stall door to give me a fright and walked out laughing (and without washing their hands).

This is a mild example compared to others’ experiences, but it was hard to confront the idea that I was not welcome in that space. A hallmark of being trans is learning that the world is not kind to you, and this was my moment. I know that it’s a lot of other people’s moment too. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a study of over 27,000 trans Americans, 60% said that they avoided public bathrooms for fear of being harassed. People are cruel sometimes, and that generality doesn’t only apply to adults. It’s scary to use a public restroom when you’re trans, and even worse for a trans teenager. Hopefully now you can see that the aversion is based on more than feeling awkward– if I were to use the men’s room here in ETHS, it would put my mental health on the line. Same goes for the women’s room, but for different reasons. The trans population of ETHS needs their own spaces, ones that ensure privacy and safety. ETHS needs to implement more gender-neutral bathrooms throughout the school.  

This building is old and there’s no room for new bathrooms, but there is one other option- the staff-only bathrooms.  Convert some of these spaces to gender-neutral ones can make the restroom more accessible and safe to trans students. There are 10 staff bathrooms,  5 men and 5 women’s rooms. Josephine Manicke, a science teacher who worked at ETHS for five years before moving to teach at the ETHS Day School, thinks that the well-being of students should come before staff having a separate restroom. 

 “I believe that it is important for all students to feel safe in school. If the current number of gender neutral bathrooms is impacting the student experience, then I think that students should work with administration around finding a solution,” Manicke says.   

Therefore, as an open letter to administrators: let us have the privilege of not having to budget our time around the restroom. Let us have the privacy and freedom we deserve. And to my fellow students: if you are upset with this situation now that you’ve gained awareness of it, email me at jrhollenbe@eths202.org. Make your voice heard in the upcoming push to administration. 

[According to ETHS Student Services, there are eight gender-neutral bathrooms.]