TBD is a new pre-org established to improve policy related to trans and gender nonconforming students at Vassar. It raises awareness and promotes positive change. In our weekly columns, we aim to “come out” about being non-cisgender on this campus, but the experiences are ones of individuals. The reality is that a person’s gender, or lack thereof, is a very personalized one. It is “To Be Determined” and cannot and should not be limited to others’ journeys.
We have washed and dried our hands of transphobia at Vassar College with gender neutral bathrooms (GNBs)–or so we think.
The reality is that outside of dorms, gender neutral bathrooms are rare on this campus. Every academic building should have gender neutral bathrooms, but many do not. And even when they exist, they are hard to find and harder to access. A diagram in the LGBTQ+ Center details the gender neutral bathroom locations on campus, but it’s more akin to a treasure map. It shows only a handful of handicap accessible GNBs beyond residential spaces. Furthermore, parts of the map are inaccurate or outdated, leaving trans students with minimal options. As a result, many will forgo using the bathroom, risking urinary tract infections to maintain their safety and avoid the discomfort of gender dysphoria. Vassar should affirm, not just minimally comply with, the needs of trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary students. Through the placement of gender neutral restrooms, the college fails to do this.
If this sounds like an exaggeration, TBD challenges cisgender students to use only gender neutral bathrooms for three days of classes and see if they are comfortable. If they are history majors, that shouldn’t be a problem. Swift has nice, clean gender neutral bathrooms. However, if they have a small bladder and study STEM, a field that desperately needs more gender diversity at Vassar College, they will find themselves straight out of luck. The Bridge Building lacks gender neutral bathrooms altogether.
Another problem with the focus on the bathrooms is that it distracts from other issues regarding trans rights. While the rarity of gender neutral bathrooms is an issue, we also need to talk about the difficulty of changing names and pictures on VCards, misinformation about what gender affirmation treatments Vassar’s insurance policy actually covers and the dearth of gender sensitivity trainings for faculty. Even the name we use, “gender neutral bathrooms,” implies that gender doesn’t matter. But to TBD students, gender feels anything but neutral. When trans femmes of color are most often policed out of bathrooms, and trans men consistently face the threat of violence if outed, gender is salient. Our restrooms should be gender-inclusive, not just neutral.
It’s no secret that Vassar is a progressive campus, but our trans allyship is often conditional. We don’t always introduce ourselves with pronouns, and we don’t call out when this doesn’t happen. We walk around campus and see people who break the binary and call it a day because we don’t mind sharing a restroom with someone who does not look like us. Yet instituting some gender neutral bathrooms is only the start. We have an exceptional student body that tries to stay aware of social justice issues. So let’s not be complacent. We certainly have the voices to walk our social justice talk and do more to protect minorities here on campus.