Installing gender-neutral toilets at National Taiwan University (NTU) - A chat with former head of t
If you identify as gender-fluid, or have adopted an identity other than your birth-assigned gender, have you ever encountered problems using public bathrooms? Queerious had the honour of interviewing the former head of NTUSA Gender Initiative, Winble, and discussing the progress of installing gender-neutral bathrooms at the university.
NTUSA Gender Initiative
Hey Winble, could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Hi everyone. My name’s Winble and I’m a former officer of NTU’s Gay Chat group, former head of the NTUSA Gender Initiative and former Activities Officer at Gay & Lesbian Awakening Days (GLAD). I’m currently a volunteer lecturer at the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association and the administrator for GLAD’s fanpage. My work brings me close to a lot of different social issues, particularly those related to gender, feminism, women’s rights, the LGBT community, and sex work.
How long have you been campaigning for gender-neutral toilets, and what inspired you to do so?
My involvement began around four years ago. I first proposed the idea to the Academic Officer of NTU’s Student Union along with other related issues. I suggested that the university take an active approach to providing a campus environment that is friendly for everyone, rather than relying on its projection as an “open” and “progressive” university, with very little actual progress happening underneath.
What’s the current situation regarding the campaign for gender-neutral toilets? Have groups in different areas faced common problems? Have you shared any experiences or cooperated with one another?
The campaign for gender-neutral toilets in Taiwan has actually been going on for twenty years already. Since the beginning there has always been people in every local government and school district promoting the cause and advocating policy reform. The issues faced with have always been very much the same:
Not enough understanding of what gender-neutral toilets are: men believe they would have no toilets to use, there would be no urinals, gender-neutral bathrooms would mean removing male/female bathrooms etc.
Stereotypical views on gender segregation: men are men, women are women, they can’t use bathrooms together, strangers of both genders should not be in close proximity with each other etc.
False rumours from the Alliance for Protecting Families and other opposition groups: gender-neutral bathrooms encourage sexual assault, transgender people are simply perverted men dressing up as women etc.
Against the clamour of these opposition groups, many campaigners have been privately communicating and working together, such as the NTU Student Union’s Gender Equality Society, who were invited to help set up gender-neutral bathrooms at Soochow University. They have shared their experience with many schools across the country.
Many gender-neutral bathrooms are currently under construction at NTU
What changes or results have you observed from your work so far?
More and more people seem to come to an understanding on the purposes and intentions of gender-neutral bathrooms each time we talk about them. Since the plans for gender-neutral bathrooms have been underway, teachers, students and designers alike have begun to reevaluate their more rigid attitudes towards toilet usage, and have begun to break away from their previous conceptions on gender. Although there is still a long way to go, changes are happening a little at a time. From the progress made so far at NTU, we can see that these changes are beginning to become a positive trend.
During your campaign, what sort of feedback (both positive and negative) have you received?
We’ve received a whole lot of feedback (Winble says, laughing). On the positive side, we’ve received a lot of support and encouragement. From the communications we’ve had, it’s clear that better education on gender equality is sprouting forth in Taiwan, and the importance of breaking through traditional gender roles and expectations is ever increasingly acknowledged, with more and more people beginning to understand gender and all the forms it comes in. However, at the same time, we’ve also witnessed many deficiencies in gender awareness. Even at NTU - one of Taiwan’s most progressive campuses - gender discrimination still persists (we’ve heard people saying things like “That kind of thing doesn’t exist here! (referring to transgender people), “What about the lines outside the female toilets? Just tell the girls to go upstairs, there’s nothing wrong with climbing a few more steps.”, “Men can’t sit to pee, that’s for girls!”). This lack of awareness has led to discrimination when trying to pass legal proposals (those for gender neutral bathrooms have been blocked many times) which has led us to examine the situation outside of gender equality societies more closely, and realise that we still need to work harder promoting our values and encouraging education on gender equality!
What is the movement’s ultimate goal? What kind of results are you hoping to foster?
Not everyone involved in the promotion of gender-neutral bathrooms has exactly the same goal. For me personally, the main goal is to challenge people’s traditional views on gender and stop them from inhibiting themselves and others. I hope eventually everyone can feel comfortable using the bathroom of their choice in a friendly and welcoming environment. Finally, I hope bathrooms can become more convenient to use and aren’t segregated by gender, whether by sign, function or colour. When this day arrives, we will no longer need to emphasize how all people, regardless of gender, should be treated respectfully, or how harmful traditional views on gender can be, as this would simply be everyday knowledge. Bathrooms will cater to the needs of all people; families, the disabled and those in need of assistance alike, and everyone will be able to use them conveniently.
What important information do you hope people observing this movement can take on? Do you have a link for us to check out?
The two most important points I hope people will take on are: to break through traditional views on gender and to observe more kindness. Firstly, I hope we can not only see more diversity on the gender spectrum, but also break through the oppression and restraints of gender roles. Secondly, I hope everyone can be more discerning with the needs of different communities; beginning with those struggling with gender issues, families, children, the disabled, and those in need of extra care. In this way, using the bathroom can become more comfortable and convenient for everyone. And also due to the implementation of NTU’s Gender Neutral Bathroom Plan, I hope all NTU students will continue their support. For more information, please check the link below:（https://www.facebook.com/ntugenderequality/）
Many thanks to you, Winble, for your time!
(Translation: Ryan Drillsma; Editing: Alexis, Art M.)