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Rhodes in Trans-it: The Case for Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Meshalini Govender

 The University Currently Known as Rhodes, has increasingly, and especially over the recent years, come under fire for various issues: the promotion of institutionalised racism, emphasis on patriarchal hierarchies and a general apathy to the student body (during protests, especially). The minority of the student body, however, (those who are in ways ‘othered’), who do not identify with the genders and sexualities that have become normalised in our privileged cocoons, are the students that are, unsurprisingly, and as it has always been, the ones who suffer the most. STILL, in the student body, and even the institution itself, there are exclusionary and harmful policies in place. Among this minority, are those who are transgender and whose needs the University seems to constantly and consistently ignore.

The transgender community has always been under attack, globally and incessantly so, and it seems to be no different at Rhodes University. Three years ago, The University of Cape Town introduced gender neutral bathrooms on its campus. Last year, Wits University also announced their intentions to start rolling out these bathrooms on their campus too. Rhodes University? Do you, the reader, know of any gender neutral bathrooms? Actually, they do exist. In corners of some departments; bathrooms that most students have never seen, used or heard of; of which there are only a couple, and most of which (if not all) are in buildings which, in fact, have only one bathroom. It follows, then, that these bathrooms would have had to be used by people of all genders anyway. Major University facilities, such as the library and computer labs, are among the majority of buildings in which the absence of gender neutral bathrooms seem evident.

Gender neutral bathrooms serve more than the purpose of catering to the needs of just the transgender community: it is a leap that promotes transformation, enables students who do not categorise themselves into heteronormative genders to feel comfortable, and emphasises the need to abolish the ‘gender’ construct that rages through society and unconsciously shapes many of our roles.

It is not all about the bathrooms though: this is just a symptom of the plague. All major application forms provide just two options in the gender category: male and female. A trans-woman is forced to tick the male box even though she identifies as female to avoid further administrative complications. If she wants or needs to live on campus, she then will have to live in a male residence. In many ways, this is a practice that harms the individual and limits their social freedoms. The introduction of gender neutral bathrooms then will only be the beginning of massive radical, transformative, and inclusive changes that are becoming more and more necessary in order to make this space accessible to all.

This University, in many ways, in some more profound than others, seems to centre on heteronormativity. The absence of acknowledgement to a group of students, no matter how small this group may be, should no longer be tolerated nor promoted. Trans-rights, are, after all, human rights.

 

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