Back in December, the Southern Reporter reported on some alleged incidents in school toilets in the Scottish Borders, and I want to write about it… or write about how they’re writing about it. Or just reminisce on how horrible school toilets are. I’ve been having grand ideas recently about what I’m going to write about but haven’t really managed to put much to paper, or to a draft blog post page, so here goes and we’ll see if a post I wanted to write in December now happening in February makes any sense. I’m pretty sure we all still use toilets so it’ll be fiiiiiiiine.
Just over two months ago, on the 2nd of December 2021, The Southern Reporter published two articles about school toilets. Toilets in new-ish campuses in Jedburgh and Kelso. They start off with the headlines of “Schools ‘unaware'” and “School loos move anger” which struck me as a bit vague.
The articles reveal that on two new school campuses in the Scottish Borders – Jedburgh and Kelso – boys have been reported to be “waving sanitary products like flags” (that must be a pad is my guess, cause if you wave a tampon about it’s more of a helicopter), and “urinating in sanitary bins”.
The Southern goes on to talk about stuff about councillors and meetings and ‘concerns’ that are backed up with no data or statistics, and refers to “Young girls going through certain changes in their life” as if puberty is a thing that only happens to girls. There’s rightly concern for the welfare of the girls refusing to use the school toilets, but I know from experience that’s not a new thing (obviously that doesn’t make it right, and I don’t want to invalidate their experiences, I wonder if it’s more about high school’s culture and atmosphere overall and the education and actions of pupils than about which genders can use which loo…).
Within the articles, there’s no actual explanation of what a unisex toilet is in the context of a high school, which isn’t very helpful. If we still have to explain to the blokes in our workplaces that those strangely shaped bins in the corner of the cubicles aren’t for paper hand towels (and unfortunately we really do), we should probably explain what exactly a gender-neutral toilet is. To start with, you’ve probably got one in your own home. Seriously though, of the unisex toilets I’ve used, they’re like every other toilet facility in a large building – with sinks on one side and cubicles on the other. It might be a surprise to hear, but men don’t need to use a urinal… they can sit down to wee if they want to! The cubicles get bins, and, hopefully, there’s a thoughtful and convenient stash of period products available to anyone who needs them. My favourite gender-free toilets are at Dunfermline High School, where I went to an event a few years ago in their shiny new building. Instead of going through a door to access the cubicles or the sinks, they’re part of the wide corridor that goes through the whole school – anyone walking down can look in and see… students washing their hands. The cubicles are private, and there’s no big space behind a closed door that lets pupils (of any gender) congregate where they can’t be seen. I know that’s not the solution to bullying, but I think it’s a pretty simple measure that would have made the high-school life of me and at least a solid handful of my peers happier.
I’m fairly sure these print articles only jumped out to me because I’d spotted a post on the dreaded social media platform I don’t even want to dirty my blog with naming anymore. There was Outrage! in the comments, with an overwhelmingly negative response to the idea of unisex / gender neutral toilets. These included a number of “Boys will be boys”, “the LGBT Brigade”(sounds like the boys/girls brigade but more queer… where do I sign up?) “Political Correctness gone mad” (of course) “It’s the SNP”(probably won’t sign up for that but you never know) and colourful insults about the “perverts” who came up with the idea of… having toilets everyone can use.
Some people advocated for either making non-binary or transgender pupils use the disabled toilets or building separate ones for them. One of these people suggested using a litter tray in the carpark. This was back in November, and either the Southern Reporter don’t read the comments on their posts, or they don’t care… or worse, they thought it was funny?
There were some calls for educating boys, including more positive thoughts on the good impact gender neutral toilets can have, and will increasingly have as they’re more widely adopted.
The most baffling bit (and despite the lacklustre journalism, this really takes the rainbow-frosted biscuit, is that in the article, (and still in the article online, link at the bottom of the page), there’s this:
“But advocates argue that they eliminate confusion from members of the LGBTI (lesbian, bisexual, trans and or intersex communities) over going to the ‘wrong toilet’.”
Um, firstly who starts a paragraph with But…
But that’s not the point.
I had a short chat with a few folk on F******k about this, and did some (pretty basic tbh) research. “LGBTI” might not be the best, most current acronym to use, but it’s not entirely invalid. Amnesty International use it, and apparently it’s used more in Asia and Australia, so that’s not immediately a problem, although it’s generally simpler to use LGBT+, which includes more sexualities and identities, and isn’t as much of a mouthful as LGBTQ2IAAP, although let’s be honest: I’ve used five words in this sentence with as many or more characters than that, so if you’re still following, just read them yeah? There’s a link at the bottom that explains LGBTQ2IAAP, please do take a look.
So that’s not the point.
The point, is that either this reporter (and/or their editor) is illiterate, or doesn’t care, or really doesn’t like the idea of a gender-free toilet, or is just too damn lazy to read what he’s writing. I tagged them to ask, do they know what the G stands for… and they didn’t respond. Putting and/or in that sentence, a) makes no sense and b) suggests that the letters don’t matter, that it’s moved around, depends on the day, that Intersex doesn’t matter, or isn’t a thing.
If we don’t use correct language, and don’t explain it either, we’re going to create more confusion for everyone. All these letters aren’t the problem – they really, really don’t change as often as you think they do; that illusion is being kept alive by journalists that keep getting it wrong (see the dates on the articles at the bottom of the page). When terms are used incorrectly, they alienate people in our local schools and communities. They make you think, pfft, they can’t even decide what the name for it is, rather than giving a clear explanation that will educate and illuminate.
Just in case, the G stands for Gay, which means men that are attracted to other men, but is also used broadly to describe people who identify as homosexual.
I’m now going to tell you some stories about toilets I’ve visited (and used! 😮) because I’m just a weirdo okay? I promise they’re funny… kind of…
Toilet number one is the girls’ loos at the Church of England high school I attended in Greater Manchester. It was awful. After my first week at the school, I sat in the back of my mum’s car, and asked her, in total innocence, “Mum, what’s a whore?” because some delightful peer of mine had written, very clearly, but carefully positioned (every writeable surface in the girls toilets was covered in graffiti, so it will have taken some skill to find a good spot) that Miss I-can’t-remember-her-name-but-she-was-actually-pretty-nice was one.
She said she’d tell me when I’m older…
Those awful toilets were well-filled with pupils, mostly putting make-up on and squirting body spray and perfume to make such a dense fug that it was kind of terrifying for the eleven-year-olds venturing in there just for a wee at break time. There wasn’t so much a queue as a hierarchy, and the atmosphere now reminds me of trying to get past a crowd of smoking men on my way through a bus station. You’d wait and wait and wait, watching the doors and wondering how they could spend so long in there, while trying not to suffocate, and dash in, feeling short and unsophisticated next to the year 11 and 12s (that’s S5 and S6 (probably) to my Scottish readers) that were basically fully grown women. I never really got the attraction of spending every break time in there, and preferred to hang out in the quad (don’t get me started on the chewing gum) which at least had fresh air and a population of black and white wagtails. I guess, for them, it was a safe space, although thanks to the terror they inspired in some of us, I don’t really think it could be described as such, really.
I was amazed when I started Hawick High School, and found there was barely any vandalism in the toilets. What was going on? There was also… hardly anyone in them. Apart from being used for what they’re supposed to be used for, while I was there they were a relatively dead zone. I have no clue what the difference was, because the architecture was equally grim. Although…thinking about it, I remember talking to someone usually outside my circle of library goers and emo kids, and she said she never, ever used the school toilets, and I’m sure it was more about who was hanging out in there than how welcoming the stalls were. Maybe I’ve forgotten what they were like, blocked it from memory. I do remember finding out where the staff toilets were and using those when no-one was around for quite a long time… (incase you need it, they’re up the stairs behind the assembly hall, turn left then right… maybe. There were sanitary towels (was it called a “comfort box”?) And dried flowers.)
The other fun toilet adventure I’d like to share (be honest you love it) was when I got into Glasgow on a train and couldn’t find a toilet until I got to the CCA. There was a sign on the door with lots of writing on, so I got as far as toilet and dived into… what had clearly previously been the gents’. Don’t laugh, it probably wasn’t my first time in one. I was too desperate to think beyond getting in a cubicle and doing my business that I didn’t notice the urinals, and some kind of taught horror in me made me feel a bit mortified when I started to notice the smell. I sat there and wondered what on earth it had said on that sign, because I’m sure it said anyone could use it. I washed my hands in a rush and tried not to make eye contact with the tall bearded person washing their hands beside me who looked slightly confused but was also quite polite.
The sign did say anyone could use the toilet, and that this one had cubicles and urinals. It had a little shelf thing with sanitary towels and tampons on it too, maintained by a charity. I just felt a bit silly for feeling embarrassed. And then I thought they really need to work on their signage (bigger, more concise writing, maybe a picture pls), because while I’ll happily use the unisex loos there again and my fellow visitors were considerate, it’s good to get a warning about which is likely to have pee on the floor.
Okay it’s time for bed. I’ll be using my gender-neutral toilet before I go – you’re welcome to come use it sometime if you promise not to miss. I’ve got organic tampons and a little bin too. Remember, if you’d like to support me in ranting about lavatories, saying mean things about the local press and also making video art, please do consider buying me a coffee here – you can send however much you like, although sadly I’m not sure it’ll let you literally spend a penny…
Read on Pink News about the LGBTQ2IAAP acronym here
And a handy explainer from the BBC here
Read the baffling Southern Reporter article here
And send them corrections here (F******k, sorry. Can’t guarantee they’ll bother to read it)
Learn about the CCA here (couldn’t see info on the toilets I’m afraid)