“Whenever I need to go into a space that is gendered, like a bathroom or a locker room, I feel extremely uncomfortable,” said transgender junior Alastair Kudsk, who uses he/they pronouns. “If I go into the men’s bathroom, which is the bathroom that I identify with and that I would prefer to use, I risk sexual harm and harassment,” Kudsk said. “But if I use the female bathroom, which is the bathroom that I do not want to use under any circumstances, I feel extremely uncomfortable, like I’m not supposed to be there.”
As Aiden Blair, a nonbinary senior, explained, because neither the girls or boys bathrooms match their gender identity, neither are a comfortable option. This is one reason why gender neutral bathrooms were created. Students, like Blair and Kudsk, need a safe space outside of gendered bathrooms. If no gender neutral bathrooms are available, Kudsk has to make the difficult decision between risking harassment or subjecting himself to discomfort by using the bathroom that doesn’t match his gender identity. Blair said that they often end up avoiding using bathrooms at BHS whenever possible, and wait to get home in discomfort. Why? Because BHS’s gender neutral bathrooms are limited, inaccessible, and often unusable.
There are only two designated gender neutral student bathrooms in the entire Berkeley High School campus, located in the C- and G-Buildings. Because the gender neutral bathrooms at BHS are single stall, they’re not just used as bathrooms. According to Blair, there is an abundance of vandalism, menstrual product dispensers are often broken, and there is often a lack of soap and paper towels. Judging from this, Blair noted a possible lack of understanding from BHS students. Many are unaware of the significance of the few gender neutral bathrooms for the gender-expansive community at BHS.
A lack of accessible gender neutral bathrooms is not the only issue — a fear of transphobic harassment within gendered bathrooms remains prevalent. Luke Prud’homme, a trans-masculine senior, said, “I came out over the pandemic, and when I got back, I very nervously started using my preferred restroom, which is the mens.”
Prud’homme recounted, “I got told to leave, and was kicked out by other students. I have pretty much never gone back into the boys bathroom in any building at school, because I feel like the decision I’m making is (about) my safety, emotionally and even physically.” He explained, “I’d rather be uncomfortable and dysphoric than worry about my safety.”
The risk of transphobia makes using the restroom a stressful experience for Prud’homme, forcing him to use a bathroom that he doesn’t feel comfortable in. “I usually use the womens restroom because the gender neutral bathrooms are a good 90 percent of the time either locked or unusable,” he said.
Many students agreed that building new bathrooms is likely not a possible solution. “Constructing new (bathrooms) would oftentimes be infeasible, and otherwise, if feasible, far more expensive than it needs to be,” Blair said. In some cases, creating more gender neutral bathrooms could actually be as simple as changing a sign. A pre-existing gendered bathroom could simply be converted into a multi-stall gender neutral one. But this also poses difficulties.
For one, it could lead to an imbalance of bathrooms within a building. If a girls bathroom is converted to gender neutral one but the boys stays the same, then any students on that floor who desire to use the girls bathroom must walk far to find one. And there is value in keeping gendered bathrooms at BHS. For religious reasons, like adjusting a hijab, some students need a girls bathroom.
If the existing gender neutral bathrooms could stay functional, that would make a big difference. While a lack of well-paid custodians likely has an impact, perhaps the simplest fix has to do with student culture. “People just need to be more aware of what the gender neutral bathrooms are even for,” Blair said. “They’re not a place to have privacy to smoke weed. They’re a place to have privacy to be comfortable and really yourself in a school where none of the other bathrooms work for you.”
Additionally, transgender students need to feel safe using their preferred restroom, without fear of harassment. “I’m not always comfortable with going into the boys bathroom, because I’m always afraid of what someone’s gonna say,” said transgender junior Cameron Sackey, who uses he/they pronouns. He expressed the importance of students being more respectful to their gender expansive peers. “If someone who is gender expansive or trans uses a gendered bathroom, just don’t say anything, let them do their business. Don’t make fun of them. Don’t laugh at them.”
“People don’t quite understand … the way that you show respect to trans people. And that applies to students and staff at Berkeley High School,” Prud’homme said. He explained that he doesn’t necessarily view BHS culture being transphobic as a whole, but rather uneducated.
A possible solution Blair proposed for a lack of awareness is LGBTQ education in the classroom, which could fit within the Universal Ninth Grade Ethnic Studies and Social Living course. While there is a unit about LGBTQ issues and culture in this course, Sackey said that it should be more expansive. Additionally, Blair noted that this education could be extended to staff, to increase their understanding and support of gender expansive students.
In terms of change, it will likely start with an increase in awareness. “People definitely care. Awareness is definitely being raised. But there’s still definitely a lot of work to do,” Blair said.
Kudsk emphasized normalizing trans students in cis-gendered spaces. “This is all remnant of a long history of our culture purposely excluding people who are not in the binary, because we are seen as ‘other,’” Kudsk said. “I’d say explicit transphobia is not very common. But administrative, institutional transphobia is very, very common. I see it every day.”