WE NEED GENDER NEUTRAL TOILETS
Imagine this. You leave a toilet cubicle and several people look at you in confusion, and even ask if you knew you were in the women’s toilet. You’re trying to use the library toilets and someone literally blocks the entrance so that you can’t get in. You go into a public toilet and are told by a person you’ve never met that you ‘don’t belong here’.
These are all experiences that I and many of my fellow non-binary/transgender/genderqueer pals have experienced a fair few times in our lives. I am a non-binary androgynous individual, so you can imagine that when a handful of gender neutral toilets were introduced in our Union I was elated. Finally, a space where I wouldn’t be questioned, harassed and mocked. A place where I could pee in peace.
However despite these being introduced, gendered toilets still exist in the SU and through the rest of campus. So, in certain situations I have to resort to using the female toilet, which is where I receive those lovely double takes and murmurs under the breath. I feel inadequate and ostracized – like I don’t belong. It takes me back to that old high school mentality. If you looked or acted different you were instantly judged and humiliated for being so.
What I don’t understand in the first place is why society chooses to gender a room in which the sole purpose is to take dumps. It’s illogical, and completely unnecessary.
We need to fully acknowledge that gender is a spectrum and ensure the comfortability of all students with all identities. To do this, we must commence #operationgenderneutral. Many other university institutions have had a complete overhaul of gendered bathrooms, and we can do the same.
In the mean-time, if there’s someone in the bathroom you’re using who doesn’t look like the gender on the door, here’s what you do.
Don’t worry about it.
WHAT IS PANSEXUALITY?
Within wider society, and occasionally within the LGBT+ community itself, there is one queer identity often neglected – one I personally identify with.
Pansexuality, also known as omnisexuality, refers to sexual or emotional attraction towards any sex or gender identity. It is not the attraction to kitchen crockery. Nor is it quite bisexuality either.
Although the terms do overlap, bisexuality is defined by attraction to at least two genders (importantly not limited to cisgender men and women). The Greek prefix ‘pan’ contrarily means ‘all’, hence a pansexual is attracted to all types of people, regardless of gender or sex. This therefore aims to be inclusive of non-binary genders/sexes and trans* individuals who feel they don’t fit the traditional binary. Demi-gender, two spirit, and intersex – it’s irrelevant. You’re attractive if I like you as a person. Pansexuality and bisexuality are thus contrasting but interrelated identities.
This confusion has however caused some tension within the LGBT+ community - after all, there isn’t a ‘P’ in the aforementioned group title. Panphobia has arisen via accusations they’re trying to ‘one up’ bisexuals, meanwhile the latter battle accusations they’re trans*phobic and are less inclusive than pansexuals, all whilst a select few gay individuals accuse both parties of jumping on the Pride bandwagon. It’s a difficult subject considering some see the terms as interchangeable, but ultimately whichever label you chose to define yourself with (if you use one at all) is a matter of personal preference.
Nonetheless, these similarities have led to pansexuals facing a number of affiliated misconceptions in wider society. For starters, we aren’t confused. My sexuality lies on a spectrum between gay and straight, unrestricted by binary gender and sexual characteristics that would define my ideal partner. Of course, I can still adhere to societal expectations if I so please (I’m currently in a heterosexual relationship with a cis male), but the idea is that I’m not limited by such restrictions should I wish otherwise.
Furthermore, pansexuality doesn’t equate to promiscuity. Just because I can be attracted to anybody doesn’t mean I am attracted to everybody. That isn’t to say polyamorous pansexuals don’t exist, and likewise an asexual can identify as panromantic. However to make assumptions about someone’s sexual behaviour based on their sexual identity is downright degrading.
Most importantly, pansexuality is real. Google Trends shows the term had significant web activity more than 3 years prior to Tumblr’s internet prominence, and the recent infamous YouGov survey found 49% of students were ‘not completely heterosexual.’ Sexual fluidity is thus a real phenomena; one that is thankfully becoming more recognised and accepted. I’ve come to embrace that my love is universal – and many other pan, bi, and queer students are now doing the same.
INTERNALISED HOMOPHOBIA AND STEREOTYPING
So far the 21st century has been triumphant for the LGBT+ community with same sex marriage laws being passed worldwide and a generally more accepting society. According to AVERT, the international AIDS charity, the current average age that young LGBT+ people begin coming out is 16 which, when compared with around 20 in the 1980’s, should imply that internalised homophobia is dropping. This phenomenon is, in a nutshell, when a person is subjected to other people’s negative perceptions to the extent that they start to feel that way towards themselves. Therefore instead of embracing who they really are, the person will start to deny their sexuality to others and themselves and this can lead to issues with mental health.
So why are some people still suffering from internalised homophobia if society is becoming more accepting of the LGBT+ community? In my opinion, it’s a matter of stereotyping. Stereotyping is something that happens too often within the LGBT+ community. The idea that gay men have to be camp and camp men have to be gay is outdated and simply untrue and yet, particularly within the older generation, this idea is still very much bounced around. This can put pressure on people in the LGBT+ community to feel they have to act a certain way to be accepted. I hear comments far too often from people saying, “he must be gay” or referring to their ‘gaydar’ because of the way a person acts, dresses or speaks. I know LGBT+ people who do fit the stereotype and those who don’t and I don’t think any less of either. There is a very specific social stigma that is associated with being an LGBT+ man where he may be pressured into being someone’s ‘GBF’ (gay best friend). People will use their friend’s sexuality as an excuse for anything. No - it’s not okay to show your GBF that weird mark on your boob “because he’s gay”, and its not okay to ask him if red is your colour “because he’s gay” - it’s just not.
However, despite stereotyping still being a problem, the LGBT+ community is in its prime. Gay Pride is getting bigger and better by the year and slowly but surely it’s killing internalised homophobia. Walking through the streets of Newcastle it is plain to see that more and more people are showing their true sexualities and show no discomfort in engaging in public displays of affection with their other halves no matter what their genders are - and I love it.
STEREOTYPING WITHIN THE LGBT+ COMMUNITY
As of 2016, it can be safely said that the situation for LGBT+ people in the UK, and indeed more widely, has made a lot of progress. For example, we can now get married and can expect fair and equal treatment in most areas of society – however there are some issues that persist. One of these is stereotypes, and in particular how they affect the lives and wellbeing of LGBT+ people.
Even as people of different sexualities and gender identities have become more accepted, many damaging assumptions and stereotypes still exist. These can be based on historical factors or just misconceptions about LGBT+ people, and can range from the relatively innocuous to the extremely harmful.
Amongst gay men for example, there is the stereotype of being ‘effeminate’; which although true for some men, is by no means the case for all. The same applies to lesbian women who are often stereotyped as being ‘butch’, and indeed for bisexual people who may be regarded as being ‘indecisive’ as to whether they are gay or straight.
These stereotypes can be damaging to the mental health of those affected, and can also cause divisions within the communities themselves. Indeed, if people do not feel they fit into one of these categories, it could lead to feelings of low self-esteem or perhaps difficulties in coming to terms with their true identity – and equally this can apply to those who might fit those categories but who feel victimised or ashamed for being so.
The fact that stereotyping is still rather prominent today means that there is a great deal of work to do in order to get rid of it. The primary focus has to be education – by tackling stereotyping of LGBT+ people and homophobia at an early age, we have more hope of removing such problems in the future. People aren’t born with such prejudices – rather they learn them, and by removing such misconceptions earlier, through outreach programmes, workshops, or even by making the curriculum more inclusive, an elimination of stereotypes would become much more of a possibility in the future.
LGBT+ MENTAL HEALTH IS A BIG ISSUE
It is well known that mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are significantly more common in LGBT+ individuals than in the non-LGBT population. Studies suggest that up to 44% of LGBT+ youths have considered suicide, as opposed to around 20% of non-LGBT people of the same age. Investigations have also recorded higher incidences of drug and alcohol abuse in LGBT+ individuals. This is likely to be linked to discrimination, which a majority of self-identifying LGBT+ individuals face throughout their lives, and is especially prevalent in the form of the bullying of LGBT+ youths, often in high schools. A greater awareness or education in this area would likely be of benefit to the LGBT+ community, as well as to the wider public.
Due to the incredibly high incidence of these issues, it would be logical to provide more support to the LGBT+ community, whether at a local or national level. PACE was a mental health charity specifically targeted to LGBT people, which disappointingly, was forced into closure in January 2016 due to a lack of financial support after the cuts to local authority budgets. Small charities such as PACE may benefit from greater public awareness of mental health issues in the LGBT+ community, which is one of the many things that LGBT+ Week 2016 aims to focus on. Fortunately, other larger mental health charities such as Mind are focussing campaigns on the health and wellbeing of LGBT+ individuals, to offer information and support to those affected. The targeting of mental health services to LGBT+ youths may be favourable, as numerous studies indicate that this is often the most difficult time period for LGBT+ individuals. This is possibly because of a lack of inclusion in LGBT+ communities, which may be more easily accessible to many people after leaving school.