Mixed reactions to UCT’s mixed bathrooms

gender neutral bathrooms

Last week the University of Cape Town (UCT) introduced gender-neutral bathrooms for students who identify as transgender or who abstain from defining their gender.

Nthabiseng Mokoena, a gender non-comforist and the advocacy coordinator for Transgender and Intersex Africa, told Talk Radio 702’s Redi Tlhabi that gender neutral bathrooms are a safe and accessible space for students who do not feel safe in traditional bathrooms. Mokoena said people who do not conform to gender binaries “don’t fit the norms of what society thinks is a man or a woman” and therefore need spaces where they feel safe. 

The bathroom, situated in UCT’s popular Leslie Social Sciences Building, has sparked controversy. It contains two urinals and two cubicles. RA’EESA PATHER found out what student thought of the changes. 

Maqhawe MadonseleMaqhawe Madonsele, 19, student, Rosebank
I don’t understand why the whole thing came about. I understand the being inclusive thing, but it’s a bathroom, you know? I read somewhere it’s because some people don’t relate to one specific gender, but I don’t see the logic. They aren’t building new bathrooms, they’re taking the bathrooms that are here already and changing the sign. A woman shouldn’t have to walk into a bathroom which is filled with urinals. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable, I saw the sign the other day and if I need to go to the bathroom, I’m still going to go to the bathroom. 

Malaika EvansMalaika Evans, 19, student, Cape Town
There shouldn’t be labels on bathrooms anyway because labels create a lot of problems. I suppose it’s very limiting but freeing at the same time, because people want to know “where do I go”, but we’re all just humans and it’s a bathroom. If you need to use the services of a bathroom you should be able to go through any door. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable going to a bathroom with guys. It’s a bodily function, periods and going to the toilet, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I won’t feel embarrassed for what I have as a woman. If you feel embarrassed, that’s on you.

Kumbirai MakanzaKumbirai Makanza, 21, student, Observatory
I think it’s progressive, but it’s going to take a while to get used to it. Coming from a traditional background, I’m just not used to it. It’s progressive in that it’s pushing the boundaries, it’s changing the way people think, so it’s pretty cool. The toilet is a private space so maybe if you want to do something private or embarrassing, then someone’s going to overhear that.

Sele KomanaSele Komana, 21, student, Observatory
I’m very indifferent about it. If people want it then hey, give it to them. I stay in a mixed res [campus residence] so I don’t mind this whole mixed gender thing and sharing. I basically use mixed gender bathrooms every day because there’s guys in my res. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable, because that’s my everyday life.

Chadley KempChadley Kemp, 19, student, Ottery
I don’t really care. If I had to see a girl in the bathroom it wouldn’t make much of a difference, I mean they have stalls for privacy… If I have to see one of those tampon bins where girls put their stuff in, that would gross me out a little bit. I don’t think it really matters though. It’s a bathroom, we all go there to do the same thing …. I don’t think it’s a good way to address gender inequality or the way we relate to each other when we all go there to do the same thing.

Carrie TimlinCarrie Timlin, 26, student and tutor, CBD
I think they make sense. I think it can make a difference to people who identify as transgender and transsexual. If there’s a man dressed as woman he doesn’t have to feel like he has to make a choice every time he’s faced with two different bathrooms …

I can see how some people might be uncomfortable with the idea of men and women using the same bathroom and, I can see how – with the crime risk and that sort of thing – I can see how a lot of women might feel uncomfortable having men in their space. But at the same time, that stuff happens anyway, regardless if there’s a little man or a little woman on the door.