Parker: Nonbinary students need to pee, too


Illustration by Lily Ogburn

“NBWays” is a column that discusses the trials and tribulations of transgender and nonbinary student life on NU’s campus.

Riley Parker, Columnist


Hello, readers! As a gift to you for reading this article, I offer my (totally patent pending) step-by-step guide for using bathrooms at Northwestern:

1.  Check which building you’re in. If it was built or majorly renovated in the past decade, you’re in luck! Advance to Step 4. Otherwise, move on to Step 2.

2. Glance at your wristwatch, phone or antique pocket watch. If you have fewer than 10 minutes before you need to leave for whatever the next colored box on your Google Calendar represents, oh well! Just hold it in, because your bathroom wishes end here. But, if you’re blessed with the gift of extra time, go to Step 3. 

3. Locate your nearest viable bathroom. It might be down the nearest dark and twisty hallway, or it might be multiple floors or even an entire building away. You might have to use Google to find it, or sacrifice a wild beast to a mythological god of yore. 

4. Take a deep breath, square your shoulders and make the trek to that “nearby” bathroom. Don’t exhaust yourself too quickly, because you must be prepared for Step 5.

5. Stand awkwardly and scroll on your phone if the bathroom is single-use and occupied. There is nowhere nearby that you can sit down with a usable vantage point of the bathroom door. You might feel like a creep being alone in the hallway staring at the bathroom, but you wouldn’t be alone — I’ve spent fifteen full minutes on this step more than once.

At last:

6. Congratulations, you did it! Enter the bathroom closest to you, relieve yourself and try not to think about how excruciatingly complicated it is to take a piss.

For most students, my guide isn’t at all relevant or useful, and why should it be? It’s long and painful and inconvenient; what kind of bathroom trip takes ten or more minutes? But for many nonbinary and transgender students like me, excruciating bathroom excursions are a multiple-times-per-day reality. And some days, when those colored boxes on my Google Calendar are just too close together, I have to forgo using the bathroom completely for several hours because it simply takes too much time.

I’ve told many cisgender friends about this exact dilemma, and they have all responded with some form of shock or disgust. They tut-tut “the administration” or tell me that I’m brave for going through this every day. While I’m touched by their concern and sympathy, their simplistic responses reflect a fundamental lack of awareness of the actual problem at hand: NU’s structural inability to support gender diversity. Adding pronouns to CAESAR isn’t enough; Northwestern needs to reform prominent aspects of university life if it really wants to be a home to transgender students.

Let’s stick with the issue of bathrooms for a bit longer. I live on the all-gender floor of Allison Hall. In an all-gender housing system, roommate sets can be of any gender combination and the bathrooms are unisex. While any kind of communal bathroom is unideal for someone like me, since I suffer from gender dysphoria and hate feeling exposed around others, I am truly grateful that I have access to this type of housing. Why? Well, out of the 24 undergraduate residence halls, only about a fourth have at least one all-gender hall. Just five of those six are open to first-years, and one of them is Schapiro Hall, perhaps the single most frequently requested first-year dorm on campus. Similarly, if a student who needs all-gender housing wants to live in a residential college, they only have five possibilities, two of which house fewer than 100 students. 

As a result, transgender and nonbinary students often have to choose between having an accessible, usable bathroom in their dorm and living somewhere that is otherwise a perfect fit. If they prioritize the former, the paucity of available, suitable rooms means that they might not even be lucky enough to be placed somewhere with the right bathroom at all.

Admittedly, Northwestern is trying to improve the quality of life of its transgender students. I’m only a freshman, but throughout my time here, I’ve already seen the school add more gender-neutral bathrooms and work to normalize pronoun sharing. Nevertheless, I think people fail to comprehend the universal benefit of these reforms beyond just the transgender and nonbinary populations.

In truth, more unisex bathrooms mean more bathrooms available for all people. More all-gender housing increases chances of connections between even more diverse sets of hallmates. And a more inclusive environment encourages everyone to see more humanity in one another.

Riley Parker is a freshman in the School of Communication. They can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.