A (rest)room of one's own

Experiencing MIT through all-gender bathrooms
Jan 2021
Biological Engineering

In the COVID-19 research ramp-up, one return-to-work guideline was hotly contested. Community members should remain seated while flushing to limit viral transmission. For a moment, my department was as obsessed with toilets as I was, although for different reasons.

As a non-binary trans person, I'm familiar with non-ideal bathroom situations. The year I started at MIT, a Massachusetts referendum challenged trans people's rights to public accommodations, including restrooms. Voters ultimately affirmed these rights, but Massachusetts and I didn't start things on a great note.

In the same year, MIT piloted a small number of all-gender, multi-stall bathrooms. However, two years later, MIT does not have a comprehensive strategy to ensure all-gender restroom access during renovation and construction. Restroom access at MIT isn't always easy, and in my search for all-gender bathrooms across campus, I've gained an appreciation for the hidden world of MIT bathrooms.

Using the all-gender bathroom is weird, but not for the reasons you think

For some reason, MIT’s all-gender bathrooms tend to be in basements and remote corners of buildings. One bathroom even doubles as ad-hoc furniture storage and usually has several chairs arranged near the toilet for any bathroom companions.

Using the all-gender bathroom also invites strange social situations. The all-gender bathroom by the Muddy Charles Pub is in a vacant, unlit event hall in the opposite direction of the building’s other restrooms. As I head into the darkness, I’m usually met with confusion by the pub’s doorperson before being redirected toward the gendered bathroom. I still haven’t found a concise way of explaining that I know where the bathroom is and I need to step into this creepy room to get there.

Sometimes, there just isn’t a bathroom

With around 80 all-gender bathrooms to 190 MIT buildings, I often find myself without convenient restroom access. Multiple times daily, I climb three flights of stairs and cross two buildings just to use the all-gender bathroom nearest to my MIT lab space. Pre-COVID, my department held monthly socials in a building where the nearest all-gender bathroom was across the street. Last year, I even dropped a three-hour-long lecture class because the five-minute bathroom break wasn't enough time to even get halfway to the bathroom.

It’s not just about toilets

To be clear, restroom access is not the only barrier I face as a trans person at MIT. Others are more mundane, or less frequently experienced, or harder to make jokes about. Instead, think of the humble restroom as a symbol of other barriers I’ve omitted here: a daily reminder that MIT isn’t designed with trans people in mind, but that it could be.