I wrote a piece on the gender neutral toilets at the Old Vic, which was published by The Stage last Friday. They published a subsequent piece by Sarah Ditum, and in response to a Twitter backlash decided to remove both pieces from their website (without consulting either of us first). I have more to say on this but for now I think it's important the original piece is out in the world so people can make their own minds up about whether it needed to be censored. Here it is.
This week The Old Vic has announced that it has scrapped single-sex toilets in favour of facilities for those of all gender identities.
This is a fantastic step that we should take a moment to celebrate. Trans* people are among the most vulnerable in our society - the statistics prove it. According to Stonewall, 40% of trans* people have been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years, and 70% avoid certain situations for fear of being harassed. Research from LGBT+ organisations shows that all-gendered toilets are crucial in enabling those who don’t fit visual gender norms to relieve themselves safely.
It's incumbent on a civilised society to protect the most vulnerable people within it. Some have argued that trans* people make up only a small percentage of the UK’s population - but it is precisely because the rights of this community are likely to be overlooked, and their voices go unheard, that we need to fight for them. The Old Vic's decision to make these changes to their toilets is doing exactly that, and they should be applauded.
But the announcement has been mired in a Twitter storm. When I tweeted a pretty innocuous comment in response to the Old Vic’s announcement - 'This is fantastic, thank you for making this important change to help those of all genders feel welcome at your venue' - I found my notifications inundated with aggressive responses calling me ‘an idiot’ and asking ‘why do you want women to be assaulted?’. As a cis woman, it was an unwelcome reminder of the levels of intimidation and harassment faced by trans* people every day. Many of those attacking me were apparently, like me, privileged, cis women - and it has made me more committed than ever to use my own privilege to stand alongside the trans community.
Besides, it’s not only trans* people who benefit from these changes. It’s carers looking after someone of another gender to them, parents, and any woman who has ever stood in a long queue waiting for a cubicle to become available, watching men sailing freely in and out of the toilets designated exclusively for them. More broadly speaking, surely we are all better off in a society that helps individuals to live in the way that is most authentic for them?
Some have voiced legitimate concerns about the change to gender neutral toilets, citing religious needs and worries about safety. The orchestrated hysteria of the response overwhelms what could be a fruitful conversation to find a solution that works for everyone. Ultimately, it’s a massive failure of imagination if we don’t think we can create toilets where trans* people, religious people and survivors of abuse are able to pee in safety and comfort.
The Old Vic should reflect on concerns that have been raised, but they must not be led into compromising on the excellent work they have done by a Twitter storm specifically designed to drown out the voices of those who are already marginalised. If anything, it should make them – and all of us in the sector - more determined than ever to stand firm.