This post is written by Jen Slater and also available on their blog.
Around the Toilet has gone through several phases to date. One of its current aims is to take our conversations of toilets, disability, gender and access to grassroots disability and queer arts and activist spaces internationally. This is particularly exciting as it means touring our new animation, The Toilet, to different spaces, including film festivals and activist groups. Last week, the tour began as Gemma Nash (disabled artist, and Community Co-I on the project) and I travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland for our animation’s WORLD PREMIERE. This blog post summarises the event.
We were hosted by three organisations: Tabú (a disabled women’s activist organisation), Trans Ísland (a trans people’s advocacy and activist organisation) and Samtökin ’78 (Iceland’s national queer organisation). The event itself took place in the building of Samtökin ’78 – and we were excited on arrival by the rainbow unicorn greeting us on the wall!
I spoke first about the origins of the project. I drew on Alison Kafer’s book, Feminist Queer Crip, to talk about the (not always easy!) relationships between queer, feminist and disability movements. Kafer uses the toilet as an example of space that is sometimes contested between (and indeed, within) these movements.
For example, some trans and other gender non-conforming people have and continue to fight for a greater provision of gender neutral toilets. Although we often don’t think of it as such, the most frequently available gender neutral toilet space is the ‘accessible’ or the ‘disabled’ toilet. In 1998 Sally Munt, discussing her experiences as a butch lesbian, named the ‘disabled toilet’ a ‘queer space’ – “‘a stress-free location […] in which I can momentarily procure an interval from the gendered public environment, and physically replenish”.
Some disabled people, however, have argued that disabled people should have access to binary gendered (men’s/women’s) toilets. They say that gender neutral accessible toilets contribute to the positioning of disabled people as a ‘third gender’. Furthermore, disabled woman scholar and activist, Kay Inckle critiques Munt for “co-opting limited accessible facilities”, or, in other words, using toilets which weren’t made for her. Inckle argues that although gender neutral toilets may be considered progressive by some people, “for many disabled women, to be considered female and/or as sexual at all would be a major stepping-stone on the rocky and inaccessible road to human status”.
Despite critiques such as Inckle’s, it’s important to note that many disabled people (trans and cis) want to retain the gender neutral space of the accessible toilet. There are many reasons for this, including having a personal assistant of a different gender. Indeed, in the talk, I discussed how the workshops that we’ve held with trans, queer and disabled people have provoked a range of emotions and responses. Many non-disabled trans people have spoken to us about feeling guilty if they use the ‘accessible’/’disabled’ toilet, despite being scared to use the binary gender men’s and women’s bathrooms. Furthermore, some trans and disabled participants said we should use labels for toilets which tell us what is in them, rather than who should be allowed to use them.
In her talk which followed, Gemma highlighted how disagreements about toilet space don’t just occur between different movements and groups of people, but also within them. Gemma discussed her experiences as a disabled mother. She talked about how some disabled people actively campaign for the removal of baby changing tables from the ‘accessible’ (or ‘disabled’) toilet. Their argument is that as changing a baby can take a long time, it prevents disabled people using the toilet. Some people also say that it infantilises disabled people (positions them similarly to babies). However, Gemma told us the importance of having accessible baby changing facilities. When her daughter was a baby, having the baby changing in the accessible toilet was the only way that she could comfortably change her child, whilst also using the toilet herself. She said that most people don’t consider that disabled people may too be parents.
The themes above are a snapshot of some of the difficult, and often painful, barriers to access that are covered in our new film, The Toilet. The film illustrates how inaccessible or unsafe toilets affect people in a range of ways, stopping some from leaving the house, and leading others to lose their jobs, or avoid food and drink, and taking day trips and holidays. Through the stories of trans, Muslim and disabled people, we show how current toilet provisions prioritise some people’s needs at the expense of others.
Toilet access is an important social and political issue and we need to fight for change.
Thank you SO much to Tabú, Trans Ísland and Samtökin ’78 for hosting this event and to those who attended for the fascinating discussion. Keep an eye on our blog for an updated list of where you can see screenings of, The Toilet. We’ll also be announcing them on Twitter (@cctoilettalk). The Toilet will also be available online to be used by groups and organisations in early 2018 (watch this space!).