Unisex Toilets for All? the Sexual/Gender Ideology of Public Toilets in Taiwan

Monday, July 14, 2014: 7:00 PM
Room: 303
Distributed Paper
Herng-Dar BIH , Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
Yen-Wen PENG , National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

The purposes of this paper are to analyze the progression of Taiwan’s gender-equal toilet movements, experiences of sexual minorities in using public toilets, and attitudes of the general public toward using unisex toilets.

In 1996, some feminist students groups in Taiwan launched the Womens Toilet Campaign using the slogan and action of Occupying Mens Toilets.  They successfully attracted public and media attention, and the government promptly amended the related building codes. Concerns of number and quality of womens toilets, however, presupposed the legitimacy of sexual segregation of public toilets without challenging the dichotomy of sex, the reinforcement of stereotypic gender performance and the inconvenience for transgender people. In 2009, several LGBT groups initiated another toilet campaign advocating for unisex toilets in public space. It has not earned any response from the government yet, but how the general public and transgender people react to unisex toilets is a question worth probing.

The problems brought by sexual segregation of toilets (Browne called it genderism) has been increasingly recognized, but the resistance from the general public to use unisex toilets is seemingly huge. Kogan suggested to introduce a third toilet labeled other where people with disability, parents with children, LGBT, or anyone who refuse to use traditional toilets would feel comfortable. Without abolishing womens and mens toilets, this alternative may be acceptable for the general public. However, the problem of ghettoization still exists. Sexual minorities might be questioned more severely when using traditional womens/mens toilets.

Public toilets are typical spaces segregated by sex. By examining the unisex toilets dilemma, this paper will reflect on the legitimacy of sexual-segregated public spaces, social exclusion, and the mutual construction of gender and space.