Bathroom Talk

My Google Reader continues to come up with little gems occasionally.

This is it’s latest offering:

Poly in Pictures

This lead me to this fantastic essay on how images are used to segregate rest rooms. This of course is yet another way society polices and enforces its own construct of gender. (You can see my own thoughts on this subject here.)


Women’s and men’s washrooms: we encounter them nearly every time we venture into public space. To many people the separation of the two, and the signs used to distinguish them, may seem innocuous and necessary. Trans people know that this is not the case, and that public battles have been waged over who is allowed to use which washroom. The segregation of public washrooms is one of the most basic ways that the male-female binary is upheld and reinforced.

Click on picture for yet more gendered toilet signs.

As such, washroom signs are very telling of the way societies construct gender. They identify the male as the universal and the female as the variation. They express expectations of gender performance. And they conflate gender with sex.

I present here for your perusal, a typology and analysis of various washroom signs.

[Editor: After the jump because there are dozens of them… which is why Marissa’s post is so awesome…]

The Universal Male

One of the ideas that supports patriarchy is the notion that a man can be representative of all humanity, or “mankind”, while a woman could only be representative of other women. For example, in politics we see “women’s issues” segregated from everybody issues.

Washroom signs illustrate this idea by depicting the male figure simply, and the female as some kind of elaboration on the male figure. Read the rest here.

A Child Called X

I just came across this fantastic recommendation via in my Google Reader.

Baby X is a story of a child raised as an experiment. X is raised just named X, and X’s physical sex is kept a very tight secret. Nobody other than the parents know, and they are sworn to exclusive secrecy, telling everybody who asks that X is neither a boy or a girl: just an X. The story follows Baby X as it grows up without any pressure towards either male or female, encouraged strongly in both areas. X thrives in school, but soon complications arise. It’s a very sweet story with a very, VERY good message.

Baby X: A Child’s Story Without Gender

I highly recommend you take the time to click on the above link and read the story for yourself.

EDIT: Here is an updated link that will take you to the story.

Transgender Violence – Society’s Obsession with “Doing” Gender

I wrote this a couple of months ago for my Sociology paper last semester. I would like to see what your thoughts are 🙂  Depending on your responses, I may put up more essays and such like in the future

Concept Exercise – ‘Doing’ Gender

From the moment we are born, we are assigned to one of two genders which we are expected to perform for the remainder of our life. Boys are masculine and girls are feminine. In order to portray the correct image, we must ‘do’ gender as society has constructed it. This is the only way to “[affirm] and [maintain] our gender identities” (McLennan, McManus, & Spoonley, 2010, p. 107). Gender is something we learn to ‘do’, being encouraged by our parents, teachers, even friends and public spaces (such as male and female public toilets). Because it is something we have to learn, it is therefore not “a pre-determined state” (Connell, 2009, p. 5). We are taught to avoid gender ambiguities through the clothes we wear, the toys we are given to play with, the way our hair is cut etc. An example of how socially constructed gender is, is how “[before] World War I, it was not uncommon for boys to wear pink, which the promotional literature of the time called ‘a stronger, more decided colour’. Girls wore blue which was understood to be ‘delicate’ and ‘dainty’” (Garber, 1992 as cited in (McLennan, McManus, & Spoonley, 2010, p. 107)). In the present day, a baby dressed in blue is acknowledged as a boy, whereas a baby in pink is most definitely a girl.

Should we decide to perform a gender or in a way that is not the socially accepted match to our biological sex, this can lead to confusion as to what social discourse should be used. Even though gender ambiguity is common, with many people using a blend of “masculine and feminine characteristics” to form their personal gender identity, we are still expected to perform the one most closely related to our biological sex (Connell, 2009, p. 6). Otherwise we can be labelled with terms such as “effeminate, camp, queer and transgender” (Connell, 2009, p. 6) and more derogatory terms like fag and poof. Because society has been constructed with men/males being masculine and women/females being feminine, any deviation from this can cause fear, misunderstanding and hatred.

The effects of fear, misunderstanding and hatred can been seen with the hate crimes committed against transgendered people, the result of someone not ‘doing’ their gender in the socially accepted way. A recent case in America resulted in the country’s first conviction “of first-degree murder and a bias motivated crime” (Spellman, 2009). Angie Zapata, who lived as a woman after being born a male, was killed by Allen Andrade in Summer 2008. They met on an online social networking site and while “Andrade admitted killing Zapata, […] his defence argued he acted in the heat of passion after discovering Zapata was biologically male” and “asked for a […] verdict such as second-degree murder or manslaughter” (Spellman, 2009). The defence constantly identified Zapata as “he”, while the prosecutors identified her as “she”. “[The] prosecutors […] argued that Andrade knew Zapata was biologically male and that motivated the crime” (Spellman, 2009). She was killed because she was “born in a boy’s body but [was] living as a female” (Miller as cited in (Spellman, 2009)).

Hate crimes against transgendered people is not a new thing. Brandon Teena was killed on New Year’s Eve, 1993 “on account of gender non-conformity” (Matzner, 2004). Teena lived as a man but was a biological female. After moving to Falls City, Nebraska, a small rural town, Teena started to data Lana Tisdel. He was arrested for forging cheques and the police department found that he was biologically female. They provided this information to the local newspaper and they published it, outing Teena. Tisdel bailed him out of jail and did not react negatively to the outing. Two friends of Tisdel, John Lotter and Tom Nissen, “who had become close to Teena were shocked and angered by the disclosure” (Matzner, 2004). At a party on 24 December, they sought to humiliate Teena by pulling down his pants in front of Tisdel. Later that night, they raped and beat Teena, saying if he reported them, they would kill him. Teena reported them immediately and one week later, Lotter and Nissen found Teena at the farmhouse of Lisa Lambert where he was staying. They shot and stabbed him as well as killing Lambert and Phillip DeVine, who was also staying at the house. “Nissen was sentenced to life in prison without parole [and] Lotter received the death sentence” (Matzner, 2004). Teena’s mother filed a civil suit against Richardson County and its sheriff and was awarded $98,223 for the failure of the County to protect Teena by arresting Lotter and Nissen straight away after the first incident (Matzner, 2004).

Hate crimes against transgendered people are a direct result of the social construction of gender. Because society has such a strong influence on what we come to believe as acceptable and ‘normal’, through our parents, education and friends, when we come across something or someone that is not ‘normal’, we do not know how to react. By not performing their ‘correct’ gender with which they were assigned at birth, transgendered people generate fear and misunderstanding among others in the community who are considered ‘normal’. Unfortunately, this fear and misunderstanding often generates hatred which can take the form of physical violence, something that both Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata sadly discovered and paid for with their lives.

Until society stops being obsessed with people ‘doing’ their correct gender, incidents such as the horrific acts against Brandon Teena and Angie Zapata and their results deaths will continue to happen. ‘Doing’ ones gender is so deeply engrained within Western society, it is unlikely there will be any positive change and acceptance towards people ‘doing’ whatever gender they feel most comfortable ‘doing’, whether it be the one that matches their biological sex, the opposite or a mixture of the two. There must also be acceptance that both gender and sexuality are fluid and may change throughout their various stages of our lives. While ‘doing’ your correct gender continues to be the status quo, it will take many years and possibly many generations as we learn the mistakes of our elders, not fully understanding the extent of the damage those mistakes cause. Society needs to learn that what may be ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ for one individual may not be the same for anyone else. Until this changes, the violence caused by the fear, misunderstand and hatred of transgendered people and anyone else who is not considered ‘normal’ will continue to rise.


Connell, R. (2009). Short Introductions: Gender. Cambridge; Malden, MA02148, USA: Polity Press.
Matzner, A. (2004, December 31). Teena, Brandon. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from glbtq: An encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer culture:
McLennan, G., McManus, R., & Spoonley, P. (2010). Exploring Society (3rd ed.). North Shore, New Zealand: Pearson.
Spellman, J. (2009, April 23). Transgender murder, hate crime conviction a first. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from