Alice falls down the rabbit hole. Milo drives through the tollbooth. Dorothy is swept up in the tornado. Neo takes the red pill. Don’t tell us about another world you’ve imagined, heard about, or created. Rather, tell us about its portal.
The little figures of a "man" and "woman" are instantly recognizable. They are ubiquitous, and we are exposed to them and their representations of gender from our earliest memories. While most people see a door emblazoned with a stick figure as, you know, a place to go to the bathroom (or as a secret entrance to the Ministry of Magic), I see it as a portal to a world of civil rights and self-identification.
In recent years, governments (I'm looking at you, North Carolina) have used bathroom doors as a means to restrict transgender rights and to deny trans people the liberty of self-identification. This isn't new—bathroom doors have been at the forefront of the civil rights movement for decades. Jim Crow laws segregated bathrooms by race from the late 1800s to the 1960s. In the 60s, the bathroom hysteria shifted to a fear of gay men. In the 70s, the lack of women's bathrooms in the workplace became an issue. And with the 80s came the requirement to create bathrooms accessible to those of all abilities. It seems that, regardless of the issue, what symbol and caption is inscribed on a bathroom door can be a tool for exclusion and prejudice or a portal to identity and inclusion.
My high school was just like many schools in the country. Dotted around campus were several single-occupancy bathrooms that maintained the custom of two discrete genders expressed by little stick figures. Those stick figures showed, for the whole school to see, that only two genders were fully accepted in this community. Of course, that wasn't the intent of the bathroom doors; they were gendered due to unconsciously accepted convention. However, there are more than two genders in the world, and some people cannot, nor should they be forced to, identify with the gender binary.
For me, a bathroom door became more than just a door; it became a portal to activism. As co-president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), I lobbied our school's administration to convert the single-occupancy bathrooms on campus into gender-neutral bathrooms. I argued that even if a nonbinary student never needs to use it, its presence on campus creates a microcosm of what the whole school should be: a world that honors all people, that actively embraces diversity, and that encourages all students to be their authentic selves. The administration accepted the proposal, and now our campus proudly sports several bathroom doors emblazoned with a new sign: All Gender Bathroom. Just walking by one of those signs makes me smile, knowing that I am part of a community that celebrates all of its members.
Our teenage years are a time to create ourselves. Under the pressures and expectations of our families, the media, and our communities, we figure out who we are, what we enjoy, and how we are going to live our lives. Gender identity is a critical part of this process; it is a complex sense of how we define ourselves within the context of gender roles, society, and our bodies. Bathroom doors are the most obvious way that we literally put ourselves into society's boxes. An inclusive bathroom door, a bathroom door that you know will let you in, is a portal to a world in which we are all welcome.