There’s talk of constructing separate toilets for transgenders in Bhopal. This is, perhaps, the first such move across the country.
Authorities in that city have cited harassment faced by members of the community as the motivation behind the move. Should other cities adopt this as well? Will it help in the inclusion of the community in a society that has been largely transphobic?
Chandini, a transwoman who works for an organisation providing accessible finances to auto drivers, thinks not.
“What we want is acceptance, not separate washrooms,” she says. “I think of myself as a woman and would like to be treated that way.”
However, she often meets with shocked responses while using a women’s restroom. “If I’m inside, and am talking to a friend who’s standing outside the toilet, people panic and think a man has snuck in. Sometimes, they even call the guards outside because they haven’t seen me.”
Nevertheless, she believes, the way forward is to construct more toilets for men and women, rather than separate ones for transgenders. “Say a transgender toilet comes up in Majestic, how many would use it?”
Moreover, this could become a source of harassment in itself, she feels. “While that is true — others could identify you as a transgender when you’re seen entering or
exiting the washroom and harass you for it — it isn’t always easy for those who haven’t had a sex-change surgery yet,” says Sonu, a transman who was the subject of Akhil Sathyan’s documentary ‘That’s My Boy’.
He says this is particularly true while travelling, especially by bus. “Because in trains, you have toilets with doors. Along the highways, very often, it’s only urinals for men and that can pose a problem,” he adds.
For fear of harassment, he always has a male friend waiting outside, he says. “Separate toilets would be good, but it should be up to every individual which washroom they want to use,” he opines.
Karuna Chandwani, an English editor at a subtitling company, asks, “Why doesn’t Bengaluru have some? Or, for that matter, other Indian cities?”
She shares that one of her colleagues came out after her sex-change surgery recently, and despite the HR sending out mails urging everyone to be supportive of her, some employees complained about finding her in the women’s washroom.
“And these were all people who knew her. That makes me wonder how much worse might her experience be with strangers?” she says adding, “Yes, it’s important to work towards an inclusive society, but that will take years, maybe decades, to truly achieve.
So, meanwhile, the least we can do is to ensure that transgenders aren’t harassed.”
Darshan Devaiah, a post-graduate media student, agrees. “It might seem otherwise, but I think it’s a step towards recognising transgenders’ needs as those of fellow human beings,” he says.
His classmate Poornima Ramesh chips in. “But here’s the problem with toilets in general — the authorities should ensure that they are well-maintained.”