It is hot news, the discussion about gender-neutralism in The Netherlands. People with a different, doubtful or absent sense of gender make out of a niche the norm. Various organizations and social activists are being popular by backing them up. However, there is a group within the Dutch population that has been acting gender-neutral for years, while you barely hear them.
So this article is not about whether you agree or disagree with this discussion. I have my own opinion about it and originally I planned to treat the NS (Dutch Railway) ironically because they now address ‘ladies and gentlemen’ as ‘passengers’ instead. Another option was to mock the now so called gender-neutral children’s clothing from the HEMA instead of the original departments for boys or girls. Mocking HEMA would be the easiest. I already criticized this typical Dutch department store slightly being ironic a few years ago on the basis of some ambiguous texts on their children’s clothing and their children’s underwear (yes, they really made thongs for them…).
Thinking outside of the box
Honestly, many words and expressions came to me. The HEMA is famous in Holland for its wurst. But jokes about HEMA and wurst in combination with gender neutrality did not seem appropriate to me. They are also famous for a sweet ‘TomPuss(…)’ (tompouce in Dutch). It must be gender-neutral, based on the naming of the pastry. At least HEMA tries to think outside the box, but I don’t think that fitting my underwear publicly between the shelves instead of in a changing room is considered as thinking along.
With the urge to own their own category of toilets, the ‘gender-neutrals’ originally started the discussion. It is therefore not surprising that my own gender-neutral aha-erlebnis came up during a toilet visit. People who’ve read more of my writings know that I have a small limitation. That is why I’m dependent on using accessible toilets (sometimes called disabled toilets) when I’m in public places.
Everyone knows them. If present, it is usually a third icon on a door next to that of a male and a female sign indicating the restrooms. The logo, with the doll sitting on a wheel, makes it clear to everyone for who it is intended. Behind that door you will not find a male or a female world. Man, woman, manwoman, intersex, young, old, gay, straight and everything in between or not at all; everyone can use the same toilet as long as you have a disability.
No toilet for differently abled men
We ‘differently abled’ do not worry about it. Although … Since I joined this select group two years ago, I noticed how many special ways exist to make you feel uncomfortable on using the disabled toilet. Sometimes it is simply missing, sometimes you have to ask the ‘manager’ for a key first, sometimes the space isn’t equipped well enough and sometimes it is hidden away in an impossible place. In the meantime, however, I have also experienced that efforts are being made to meddle with our gender-tolerant status.
For example, recently I spent the weekend in a large, modern building of a Dutch denomination. When looking for the toilet, I discovered that the organization had decided that men should go upstairs for their toilet visit and women downstairs. However, I was looking for the disabled toilet. Downstairs I saw one, but it was built in the ladies’ room. That could not be right, or could it? Luckily I don’t have a mobility impairment, so I went upstairs to take a look. But no, no toilet for disabled men.
In the ladies’ room
Since I didn’t experience a miraculous healing during my church visit, I decided to ask someone where the disabled men’s toilet was.
“What do you mean?” I received as a reply.
“Well, just like I said. I found a disabled toilet for ladies, but the last time I checked I did not fall into that category,” I replied politely.
The person in question looked at me as if she didn’t understand me and offered to lead the way to the toilet. I thought that was very nice and I followed her. I was directed to the door where a long queue of women stood. It was at the same door I had seen before with the icons on it of a doll with the dress and the doll in the wheelchair.
“Here it is,” it sounded proud, while presenting the toilet door with two arms.
“Yes, but… this is the ladies’ room,” I explained.
“Oh, but that’s where it’s built in,” it sounded like it was the most normal thing in the world.
A man in the ladies’ room
Well, there I was. My bag with medical necessities under my arm, embarrased and my head tilted down, I squeezed myself between the women in the direction of the toilet that was suitable for my personal needs. As a ‘walking’ user of an accessible toilet you sometimes get glances from people who do not seem to believe that a young guy like me has to use one. But the looks of women who see a man in ‘their’ toilet is even worse.
In my head I silently apologized to them: “Sorry ladies, I have tried to be a gender-neutral differently abled person, but your building does not allow me to…”