Public toilets have become a focal point for gender-critical feminism (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
A butch lesbian has reflected on the many times she’s been confronted and harassed in public toilets as anti-trans hostility spills over in the UK.
Eloise Stonborough, 32, is a cis woman who presents as butch – and she estimates she is challenged roughly every one in three times she uses a women’s public toilet.
Worryingly, these incidents have been increasing steadily over the past two years as the issue of transgender people in toilets becomes a touchpoint for those opposing trans rights.
“I think there’s been tens of times someone has questioned me using the women’s toilet, and ten of those experiences have been particularly frightening – and they’re just the ones I can remember,” she told i.
“I have developed behaviours to minimise the risk of going into a toilet and facing abuse. If I’m going into public, you know, shared toilet rather than a single store. I’ll often try and bring my girlfriend with me or a friend with me, someone who will clarify my gender by standing next to me.”
On one recent occasion Stonborough was challenged by a woman as she stood quietly in line to use a toilet in a park. “She stormed off in a huff when I refused to leave,” she recalled.
“One of the worst times was in an art gallery,” she continued. “A man started screaming that there was ‘a f**king man going into the toilet’ at the top of his voice, and started following me around the gallery once I’d left the toilet. I had to tell security so he could be escorted out of the building.”
There was even a confrontation at an Eddie Izzard gig, where Stonborough was driven from the toilets by a person who called her a “pervert”.
“I thought it was interesting that someone who would be that aggressive towards me because they thought I was trans would want to see a trans-identifying comedian, and to not pick up on the fact that not everyone’s appearance, you know, easily correlates to their gender,” she said.
Unfortunately, Stonborough is not alone: the AHRC-funded project, Around the Toilet, has noted how public toilets have become a prominent site of conflict and a focal point for gender-critical feminism.
The issue is likely to gain more exposure in light of a government review into gender-neutral toilets, which LGBT+ advocates have described as “transphobic dog whistling”.
Stonborough encourages gender non-conforming people and trans people to make their voices heard and submit their thoughts via the consultation.
“I find it incredibly upsetting that this is a fight that is meant to be about my rights, and some sort of desire to save lesbians, as if we are going extinct,” she told i.
“In practice it is making my life harder, it is making the life of my friends and my colleagues in my community [harder], it’s making the lives of LBT women harder, in particular for butch and gender non-conforming people.”