Friday, 11 April 2008

Gender Neutral?

Hurray for the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. If I wasn’t already happily civilly partnered I’d marry them. And why – they introduced Gender-Neutral toilets at the BFI for the duration of the festival. This single radical act transformed my experience of the festival. Using the GN convenience I felt the weight of Gender Neutral. I normally feel so very not in the right space, whether using the Ladies, the Gents or Babychange/Disabled toilets. At the festival finally I was right where I should be.

Single acts inform changes that transform lives. The BFI provided all the usual facilities: gender segregated and unisex disabled spaces, in addition they TRANSformed one of the women’s toilets to Gender Non-Specific. (Transforming the Gents would mean women having to walk past urinals in use and women after all are used to the privacy of a cubical). Gender Neutral is not a new issue for the LBGT communities and its right such a forward thinking act should happen at the LLGFF. When lesbians take over spaces women use the mens and Trans girls slap on the slap alongside femmes in the Ladies. It’s a Gay thing.

Binary gender locks people into boxes defined by their biology. Segregated toilets provide safety for women, and it’s likely women-only conveniences will be needed for the foreseeable future. For those of us not passing, the pain and anxiety of being challenged in our own bio gender designated space is a daily burden. I can be needing the toilet and be too intimidated or just plain too tired to run the gauntlet of the straight world’s confusion and disgust.

The gay world has always pushed beyond binary gender stereotypes. Women and men can be masculine, feminine or varying degrees of inbetweenee, and most of us love us all, wherever we are on a gender scale. It’s the beloved exchange of culture and perspective that rocks my world. It’s hard to imagine then that anyone gay would question such progressive thinking, like the Guardian columnist who questioned why ‘transgender folk need a gender neutral loo at a gay film festival’. Where in the Guardian was the voice of transpeople, butches and all the dykes I spoke to who loved the GN toilets? And where was the reporting on the rest of the festival? It’s no accident that the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival organisers were the festival organisers that pioneered Gender Neutral toilets at the BFI. Ironically it was assumed the Gay communities would be on board.

At the film festival’s closing gala this uninformed column was widely talked about. And that’s a good thing. So many more people will now hear about the BFI’s progressive action. Maybe that’s the most beautiful thing of all.