BEYOND THE GALLERY: PUTTING ‘CONTEMPORARY’ INTO PRACTICE
If you have spent time at UMOCA recently, you may have noticed a small but meaningful building update. Wander down the street level hall to use the restroom facilities, passing the newly unveiled 2 Out 2 Loud exhibition, and you will find the same two multi-stall spaces with new labels that read: “Gender Inclusive Restroom.”
Debates about strict bathroom policies that aim to regulate public bathroom use by a user’s biological sex are at the forefront of nationwide media coverage of LGBTQ+ issues. For trans people and others who disrupt gender norms (such as women who are perceived as masculine, men who are perceived as feminine, and people whose gender identities do not exist within the gender binary of “male” and “female”), using a restroom in a public space usually means facing psychological and physical violence for simply being who they are.
As an institution that encourages exploration of the most pressing issues of our time, UMOCA presents exhibitions and programming that are pertinent to understanding the social impact of new ideas. UMOCA holds a unique position in our community that allows us to provide opportunities to think more deeply about ourselves as well as our relationships to modern-day culture.
Understanding gender in the context of today’s world—which includes learning to acknowledge cisgender privilege (the ability to go about one’s life without having to think about the difficulties or hardships faced by people whose gender identity does not align with their biological sex or the gender assigned to them at birth)—is one of those challenging contemporary ideas that will have an extraordinary impact on the future of our community.
By exchanging both “Women” and “Men” for “Gender Inclusive” on UMOCA’s restroom doors, we ask visitors to consider the ways in which cisgender privilege impacts others. These revised signs are more important than they might seem. They attempt to break down the idea that people are only “women” and “men,” but rather variations within a beautifully complex spectrum of identity. They challenge the practice of “gender policing” by setting the precedent that all people who need to use the restroom can use the restroom, regardless of the way they are perceived by others. Additionally, they assert that people who identify or express their gender differently should be as valued and respected as cisgender people by making restrooms in the museum accessible to all genders.
Shouldn’t providing restrooms for public use mean including those who don’t fit into mainstream ideas of personhood, but who still need a safe place to pee? Though it may be distressing to sacrifice the fruits of social privilege, don’t we all benefit when we strive to no longer stand in the way of others, but instead acknowledge and take a stand for one another?
UMOCA’s gender inclusive restrooms take a stand for others by rejecting discrimination, transphobia and oppression. By including trans and gender non-conforming people in our planning of public spaces, we attempt to put into practice what many of our art exhibitions and programs offer through aesthetics: the questioning of culturally engrained ways of thinking.
My hope is that this blog post is merely the beginning to a larger conversation about the impact of restroom discrimination on the lives of the individuals who make up the UMOCA community. Let’s continue the conversation! Share your thoughts and experiences with UMOCA: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thank you to the participants of the 2016 Out Loud workshop, who were instrumental to this step towards greater inclusiveness at UMOCA.