Imagined, Felt, Materialised: Types of Violence surrounding Queer Bathroom Use

Proceedings of The 3rd International Conference on Gender Studies and Sexuality

Year: 2023



Imagined, Felt, Materialised: Types of Violence surrounding Queer Bathroom Use

Cecilia Heil




Bathrooms can have a profound impact on individuals, due to their everyday relevance and their multi-faceted role as social spaces, spaces important for medical, cultural, or identity reasons. Bathrooms and their organisation express a society’s values and social hierarchies, one of which is gender (Plaskow 2008, p. 52; McGuire et al. 2022, p. 56). By dividing and organising individuals in certain ways through bathrooms, crucial norms and ideals are ‘set in stone.’ They are thus an important location for gender and its experienced, everyday meaning. In this paper, I explore bathrooms and their relevance to gender, focussing on the different types of violence involved in the use of public bathrooms by queer individuals, who blur, defy or ‘problematise’ the binary gender manifested in bathrooms. The question guiding my exploration will be the following: What different types of violence are present surrounding queer bodies using bathrooms designed along binary gender lines? In the first part of this paper, I will present bathroom division as a socio-cultural tool manifesting dominant social categories, differing in different places and eras. Next, I will focus on the narrative of feared violence in the public imagination about shared bathrooms. This will be followed by a discussion of different types of violence experienced by queer individuals in and around bathrooms: visual, physical, normative and structural violence. Finally, I will briefly point toward some alternative approaches to bathrooms that overcome such violence and seek to include queer and non-queer bodies alike.

keywords: Violence, Queer, Bathroom, Spaces, Bodies