SYDNEY — A visit to the bathroom forces Rory Blundell into a daily dilemma: feel like a fraud or expose himself to intimidation or even physical danger.
The 20-year-old, who was born female but identifies as male, would prefer to use male public toilet facilities. But in this sports-loving, beer-swilling nation, the soft-spoken University of Melbourne student draws surprised and sometimes hostile comments when he walks into what Australians call “the gents.”
Concerned for his safety, Blundell either holds on till he can get home, which is a 40-minute bus ride from classes, or — mostly — uses female toilets and feels a powerful sense of shame.
“I feel like I’m letting myself down,” he said. “It feels awful. I just need to pee. Why is this such an anxiety-producing experience?”
Australia has had none of the legal or political debate about access to public bathrooms that there has been in the United States. Several federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual identification, according to Olivia Rundle, a law professor at the University of Tasmania and co-author of the forthcoming book "Sex, Gender, Sexuality and the Law."
“Basically, in public, people can use the toilet of their choice,” she said in an email. “People choose the toilet that they feel most comfortable using, typically being the toilet allocated for the gender that most closely aligns to their own gender identity.”
That’s in theory, anyway. Try telling that to April Manton, who at 6 foot 3 inches tall gets long looks sometimes in the “women’s.” She tries to use a separate handicapped toilet when she can. Sometimes, when a woman challenges her, Manton pretends to mistake her for a man. She “misgenders” her accusers, to throw them off.
The University of Melbourne, where Blundell is one of 42,000 students, is designating 37 bathrooms at its main campus as “all gender.” Other universities are making similar changes.
Some high schools have refused to allow students to use bathrooms that don't correspond to their birth gender. Two years ago Bacchus Marsh Grammar, a private school in Victoria state, told 16-year-old Erik Ly, who was born female, that he would not be allowed to use the male toilet and changing facilities unless he switched his gender by surgery. Ly moved to a public school that has gender-neutral bathrooms and is now in college, where the U.S. debate over toilet access is closely followed by his transgender friends.
“It is just really distressing. because it is a really strong direct message, especially to trans women, that they are not welcome in these facilities and that the wider community is pretty much against them,” Ly said.