Edited By Elizabeth J. Meyer and Dennis Carlson
5. The Heterotopic Washroom in School Space: Binary Gender Confirmed, or No Place of One’s Own?
The School Washroom as Gendered Space
The Heterotopic Washroom in School Space
Binary Gender Confirmed, or No Place of One’s Own?
Jennifer C. Ingrey
How does the washroom tell us about gender? This question derived from my research with secondary school students, asking about their understandings of gender identity and gender expression. During a focus-group talk, I noted how the students drew a connection between the iconography of the toilet and gender itself, as if gender could be reduced to or limited by the stick figures denoting sexed bodies on the doors of public washrooms. Upon further reading in transgender studies, I learned of the trouble this space can evoke for certain bodies, namely those that do not conform to gender standards. I began to think about this space, fraught with ambiguity, and wanted to investigate it more thoroughly, especially in terms of its ability to impact our understandings of gender. Probably because of its ambiguity, and its complexity, I turned to a framework from Foucault (Foucault & Miskowiec, 1986) on space, the heterotopia, to allow me to scaffold my thinking about this troubled space of the washroom in schools. In his research, Foucault did not want to study liminal spaces only to become a specialist in the marginal or the historical, but to show how disciplinary power in these spaces is translated and transposed upon other contemporary contexts.