By Rupert Williams
The idea for Bathroom Privileges came after hearing the interview with Janet Mock on The Breakfast Show saying, ‘every civil rights issue has gone to the bathroom in some sense, you think about black folks in the 1960s in segregation, you think about women in the workplace, you think about disabled folk because it is one of the most universal experiences that we all have to deal with’. It struck me how I had taken this for granted, a very simple need for the public bathroom was made at times impossible for those who are marginalised. This space can tell the history of communities without power and their treatment by the wider world.
People with disabilities, carers, women, people of colour and those who don’t conform to a gender binary have had to challenge discriminatory legislation and a lack of adequate provision for toilets in public spaces. The Jim Crow Laws are one of the most infamous examples enforced; until 1965 African-American communities accessed separate and less than adequate public bathrooms and washrooms compared to their white counterparts. Women in Europe and North America have had to campaign for toilets in the workplace and public spaces. People with disabilities have had to campaign for public toilets, whilst we see many today these remain less than adequate, often inaccessible. Increasingly, media coverage highlights the demands for gender neutral bathrooms and the fears that have arisen as a result of this.
Overwhelmingly, the common experiences of the people I spoke with suggested if their bodies don't conform to societal norms they are made to feel unwelcome. It seems the more you do not conform the more unwelcome you are made. People with physical disabilities have told me about assumptions people make about them having a learning need; talking down to them and intruding into their physical space. There are assumptions of who is disabled or not and questions about who has a right to use accessible bathrooms. People who do not fit into the gender spectrum told me their difficult experiences mean they feel more comfortable accessing a disabled space, but feel a sense of guilt taking that space.
I wanted to make this film to shine a light on the experiences of people who can’t access the public bathroom the way most take for granted. This is an issue that is made difficult by not only a lack of resources but also assumptions that everybody makes about people who don’t fit in and aren’t like them. Everyone can connect with the idea of needing the toilet, meaning the public bathroom is one of the few spaces that connects everyone.