Gender Issues

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 181–201 | Cite as

Public Discomfort with Gender Appearance-Inconsistent Bathroom Use: The Oppressive Bind of Bathroom Laws for Transgender Individuals

  • Lisa F. PlattEmail author
  • Sarah R. B. Milam
Original Article


Previous research with transgender and gender non-conforming samples suggests one’s gender appearance is important in regards to safe access to public bathrooms, as expectations in public bathrooms are an example of gender role social construction and are maintained through gender policing. With the rise of gender related bathroom use legislation, such as North Carolina’s HB-2, it is speculated that transgender individuals face the difficult bind of either using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity to avoid harassment, which means breaking the law, or following the law and breaking societal expectations about gender appearance-congruent bathroom use. Using a 2 × 2 × 2 within-subjects, experimental design the current study investigated public reactions to gender appearance-congruent and gender appearance-incongruent public bathroom use, using a 400 person sample taken from Amazon’s MTurk. The conditions varied by type of bathroom (male or female) in the description, type of image shown (masculine or feminine) and whether the condition contained a gender identity description (no description or transgender description). A total discomfort score served as the dependent variable. Three main hypotheses were tested, (1) there will be a significant 2-way interaction between type of bathroom and type of image, with the condition of a masculine image using a female bathroom (gender appearance-incongruent) having the higher discomfort scores, (2) there will be a significant 3-way interaction, and (3) combined all gender appearance-incongruent conditions will have significantly higher discomfort scores as compared to appearance-congruent conditions. The results of a series of repeated measures ANOVAs supported all three hypotheses, demonstrating the importance of gender appearance in public bathrooms. The social justice implications are discussed along with suggestions for future research.


Gender Gender policing Gender role conformity Transgender Transgender discrimination Gender diversity Transgender bathroom use 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation Counseling, and Counseling PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

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