By the time the Canadian National Exhibition ended its three-week, summer-ending carnival in Toronto yesterday, more than 1.5 million visitors had seen something they’d almost certainly never encountered before — a sign on public bathrooms bearing a curious ideogram and the even-more-puzzling slogan “We Don’t Care.”
It’s a sly play on words, actually, because the 150-year-old annual exhibition cares a great deal about who uses its bathrooms — essentially, they’re open to anyone, everyone, anytime.
The Toronto fair provided the broadest exposure yet for the gender-neutral sign and the inclusive bathroom policy it reflects, but it’s an idea that’s spreading rapidly — and in some unexpected places. “We Don’t Care” signs were spotted at the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia where, predictably, they were promptly stolen by souvenir-hunters.
For Peregrine Honig, the Kansas City artist and lingerie designer who created the symbol last spring, the global response has been completely unexpected.
“I wasn’t trying to start a movement,” she told Lingerie Talk. “I expected people to like it on Facebook, but I didn’t expect it to be so coveted. Now, it’s become the most-discussed thing I’ve ever done. There’s no way I thought that would happen.”
Peregrine created the unique sign in April in response to North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill,” which blocked local governments from enacting laws that allow transgender citizens to use whatever public bathroom corresponds to their gender self-identity. That law is in limbo following a court injunction, but it triggered a nationwide debate about ongoing discrimination against LGBT communities.
As the owner of Birdies Panties, a KC lingerie shop, and founder of the new brand All Is Fair In Love and Wear, which creates undergarments for transgender customers, Peregrine was outraged by the North Carolina law and the torrent of homo- and transphobia it unleashed.
Working with a local signmaker, she designed the non-binary ideogram showing a stick figure wearing half a skirt to promote inclusivity.
“I made it as a business owner, for my business,” she said, “and the first people to contact me about it were other business owners.”
Her Facebook post about the sign drew more than 1,000 likes in the first day, and Peregrine quickly realized she had a product to sell — and one that could do some good. She began selling laminated signs that are ADA-compliant and include a Braille message for $125 apiece, donating the proceeds from the first batch to a project run by the KC Care Clinic that supports transgender youth. After that batch sold out, profits from subsequent sales have been used to donate All Is Fair’s new line of tank-like stretch binders (below) to trans youth who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
Fittingly, the sign got its first big boost when the arty 21C Hotel in Durham, N.C., ordered a batch for its bathrooms as part of a renovation project. Photos of the hotel installing the sign as a protest against the state’s bathroom bill went viral on social media.
Since then, Peregrine said, orders and interest in the sign have come “from all over the place.”
In Toronto, a columnist for the city’s biggest newspaper said the gender-neutral logo signified “the future of public washrooms.”
And the manager of Canada’s national exhibition told the paper that Peregrine’s sign simplifies an issue that is needlessly complicated and pointlessly political.
“The whole debate came up about which gender can use which washroom,” CNE head Virginia Ludy said. “This just solves that problem. Who cares who uses them, right? Men, women, doesn’t matter. You go in, you use it, you do your business, you leave.”
Central to the success of the newfangled bathroom sign is the wording of its stroke-of-genius slogan.
“It would be so much different if it said ‘I Don’t Care’,” Peregrine said. “There is this idea that we are a cohesive group. There is something caring about ‘not caring’.”
For Peregrine (and many others), North Carolina’s bathroom bill had chilling echoes of the South’s racially segregated bathrooms (and everything else) from the Jim Crow era.
“There is the same level of discomfort and shame” in the North Carolina law, she said. “It’s dehumanizing.”
All Is Fair will celebrate its first anniversary later this month with a thank-you party for supporters, where the brand will also show off its first collection of fashionable binders for trans customers.
Peregrine will also have another of her statement-making works — a transgender flag (below) — exhibited at the annual Chicago Art Expo at the end of the month.
All Is Fair is planning to expand its role and profile as an advocate for KC’s LGBT community, and hopes to become involved in performances, exhibitions and other public events.
After a year in business, Peregrine says she has a new appreciation for the advocacy role that her brand can play.
“It’s completely different than what I expected it to be,” she said. “I went in thinking I was making a garment. But it’s more important than I thought it would be. It’s heavy.
“And I’m committed to it. I’m probably going to spend some aspect of my entire life understanding this new language about gender and gender identity.”