A Scottish Hostelling Experience

Most people are probably aware that Hostelling Scotland (previously the Scottish Youth Hostel Association) is a charity that provides affordable accommodation in many scenic locations throughout Scotland. Much of that accommodation is in the form of shared dormitories, rooms filled with bunk beds where weary travellers can rest and socialise. For many years these dorms have been single-sex where guests are allocated a bed based on whether they are male or female.

What most people are probably not aware of however, is that this is no longer the case.

There’s no reason why they should be aware, since no policy change or information is given on the website, and guests still book in as either male or female. Despite this, Hostelling Scotland have confirmed by email that, “Regardless of transgendered status, we will book an accommodation based on how our guests choose to be recognised.”

This means that any male guest can choose to be recognised as a female, and be allocated a bed in a female dorm. Similarly, female guests may choose to be in a male dorm.

This is self-declaration of sex, the new law that the Scottish Government are proposing to introduce via an amendment to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It is not yet law and, by trying to get ahead of any future changes, Hostelling Scotland is actually breaking the law as it stands at the moment. Single-sex accommodation is perfectly legal and is covered by the Equality Act, however, allowing some (but not all) members of the opposite sex into that accommodation leaves the organisation open to a legal challenge of discrimination.

In order to test how this policy would actually work in practice I decided to self-declare myself to be a man and set out to see if Inverness Hostel would recognise me as such and permit me to sleep in a male dorm.


The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with the receptionist on my arrival.

Me: Hi there, [my name], I’ve got a bed booked in the males dorm for tonight please.

Receptionist: Male dorms?

M: Yip.

R: And, erm…[checks computer]..okay, and is that for yourself?

M: Yeah.

R: Can I ask, because em, I’ll have to move you into a female dorm if that’s okay?

M: Em, well I self-identify as male.

R: Oh, right okay. Sorry, sorry. I don’t mean to offend anyone.

M: That’s okay.

R: Fine, I can do that for you. So if you can just fill this out for me, so I need your nationality, a contact number, your signature, and if you drove, the car registration.

M: Right, okay.

R: Perfect, thank you.

I was then given a keycard to a male-dorm.

It was very strange; I am obviously a woman, the receptionist knew I was a woman, everyone in the queue behind me knew I was a woman. Yet no-one would state the obvious because I uttered the magic words ‘self-identify’, whereupon everyone must become blind to the evidence of their eyes and succumb to the overriding importance of subjective feelings over the reality of sex.

In the dorm I met Fred, who was also a little confused but keen not to offend me or make a fuss, and we soon got talking about cycling and the weather. He did leave the dorm soon after though and I didn’t see him again for the rest of my stay.

The dorm had 3 bunk beds with toilets and showers in separate rooms across the corridor. The door to the shower room could not be locked and the cubicles only had a curtain for privacy.


The implications of this are enormous. If the situation is the same for men who choose to be recognised as women, Hostelling Scotland’s policy gives any male, for the price of £22, easy access to five sleeping women and numerous others showering. (Online booking requires only a name, email and payment card details – it is possible to pay cash at the desk and be untraceable).

And unless every woman guest has researched the organisation to the extent I did, they are completely unaware. Women, quite reasonably, think they are undressing, showering and sleeping in a completely female environment with no expectation that a male-bodied room-mate may walk through the door at any minute, or appear in the neighbouring bed late at night. Privacy, dignity and safety concerns have been brushed aside without even informing women, never mind asking for consent.

Hostelling Scotland have created a predator’s charter. No wonder it is not advertised on their website.

I am extremely saddened by this turn of events as Hostelling Scotland holds a special place in my heart; it has a long and respected history of being instrumental in facilitating affordable and fun adventures in some of the best locations in our beautiful country. Unfortunately, I, and many other female travellers, now have no option but to self-exclude ourselves from using hostels until this policy of self-declaration of sex is amended. It is an unacceptable risk to our safety to do otherwise.


PS. I did ask my husband if he would choose to be recognised as a woman and book a bed in a female dorm. He very sensibly declined to do so, saying he did not want to alarm or scare any women, “I could get arrested for that”. Hmm, maybe not anymore.

This entry was posted in Activism, No to Self-ID. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Scottish Hostelling Experience

  1. LilyFrances says:

    Youre a brave woman! I will write to them

  2. Morag says:

    I’m actually booked for an overnight in one of these hostels in August. Six-bunk female dormitory it said. And indeed the web site took my word for it that I was female. I’m banking on it being statistically unlikely that some creepy man in a skirt (why do they all wear skirts even in situations where the actual women are all wearing trousers?) will have booked one of the other five spaces that particular night. I’m not sure what I’ll do if that happens. I don’t mind in the slightest making a fuss but what’s the betting I’d be the one held to be in the wrong for not affirming this bloke’s “authentic self”!

    Paradoxically last year, in Iceland, I slept in mixed-sex dorms in mountain cabins because a lot of these places only have one space for everyone. But the thing is, I didn’t mind because it was all up-front, and crucially, none of the guys was pretending to be something he wasn’t to get in with the girls. I’d far rather be in an openly mixed-sex space with normal men than find myself in the company of some creepy man pretending to be a woman to get into a designated female space.

  3. A disappointed, just plain normal and ordinary, woman says:

    This is very interesting to me. I recently cancelled a Scottish hostelling trip for a few reasons, but an important one was finding out shortly beforehand that there would be mixed dorms. I’d assumed (and it appeared that way from the booking page) that the dorms would be segregated as usual. I was only told by another member of the party a couple of weeks beforehand.

    My reasons to avoid a mixed dorm weren’t fear of a predator. They were much more mundane. I’m a restless sleeper and I kick the covers off at night. I realised I couldn’t wear my usual thin, immodest nightie, or even a light T-shirt. What if they shoogled round and I exposed private bits of my body in my sleep? Other women are understanding and think nothing of such things, but I couldn’t look the men in the eye if that happened. I realised that no nightie would be safe, and I’d have to buy special pyjamas that protected the bottom half and were cut high to the throat so no nipple would come exposed. At the time I was thinking about this, there was a heatwave in Scotland and the thought of having to spend hot nights in indecency-proof pyjamas was NOT attractive. And the dorm windows can’t of course be opened if the evil midges are about.

    That was the deal-breaker for me. But it’s so much more than that. The women’s dorm is a place to bond when you’ve been out doing demanding sports. It’s important to many women, because of how they’re socialised, to make sure that feelings are soothed and anxieties tackled in privacy: it’s what men in the group regard as “clucking”.

    Maybe you cycled over someone’s foot; stuck a walking/skiing pole in their leg; snapped at them when you were feeling scared. Maybe they (usually me!) were slow and clumsy and were feeling bad, having affected everyone else’s day. It’s not enough to apologise at the time: sometimes it’s important for us to spend time together at the end of the day detecting who’s feeling bad and needs reassurance. In organised group activities, where we don’t all know each other all that well beforehand, this matters.

    Usually men find this inexplicable and if witnessing these sessions, announce that we “over-think” stuff. Personally however I’ve found that it’s mended many new friendships that were about to be fractured. There’s no right or wrong way to be, and it’s fine that guys don’t feel they need this, but my experience has been that many women really do.

    There are a hundred other things: women embarrassed to discover they’ve forgotten sanitary protection and waiting for a moment to whisper a plea to each other; the fact that there will usually be some bloke who decides he can get by with only one pair of socks for the entire trip without smelly feet (!) and the thought of sharing with him; the feeling of shame that fit but overweight women feel at exposing their bodies in towels and nightwear in front of the men they’re spending the next day with.

    And I say this as someone who has seen those women waiting and waiting for the corridor to go quiet till they can dart over to the showers, unseen. Or else have gone over fully clothed, changed out of everything, showered, and put all the clothes back on, just so they don’t have to put their bare legs on display for a couple of seconds. We other women don’t talk to the men about these things; it’s those women’s secret.

    Sure, some women and men will be happy with mixed dorms, and that’s great. But I suspect there are also some men who feel the same way I did, for their own reasons of which I know nothing, because of things they’d like to hide from women who are not their girlfriend. Mixed dorms are great for the confident young. As bodies get a little older, a great many previously confident people experience shame.

    I reckon the hostel I’d booked had moved to mixed dorms to deal with this new policy in the way it felt best. These hostels book out fast. The effect will not be obvious. Maybe the owners will notice that more men are booking up than women, but maybe they’ll not notice, because young women will take the places that middle-aged and older women no longer want to take. I’m not sure I’ll want to hostel again. Will Hostelling Scotland notice I’m gone? Nah. I doubt it.

  4. Angela Dixon says:

    Well done. Really saddened by this. Been a YHA member much of my life first England then Scotland. My husband is a SYHA life member. I posted in mumsnet when I heard about this about my first holiday unaccompanied by parents with 3 female friends hostelling along the South Downs Way. We were 17 and very naive, we were friends through church.
    Gender self ID is mad and disadvantages women.
    If they won’t separate people according to their chromosomes it should at least be done on their genitals.

  5. Pingback: Three Weeks of #ManFriday Awesomeness | #ManFriday

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *