Mac McLemore has developed a taste for Subway sandwiches since enrolling at Temple, but not because of the ingredients. The small eatery on Liacouras Walk has gender-neutral bathrooms, making it one of the only locations McLemore feels comfortable frequenting.
McLemore, a freshman sociology major, came to Temple because they already had a number of friends attending the large, urban Main Campus. A strong support system is something McLemore knows they need, perhaps more than anything else, to feel accepted for who they are – as a person identifying as non-binary transgender, McLemore has become accustomed to feeling uncomfortable.
Referring to McLemore as “they” or “their” is not a grammatical mistake – it is the proper way to respect their gender identity and corresponding preferred pronouns. They, along with several other current and former students, told The Temple News the community of people like themselves – often referred to loosely as “genderqueer” because they do not fit a traditional gender role of man or woman, nor do they necessarily want to – seems to be a growing one on Main Campus.
Not only are more students coming out about their gender identity in college, students said, but more of them are coming out earlier in their educational experiences, even before they begin freshman year. For universities like Temple, located in large and diverse cities, visibility of queer sexualities and gender identities is correspondingly more substantial. This, some students and faculty believe, brings more gender and sexuality non-conformists to the same campus – Temple being one of them. As the community grows, those individuals believe more acknowledgement and support from the administration is needed, as well as a more informed and accepting attitude from their peers.
As a university marketed for its standard of diversity, Temple has some support systems in place for students looking for a community, for guidance or for simply a listening ear. As the community of those students grows, however, genderqueer students believe the administration should take more initiative to show its support and acceptance of all identities. Students acknowledged short-term issues they’d like to see become priorities, including gender-neutral bathrooms, more inclusive housing options and more visibility for their identities and needs in the form of safe spaces and information available to the general Temple community.
Gender identity, usually closely associated with LGBTQ issues, is often discussed in terms of transgender people – those who do not identify with their gender assigned at birth. The two traditional genders of male and female are known as “binary” genders. Within the transgender community, most people identify as a binary gender, whether or not they biologically match it.
However, other individuals don’t identify as either of the two binary genders, regardless of their assigned-at-birth gender. These individuals are non-gender-binary, and may identify with a number of aspects of either masculinity or femininity.
Many who feel distinctly that no gendered traits apply to them identify as agender. The term “genderqueer,” several students agreed, has different interpretations depending on the person, but can generally be applied to people who are gender-nonconforming.
While the administrative adaptations are important, genderqueer students feel most strongly that the general student body and faculty need to foster an environment of acceptance, support and respect.
Students and faculty interviewed by The Temple News agreed that while it would be particularly exciting and positive to see administrators adapt to address the needs of the growing genderqueer and non-binary community, the university cannot force all members of the Temple community to become allies and advocates. Though changing and adding to vocabularies, learning about totally new concepts and accepting new social norms may challenge some people’s beliefs and standards, students like McLemore call it “being a good person” – it’s that simple.
Ending the Double Life
Another student, junior anthropology major Shane Rubin, came out as genderqueer this semester – more specifically, they are a femme non-binary trans man. Coming out has been life changing, they said, mostly for the better.
“When I first came out and was using the name Shane, I went to OutFest and everything – I signed up for so much s— that was spam and everything, just because I got to write the name that I liked on things,” Rubin said. “Little things were just really exciting and being able to be open, to not be afraid of ‘Oh s—, I might get tagged in that photo on Facebook and I’m wearing a tie!’ and little things of panicking like that, it’s nice. You can kind of relax. It’s not so much the double life.”
Rubin chose to use the name Shane – not their birth name – to reflect a more gender-neutral persona. Initially, Rubin chose the name Noah, but then realized the name is feminine in Hebrew. Since they plan to move to Israel after completing undergraduate studies, this was important to take into consideration. And, they added dryly, a very masculine name was out of the question since they “don’t pass as male – it would be kind of awkward to be like ‘Hey Jack, who has big boobs and a female voice.’”
With a greater sense of acceptance, however, comes constant struggles in day-to-day life that Rubin must now endure.
One such issue is a lack of safe and comfortable bathrooms. Since Rubin lives in Temple Towers in a single-person, apartment-style dorm, they plan their day so any necessary bathroom breaks occur at home.
As McLemore explained, entering either bathroom is not just uncomfortable, it is “forcibly misgendering” a genderqueer person. Rubin recalled a transgender friend early in their transition process who was physically forced out of a Temple bathroom by other students this year. Another genderqueer student who identifies as transfeminine, Faye Chevalier, said she feel forced to use male bathrooms because of the lack of gender-neutral options.
Junior English major Chevalier also said she was once sexually assaulted in a student’s residence because the attacker felt she was neither masculine nor feminine enough. Issues with being open about personal identity, students said, are the result of negative attitudes just as much as they are of university policy that isn’t inclusive.
‘A deeply rooted social custom’
The HEART Wellness Resource Center, an office on Main Campus that provides comprehensive education, resources and prevention services and actively supports the LGBTQ community, lists currently available gender-neutral bathrooms on its website.
Most of these bathrooms, however, are single-person and in businesses like Subway, or often appear on faculty floors or listed as “staff only” in academic buildings.
Heath Fogg Davis, a political science professor who teaches anti-discriminatory law, democratic political theory, and politics of race, gender and sexuality, has been vocal on the Visualize Temple site about a need for more gender-neutral bathrooms as Main Campus is further developed.
An activist of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, Davis is working on a book he hopes to finish by the end of the academic year that discusses sex classification in society. One chapter will exclusively cover bathrooms, while others will delve into athletics, prisons and single-sex education.
“(Temple) and all institutions should take an inventory of their use of sex classification in their administrative policies.” Heath Fogg Davis | professor
Davis said simple concepts like bathroom gender-markers are overlooked because “it’s such a deeply rooted social custom.” In addition, he recognizes – along with other supportive faculty – that the administration can’t make these changes overnight.
Altering architectural aspects of existing buildings is immensely costly and time-consuming. But recognizing the existence of the issue and addressing it is important, he said.
“A lot of other colleges and universities are dealing with this issue, and one model that I’ve seen that I think is something Temple could do immediately would be to transform a certain number of sex-segregated bathrooms into gender-neutral ones,” Davis said, referencing Reed College in Portland, which added gender-neutral bathroom markers.
“In a perfect world, I would like to see all bathrooms transformed like that,” Davis added. “But I think a good step toward reform would be to have one in every building be transformed into gender-neutral.”
Dean of Students Stephanie Ives said in an email that the university is “open to all input and to discussing strategies and changes for how to make our campus a more inclusive environment.” She and other administrators said student feedback is the most important strategy toward achieving inclusiveness.
An ideal system, Davis described, could offer more private, floor-to-ceiling stalls that open into mixed-gender hand-washing areas, making every bathroom inherently gender-neutral, not even requiring a marker.
“[Temple] and all institutions should take an inventory of their use of sex classification in their administrative policies,” Davis said. “So, the bathroom issue grabs our attention – we should use it to shine a light on all the other ways the university uses sex classification.”
Checking the box
Since they came out this semester, Rubin hasn’t dealt with explaining their identity to professors yet – they just accept being misgendered in class. Though they can’t afford the legal name change right now, it’s very important to them.
“Until I can legally change my name to Shane, Temple won’t recognize me as Shane, so that’s what I hear every time on the attendance,” Rubin said.
Rubin’s friends adapted quickly to their name change, and their family is also making progress with Rubin’s preferred pronouns and new first name, but professors are entirely new territory, they said.
For McLemore, it’s not always the professor who’s the root of the problem.
“In most of my classes, I just accept he/him pronouns, because the average Temple student – trying to explain it to them every time they misgender me, and also getting them to not keep doing it by accident, is just so stressful and frustrating,” McLemore said. “Especially because some people might just object, and say, ‘That’s grammatically incorrect,’ or, ‘I don’t approve of transgender people,’ so it’s like, I’m not going to try to have that interaction.”
McLemore does sometimes see professors making the effort. One professor had students write names and preferred pronouns on a nametag for their desks. In general, McLemore said their “daily life would be so much better” if all professors asked students to clarify preferred pronouns.
Brad Windhauser, a professor of Gay and Lesbian Lives and creative writing courses, said he always asks students to address issues like pronouns when it relates to the subject matter. He also thinks “sensitivity matters, just like with race” and that professors should recognize terminology that changes in order to know what is culturally appropriate to say, Windhauser said.
He’s been approached by at least one transgender student in the past with a suggestion for handling language, something he said he appreciated as an instructor.
Sadie Michaela, a social work major who graduated in Spring 2014, also experienced mixed results with pronoun sensitivity in their classes. Since they are not out to their parents and are currently job-searching, they asked to be referred to only by their preferred first and middle names.
As a non-binary trans woman, Sadie uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, but in class found it easiest to accept they/them. This is because they don’t conform to typical gender standards – hence, their non-binary identification; they feel comfortable keeping their facial hair, for example, though they do not want to be seen as male.
In one positive interaction with a professor, Sadie’s instructor for a major-related course reached out and informed them of a non-binary support group after they outed themselves in a class discussion. Unfortunately, not all their professors were as sensitive – a professor Sadie had for a Mosaic course outed another student in class based on private information they’d written in a paper. Yet another professor Sadie knew of said they didn’t think the transgender identity exists.
“I mean, every major has the possibility to have gender-nonconforming people in them,” Sadie said. “So maybe the first day of class where you ask everyone’s names and, I don’t know, what they did over the summer or whatever the f—, you ask them preferred pronouns. It’s super simple.”
Another danger of outing oneself, as Sadie did in the interest of furthering a class discussion, is professors turning a person into the “token” representative of that identity. Windhauser called this “mistaking a truth for the truth,” emphasizing that not all experiences are alike.
Sex classification like that used for bathrooms also exists on Temple’s admissions forms. The current system, which requires students to mark either male or female, is restrictive to students who don’t identify as either or are mid-transition.
Most have no choice but to use their assigned-at-birth gender, just as they do their legal name. Temple will not acknowledge a name change until it is done legally in the state.
According to PALawHelp.org, the procedure is “not so simple” when an adult changes their given name for reasons other than relating to marriage. TransCentralPA.org provides a list of costs – filing fee, Judgment Search, fingerprint card, and potentially more – that add up to more than $450. Since it is also required to publish name changes in a local newspaper to prevent fraud or debt evasion, the cost may be even greater.
Though the current system leaves some components desired, Ives said since educational institutions like Temple provide services from academic and personal development programs to medical care and counseling, it’s important for administration to be “dynamically responsive.”
“It’s also important that genderqueer students give us feedback about their needs,” Ives said in an email.
Navigating a binary system
Being filed in Temple’s system under a name and gender students no longer identify with can cause a host of problems – even having packages returned when the name doesn’t match the one on file, which happened to Rubin at Towers.
But an overarching concern is residential options on Main Campus. Currently, University Housing and Residential Life does not offer gender-inclusive housing. While UHRL Director Kevin Williams acknowledged a desire for gender-inclusive housing, he said change needs to come from the student body in order to be effective.
Williams said he will always work with a student who comes to him and explains their situation. Students transitioning or planning surgery can sometimes receive accommodations, typically in the form of a single room like Rubin’s.
As Williams explained, it often falls to him to help non-binary students “navigate a binary system.” Several weeks ago, a residential life forum asked students about gender inclusive housing in order to gauge student interest. It’s on the table, he said, but requires a lot more than a simple administrative change he can make.
“You have to support the mass population, and that population is driven by many needs,” Williams said of his position. “It’s about resources. I think as the director, my job is to represent the institution for students as they navigate this large university. As a higher education administrator and educator, I have a role to help students be successful broadly. It can’t just be one person’s responsibility.”
As an openly gay man, Williams said he’ll often out himself in conversations to empathize with students experiencing personal difficulties. Even if that is helpful, he said it’s important to remember his experience is different from everyone else’s.
The HEART Wellness Resource Center debuted a new event this semester called Queer Lunch, which allowed students to come together on Mondays to discuss LGBTQ issues.
At the Nov. 17 event, Assistant Director of UHRL and Queer Student Union Faculty Advisor Nu’Rodney Prad emphasized the importance of students speaking up about their needs in order for faculty and administration to address them.
Kimberly Chestnut, the director of HEART Wellness Resource Center, thinks gender-inclusive housing is a good option, since it could appeal to many students in general, not just genderqueer or non-binary people.
Students could live with the opposite gender if they chose, for example. She said a pilot for gender-neutral housing will likely begin in 2015, though it would be limited to a specific building.
McLemore thinks a queer dorm would be their preferred solution; something that would make them entirely comfortable living on campus. They currently have an off-campus apartment shared with other queer and genderqueer individuals. They said gender-inclusive housing would still be progress, though.
Dorm living wasn’t an option this year, since McLemore wasn’t prepared to live with men, but despite all the friends who inspired them to come here, their living situation as a freshman “feels detached from the school and campus life, to an extent.”
Finding a community
For McLemore, prior to coming to Temple and to this day, the Internet remains the No. 1 place to seek support and a sense of community. On Main Campus, surrounding themselves with accepting friends is the best option.
Since there isn’t currently a resource center specifically for LGBTQ needs, some students feel there aren’t many other options – or they’ve found them elsewhere.
Chestnut said when she and other HEART Wellness Resource Center representatives present the center to incoming students, they explain that since Temple does not have an LGBTQ center, the HEART center functions as a “pseudo-LGBTQ center,” although that’s not its primary purpose.
“It’s less of ‘I have to be seen as female’ – it’s more like ... ‘I have to not be seen as male. But does that mean presenting perfectly female? No, it doesn’t.” Mac McLemore | freshman
Tom Grey, the Sexuality and Gender Inclusivity graduate extern at HEART, said the center wants to increase its Safe Zone training – a type of sensitivity training for students, faculty and staff – to address “how a person’s expression of themselves can then transfer into feeling safe on a college campus.”
The new Diversity Center Temple plans to establish would theoretically encompass LGBTQ issues, but students say that isn’t going to be directly supportive enough of issues like gender identity. Just like visibility brought more openly genderqueer students to Main Campus, they believe visibility needs to increase on Main Campus to create a more inclusive environment.
In comparison, the University of Pennsylvania offers an LGBT Center that is its own building, complete with a lounge, kitchen area, library of queer literature and a CyberCenter, according to its website. Penn State offers a similar center with a detailed website listing resources from support hotlines to various student organizations.
“For various reasons, it’s intimidating to be gender-nonconforming in this kind of campus environment, even,” McLemore said. “I’ve been on Temple’s campus before, wearing a dress, with groups of friends. But if I’m going to be on campus alone, like going to classes with people I don’t know that well, I’m uncomfortable. I’m hoping at some point I’m going to be more comfortable doing that, because I just hate feeling stifled, like I can’t always wear whatever I want. It also has to do with accepting myself and feeling more confident on a deeper level, because I still feel really vulnerable. There’s a lot of confidence that it takes. I have a lot of binary trans friends who talk about how people say, ‘Wow you’re so brave for being out.’ And they’re like, ‘Well, this is my only option.’ But it’s interesting for me because, you know, it’s less of ‘I have to be seen as female’ – it’s more like … ‘I have to not be seen as male.’ But does that mean presenting perfectly female? No, it doesn’t. It’s a more complicated situation. I have a choice about how I dress and how I present [myself] to still be considered non-binary, but it does feel like a question of courage for me to come on to campus and go to classes in a dress.”
Though Rubin has found a community with Queer Student Union, where they are one of the events coordinators, other genderqueer students prefer more radical organizations. Next semester, Rubin will be QSU president, a position they said they will use to bring more awareness of trans issues to the group. McLemore feels at home with the Temple Socialists student organization, which asks for preferred pronouns at the beginning of meetings.
Sadie Michaela continues to be a member of the Temple Area Feminist Collective, where they said they’d like to see more discussion of gender identity, but overall, more people accept them and at least try to respect preferred pronouns. McLemore and Sadie feel organizations like QSU or Queer People of Color may be beneficial, but aren’t necessarily what a gender-nonconforming community needs.
McLemore feels organizations like QSU, presently focused primarily on sexuality, can feed into “trans erasure,” a phenomenon Windhauser said can be traced to historical reasons. During the Civil Rights Movement, he said, African-American churches stopped accepting queer members in order to “provide a united front” for African Americans’ rights to be socially accepted. He thinks similar issues have arisen – though not necessarily pointing at QSU – in the gay and lesbian communities in terms of their treatment of transgender and non-gender-binary people.
Rubin said in their own efforts to maintain recent graduate Michael Busza’s campaign for an LGBTQ resource center, they asked administration for permission to use a large empty office in Mitten Hall but were rejected.
“We brag about how we’re so diverse – we accept all genders, all orientations – but then we don’t have things in place to help [those students],” Rubin said.
McLemore said they “don’t even know what the queer resources are at Temple” – something Chestnut feels could be addressed with more literature – guide sheets with terminology to educate the general campus population and perhaps additional resource guides for the genderqueer community.
Windhauser suggested creating a specific website listing sexuality and gender identity resources and support systems. Since there are measures already in place – Tuttleman Counseling Services added two counselors specializing in LGBTQ issues this semester, for example – promoting visibility is the next key step.
Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @erinJustineET.
Photos by Kara Milstein.
Produced and designed by Patrick McCarthy.
First published on December 2, 2014.
Update: Faye Chevalier informed The Temple News that she currently uses she/her pronouns.