Housing applications to allow for gender neutrality

New gender classifications added to USF Housing applications will allow for students who identify themselves outside of the gender binary to be identified by Housing officials.

Starting today, applicants can identify themselves as male, female or transitioning, after Housing officials decided to take the first steps toward creating gender-neutral housing arrangements. The change – designed to help all genders and sexualities – will be implemented in spring 2012, allowing people of any gender to live within the same unit in the Holly and Kosove resident halls.

Dorie Paine, director of Housing and Residential Education, said the decision to include a new category will help Housing reach out to transgender and transitioning individuals better.

“It was something that was on the radar because housing professionals talk about these kinds of issues a lot,” she said. “But we hadn’t had any real personal experience with it.”

Paine said the decision to make some housing gender-neutral is helpful to transgender individuals and is also popular among some heterosexual couples, a demographic that could potentially be profitable.

“There are plenty of males and females who move off campus because they can’t live together,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll necessarily get 300 more people on campus, but it might mean that we see more people on campus, which is always good.”

For Taylor McCue, a senior majoring in psychology who first brought this issue to the attention of Housing as president of the Transgender Student Union, the experience of bringing gender-neutral housing to USF was all too personal.

One student’s story

McCue had eagerly awaited attending USF, but found the transition into college far from ideal.

McCue, who requested not to be identified by gendered pronouns, said roommates created an uncomfortable, hostile living environment.

“They started to hate me during pretty much the first week,” McCue said. “I called them out on a lot of misogyny that went on.”

On the first day of moving into the dorms, McCue told the floor resident assistant (RA) about transitioning and asked if there was anything that could be done to get out of the dorm.

The RA spoke to her adviser, though McCue was not present for that conversation, and was told the student could be moved after waiting at least two weeks to another dorm unit – another male unit.

Paine said the two-week period is to make sure people try to work out their differences with their roommates.

“We do that because we don’t want people moving from one bad roommate situation and exhibiting the same behaviors that are going to get them into trouble in a different roommate situation, if that’s the case,” she said. “Problems range from things like one roommate likes the room cold and another likes it hot, to a whole variety of issues.”

“(Housing) said no trans-person had ever come to them before with complaints, but the fact is I had complained,” McCue said. “It just never reached them.”

Paine, who has worked with Housing for 13 years, said that Housing tries to train RAs about “diversity and differences” to prevent bullying and harassment within dorms, however, much of it is subtle and doesn’t come to their attention.

Building tensions

As the weeks went by, McCue grew more uncomfortable.

Rumors spread throughout the dorm floor and people approached McCue with questions.

“I started going to this girl’s dorm just to sleep with her,” McCue said. “Not to have sex, just to literally sleep with her. I would just sleep there every chance I got because that would be one night I could stay out of my dorm. I’d also go home every weekend and tried to play it off as being homesick.”

Housing responds

Incoming housing applications will be reviewed by Assistant Director for Assignments David Kloiber, who will take note of all individuals marked as “transitioning.” The University will allow these individuals to live with anyone that mutually agrees to share a room with them. They will also have a few single rooms set aside that are kept for special circumstances.

If an individual does not have someone they already know and would like to live with, Paine said Housing would have to assign them a room with someone of the same biological sex the University has on record, but they would deal with it on a case-by-case basis and try to choose roommates that were “sensitive” to gender diversity.

“There’s a process in place now, and we’re one of the few universities in the state adding this to the application,” University spokeswoman Lara Wade said. “It’s a positive step for us. It’s a good starting point.”

Finding a solution

After a few weeks, McCue’s long-awaited appointment with the Counseling Center arrived.

The Counseling Center, however, does not deal with gender transitioning.

“I waited six months to get a chance to do this, and now they couldn’t even help me? They gave me a really good list of referrals, but it didn’t help me because I didn’t have a car and I wasn’t out, so there was no one I could count on to get me transportation,” McCue said.

Off-campus psychologist fees were expensive to begin with, but McCue was several hundred dollars short for even basic expenditures. Eventually, McCue saw a psychologist, who felt the living environment was not a safe one to begin physical transition.

McCue moved into an off-campus apartment as soon as the mandatory first year of on-campus housing ended. By fall 2010, McCue wanted to ensure no one had to endure that living situation again and met with Paine in November.

After hearing McCue’s story, Paine said the roommate issues were being addressed and that Housing is “better educating our staff to deal with those kind of issues.”

McCue is satisfied with the changes implemented, but is still angry – though no longer at Housing.

“I changed the system, but I kind of realize that it doesn’t solve my personal issues,” McCue said.