Gender, race and class are all semantic devices used to categorize a person and put them into a certain box. But what happens when people refuse to be put in a box in terms of gender?
Those who refuse to be classified as male or female are known as genderqueer. Genderqueer is a form of identity for those who define themselves as neither male nor female, and see it as a spectrum where both feminine and masculine characteristics can be expressed. Seen as a minority in the LGBTQ community in and out of SF State, there are some University students who identify as neither in terms of gender in a culture where people typically identify as male or female.
Kevin Kinney, associative director of residential life at SF State, is one of the people responsible for bringing a gender identity and gender nonconformity accommodation policy to residential housing within the last year.
“It’s really about being true to yourself and realizing who you are,” Kinney said. “Sometimes it’s not so easy to just check ‘male’ or ‘female’ for students.”
Jess Nguyen, a first-year art student, is genderqueer.
For Nguyen, feelings of gender dysphoria started at a young age for Nguyen beginning at 9 years old and shopping for training bras with their mother.
“My mom made me go shopping with her to try on training/sports bras and I remember absolutely hating the constrained feeling from the tight material against my chest,” Nguyen said. “Throughout elementary school, my peers would hope for a bigger chest while I wanted a completely flat chest.”
Nguyen uses the pronouns they, them and their, but is not adverse to having people use he and she interchangeably. Nguyen views SF State as a welcoming campus with organizations such as Everything Great About You and PRIDE at SF State helping them with their needs as a gender variant individual. As historian of EGAY, Nguyen recognizes that there are lesser genderqueers in the group, but other people within EGAY are ultimately accepting.
Though there is positive queer environment at SF State, this does not stop people on campus from assuming certain things about Nguyen’s identity.
“It’s difficult to explain to people when they ask or assume I am gay or a lesbian,” Nguyen said. “However, I’m proud of who I am and, even though I still have to explain myself, I don’t mind if the other party becomes more aware.”
In the study “Exploring Gender Identity and Community Among Three Groups of Transgender Individuals in the United States: MTFs, FTMs, and genderqueers,” written by Rhonda Factor and Esther Rothblum for the “Health Sociology Review” in 2008, the survey found that of the 52 genderqueer people surveyed the average age for identifying as something other than their assigned sex was around 20. It was also found that the average age for telling somebody about their gender identity was 23.
“I’m not exactly ‘out’ to my parents,” Nguyen said. “I would imagine they’ve thought about it considering my appearance. I’m out to the rest of the world, though — I’m out to my brother, my friends and just about anyone who asks.”
In meeting the needs of students who identify as nonbinary trans*, SF State assists the housing and public restroom needs of those who seek it. Gender neutral restrooms are located in Humanities, Fine Arts and Business buildings — and there are 11 gender neutral restrooms in Student Health Services.
Carolina Martinez, a freshman kinesiology student, believes that gender neutral bathrooms are necessary to meet the needs of genderqueer students.
“I think that gender neutral restrooms are a good thing to have on campus,” Martinez said. “It’s unfair not to have them, because if they weren’t there they would force students to choose (which restroom to use) when there isn’t a choice to make for them.”
Campus housing also has an accommodation policy for gender identity, or lack thereof, where housing adjustments are made for those who request it early on. Accommodations such as gender-inclusive housing arrangements, regardless of biological sex and listing a person’s preferred name rather than their given name, can be changed on a person’s housing account.
Nguyen views these accommodations as important. Though Nguyen requested accommodations, they were not given because of the extensive housing waitlist.
“I feel that it is very important for these types of accommodations because if someone does not accept this major factor about our identity. Any situation after that may be difficult or uncomfortable to get along,” Nguyen said. “I got very lucky (without having the accommodations) with my living arrangement now because my roommate is queer as well.”
Though people around Nguyen may make great assumptions in what they identify as, they chose to look on the bright side.
“By not identifying with the gender binary, I feel limitless as if this is the way it’s supposed to be,” Nguyen said. “I don’t like to abide with societal norms or expectations of what a girl or boy should be and that feels absolutely liberating.”