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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Pizza Cat Vol. 3
Deirdre Northrup-RiestererFebruary 26, 2024

Gender-neutral spaces needed at NMU

Imagine waking early, weary from a late night, desperate for caffeine before an 8 a.m. class. After chugging a Triple-Venti-soy-whatever, class feels a little more bearable; however, before the class period even ends, having to head to the bathroom seems inevitable.Now, for the average reader, this would be no issue. Students can get in, do their business and get out. Simple as that.

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For others this is not always the case. Transgender individuals don’t always have a safe place to do their business. Either bathroom used could result in nasty looks or even violence from peers. Many people expect transgender individuals to use the bathrooms that are assigned to their sex rather than the gender they identify with.

People tend to use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, but in reality these terms are quite different. Sex is the biological difference between people: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external sex organs. Gender, on the other hand, describes the socially-constructed roles of masculinity and femininity. Some like to say that sex is in the pants and gender is in the mind. While I do not wholly subscribe to that sentiment, it’s a simple way of explaining a complex idea.

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A transgender person is somebody who does not identify with the gender roles of their assigned sex. Contrary to popular belief, gender is not on a binary; there is a spectrum of identities one might associate with. For example, a female-bodied person could identify with more masculine roles. A male-bodied individual could identify with both. Then there are people like me who reject these constructs entirely.

In western culture, if one does not fit into the strict roles of what men and women are supposed to be, they are likely to be scrutinized. It can be seen everywhere in the media. A man is supposed to be a shorthaired, beer drinking god from Olympus. A woman is supposed to be a pretty, tall, Amazonian princess. While society’s views on gender roles are changing, it will still be some time before noticeable changes occur. Conforming to these roles is not a bad thing. If it’s who someone is, it’s who they are and they should do what they want despite what anybody says. So why do some feel the need to push these roles onto others based on their anatomy?

These roles are the reason transgender individuals are treated as an oddity. It’s easy to see how hard it can be for somebody to do simple tasks like going to the bathroom, but what about more important issues like housing? While it is safer for a transgender person to be out today than it was, say, 20 years ago, there are still a lot of obstacles standing in their way. One in five transgender people in the U.S. has been refused a home or apartment and one in 10 have been evicted because of their gender identity, according to www.transequality.org.

At NMU, finding a place to live isn’t much of a problem. Everyone is able to get a dorm room regardless of who they are. However, students are to be roomed with others of the same sex rather than someone that is the gender they identify with. This negates a person’s identity and immediately outs them to whoever lives in their hall. That can lead to some very uncomfortable situations if somebody is put in with the wrong roommate or even the wrong hall. I have heard of multiple accounts of verbal harassment and even people moving out of dorm rooms because they were chosen to room with a transgender individual.

How could the university ease this discomfort on campus? Gender-blind housing options may be a solution. Having such a strict housing policy places limits on the already limited spaces for transgender individuals and could potentially put people in a bad situation. If students had the option to choose their roommates regardless of what’s in their pants, that would lessen the effect of this issue immensely. OUTlook, NMU’s gender and sexual minority activist organization, has put this idea forth in the past but needs more support for it to become a reality.

Implementing more unisex bathrooms would also be a fantastic course of action to create a safe space for transgender individuals.

NMU’s campus is equipped with 53 unisex bathrooms on our campus, most of them in Gries Hall. It makes sense to have them there, as that is where we have our diverse faculty setting up camp. But wouldn’t having a wider selection of these bathrooms also make sense for our equally diverse campus? At every university, it should be of the utmost importance to provide a comfortable and safe learning space, whether it is simply a place to pee or the place that students live, everybody deserves to feel safe and accepted no matter which path of life they walk.

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