[Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion piece, and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Willistonian.]
As a trans student at Williston, I’m tired of being forced into binary boxes. Institutional change needs to happen at Williston to begin dismantling the biological-sex-centric gender binary, and that change needs to include more gender-neutral bathrooms.
Of my five years at Williston, I’ve been out as trans nonbinary and socially transitioning for the past two. When I first came out in my junior year, I was, to my knowledge, the only trans person on campus. It was a scary feeling; it was isolating. This year, there are a few others like me, but the trans population at Williston is still small.
Aster Carlstrom, a freshman from Los Altos Hills, Calif., is nonbinary and uses they/he pronouns. Aster has felt similar isolation after beginning at Williston this fall.
“At Williston being nonbinary feels like taboo,” they said. “As long as you do not talk about your identity or get mad at people for misgendering you, people are okay with it, but if you talk about your identity or try to advocate for yourself, people give you weird looks and just avoid you.”
Aster said that they feel accepted by some students, mostly their close friends. However, they have noticed people mocking their identity behind their back, while being friendly to their face, which they said is not very welcoming.
“Other people I know just are not aware of my pronouns and it feels awkward to me to bring up this far in the year,” they added.
It’s been really hard for me to find a sense of community when Aster’s words mirror the common experience for trans students here. Even after five years, I still feel out of place among most of my classmates and in many group settings because of this “taboo” of my identity. Most people still see me as a girl, and it’s draining to be around people who refer to me that way either purposefully or ignorantly, even if they mean no harm.
I don’t feel safe asking people to be more respectful because, just like most high schoolers, I want to be liked. I know logically that I should be confident in myself and care more about that than fitting in. However, high school is already a challenging time socially; everyone is trying to figure out who they are and everyone feels some sort of pressure to fit in.
For trans students, these challenges multiply. Correcting people on my pronouns comes with a realistic fear of being disliked and made fun of, or being seen as disrespectful to my teachers.
In terms of teachers, Aster said that many teachers respect their gender and apologize for misgendering them, but said “there are a few that do not, and when they misgender me it does not make me feel excited to go to their class.”
There is only one gender neutral bathroom at Williston, in Reed, making it extremely inconvenient for me to access during most of the day because my classes are spread across campus. Only one out of my five classes is even in the same building as the gender neutral bathroom.
According to GLSEN, an organization founded by teachers that works to create safety for LGBTQ+ youth in schools, “nearly two thirds of transgender students avoid school bathrooms because of feeling unsafe or uncomfortable.”
I know I avoid the bathrooms at Williston as much as possible. And I am only one student out the two percent of students in the United States the CDC survey results identify as transgender.
Aster feels similarly and wishes there were more gender neutral bathrooms on campus.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable when others see me in the girls bathroom; being in there gives me a lot of gender dysphoria,” they said. “I would be happy about having more gender neutral bathrooms around campus and it would make me feel more comfortable.”
Williston has no rule saying Aster or I couldn’t use the men’s bathroom, and this is where I feel the issue gets complicated. Because although I could technically enter either bathroom, I feel unsafe doing that as someone who has not started to physically transition and does not pass for male.
Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress some trans people feel in knowing their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. Not all trans people experience dysphoria, but for me, it’s a part of my everyday life that I need to work around. Being forced to use the women’s bathroom exacerbates that feeling.
I feel forced to choose between being comfortable physically but experiencing more dysphoria while using the women’s bathroom, and feeling unsafe but less dysphoric in the men’s. In addition, I don’t identify as either male or female; forcing me into a gendered bathroom regardless of which one I choose to use still erases my identity as a nonbinary person and causes strain on my mental health.
Although I am affected by the lack of gender neutral bathrooms at school, I know I have an undeniable privilege as a day student. I can go home at the end of the day to my room that’s not in a dorm for boys or for girls. I can use the bathroom at my house that is single stalled and non-gendered. But for my boarder friends, even the place that is supposed to feel like home can feel like putting them into a box they don’t identify with.
“I was given the choice of what dorm I wanted to live in; personally I feel safer being put into my agab [assigned gender at birth] aligning dorm,” Aster said.
However, their dorm experience is not entirely comfortable.
“There are a lot of gendered phrases used in the dorm that make me uncomfortable, like dorm parents yelling good night girls most nights, but there is not a dorm I would rather be in currently,” they said.
There was a long period of time in which I was disappointed in Williston’s lack of accommodations for trans students. But I have moved past disappointment. I am angry. I am angry on my own behalf, angry on behalf of other trans and nonbinary students here, and most importantly, angry on behalf of trans kids across the world.
But this piece is not meant to be an attack, it’s meant to be a rallying cry. I know there are so many teachers and students and administrators at Williston who care deeply about the trans students here. I’ve seen my friends and classmates and teachers stand up for me, and it makes a world of difference in my life. But I also know that we could be doing so much more. The people who support trans rights on campus need to be advocating strongly for our inclusion. They need to be supporting their beliefs with action and concrete steps to improve the experience of Williston’s transgender students.
Transgender and nonbinary students deserve respect in the place we learn. School should not be a place of fear. How am I supposed to focus on my education when I need to go across campus several times a day to simply use the bathroom, or face dysphoria constantly when using the female restroom? How are trans students supposed to learn when we don’t feel seen or safe at our schools?
The fight doesn’t end with gender neutral bathrooms. We need to be a consideration, not an afterthought, of the administration.
Maybe that means a much bigger change, like creating a gender-neutral dorm. Over 425 colleges and universities have gender inclusive housing options, including Yale University, Skidmore College, American University, and many state schools.
Maybe being a priority of the administration means more small changes, like how Williston updated Veracross to include students’ pronouns last year. Small wins are wins nonetheless, at least in my mind. But we can’t stop there.
I know for sure that I need a safe space to go to the bathroom, to fulfill my basic human needs, so something needs to change. I know that a bathroom seems small in the grand scheme of things, but to me it would mean a lot more than the actual room. It’s not just about the physical space. More gender neutral bathrooms would be a step towards acceptance, a step towards feeling like I belong here. Trans students are not a radical new part of our community; we have always and will continue to exist, and it’s time Williston starts recognizing us.