Queer our housing

Second semester is getting underway, which means housing draw is coming up very soon. Underclassmen are talking about the struggles of blocking in the correct suite configuration for their year and residential college, and suddenly everyone cares about gender-neutral housing much more than they did this past fall. Conversations have been popping up everywhere about whether or not Yale should extend this “privilege” to sophomores, after extending it to juniors just last year.

Having listened to a fair number of these conversations, I cannot help but object to the way most of us talk about gender-neutral housing. The idea that gender-neutral housing is a privilege or a right to be earned is complete and utter nonsense. Indeed, the conversations we’re having about why we should or should not let sophomores live in gender-neutral housing are not taking queer or trans perspectives into consideration—and it is precisely the queer and trans individuals in our community who are most harmed by the lack of gender-neutral housing. Indeed, Yale’s housing system is a minefield for queer and trans students: as freshmen, they may be placed with homophobic or transphobic roommates, and they face a system that treats them as outliers and unnecessarily others them.

Perhaps Yale’s housing system is so toxic for queer and trans students because how we talk about housing leaves these individuals virtually invisible. In a Feb. 14 article in the Yale Daily News, “YCC works to bring sophomores mixed-gender housing,” Jonathan Holloway, GRD ‘95, chair of the Council of Masters, is quoted as saying the following about gender-neutral housing: “There was a feeling that developmentally, sophomores are not ready for mixed-gender suites. There are a whole host of cognitive and social abilities sophomores are still forming, and I think many are not quite ready for the interesting complications that may arise from gender-neutral housing.”

Forbidding students of different genders from living together due to a lack of “maturity” is a concept rooted deeply in heteronormativity. In case people have forgotten, queer, trans, and gender nonconforming students exist at Yale, and they deserve to be comfortable here. To point out the obvious, genderqueer students feel extremely uncomfortable when the administration forces them to identify and live exclusively with one gender over another. A bit less obviously, many of the “interesting complications” that Holloway is concerned about are irrelevant to Yale students having sexual and romantic relationships with people of the same gender. If Holloway fears that suitemates of different genders will become involved with each other, he does not extend this fear to queer suitemates. There are queer sophomores and freshmen who have made the unfortunate (or happy?) mistake of hooking up with a suitemate, and they have dealt with the various consequences like the adults they are. Why are they any different from their straight peers? Moreover, why are we more concerned with straight Yalies’ emotional stability?

Even more disturbing, Holloway’s quote is evidence that we are still perpetuating the idea that men and women are different from and therefore dangerous to each other. Or, perhaps more accurately, that men are dangerous to women. Requiring students to prove their “readiness” for gender-neutral housing only perpetuates our campus’s negative sexual culture. (Yes, I know you’re all tired of hearing those words, but they’re still relevant.) By the age of 18 we should be able to treat our suitemates with respect, regardless of their gender. To prevent sexual assault on this campus, we must do the opposite of what gender-segregated housing seeks to accomplish: we must impart to students that men and women and people who identify as neither are human beings, and that they are not inherently different. Separating students of different genders to protect them from one another implies that their inherent differences make it difficult for them to understand or closely interact with each other. It provides a scapegoat on which to blame unacceptable behavior spurred by internalized sexism and
rape culture.

Come on, Yale. Continuing the tradition of (forced) gender-segregated housing does nothing to make students feel more comfortable. It both ignores queer students’ concerns and does absolutely nothing to better our sexual culture or how we perceive gender. Not to extend the option of mixed-gender housing to all four classes is to imply that half of the Yale student body is not physically capable of being decent to people of other genders. If that’s true, I don’t think we should be here.