Coming out: behind the scenes

To the editor, the reader, those who see us, those who don’t, and those who do not want to be seen yet:

I have been asked to write this introductory letter by Sarah Friedman, news editor of The Hustler and my primary motivator for being a responsible and productive adult. I am on the braver, brasher end of the queer spectrum; I fall solidly in the “loud, out and proud” category. But I remember the moments in my life where I had to get quiet and contemplative, and gently tell myself the secrets about me that my heart already knew. These narratives are here to tell the truth. I’m just here to write the intro.

Coming out is a process that never ends. Tomorrow, we will celebrate that process, uplifting those in the queer community who are allowed the privilege to be fully or partially authentic with their identities. We will also celebrate those who who are not afforded these privileges and must constantly adapt, assimilate, and deny in order to preserve their safety, security and support networks.

To those of us who are out and proud, one thousand congratulations to you!

To those who are tempted to encourage or “assist” friends and acquaintances in expressing their gender and sexual identities, don’t. In sum, out no one. If you feel compelled to share with the world someone’s sexual or gender identity, I urge you to inform as many people as you can that I, Clare McDaniel, am a cis lesbian. Run and tell that. I’ve been trying to get the good word out anyway. But leave everyone else alone unless otherwise instructed.

To those who are tempted to inquire about others’ identities, please believe me when I say that no one, regardless of how curious they are, is entitled to information about another human’s gender, genitals or sexual preferences.

To every student on campus, remember that we are here, we are queer, and we are presumably getting an education, just like you. We are at Last Drop, in Greek life, on Alumni Lawn, at the Office of Religious Life, at the Office of LGBTQI Life, on Commons, and in classes across campus.

This part I direct specifically to those reading who might not be straight, who might not be cisgender, who might not be out to either their peers or even themselves. I wish to say that remaining unseen, “stealth,” or in the closet is a choice. There is no value judgement placed upon that choice.

You have many options, some less obvious than others. The four people profiled in this article are queer-identifying individuals who have walked the path of coming out and continue to walk it every day. Their narratives detail the coming out process and its inherent difficulties as well as its unexpected joy and relief.

On a final note, to personalize the practice of coming out, I would like to briefly share my story. In my own experience, coming out, and later re-coming out under another identity, wasn’t the pivotal moment of my existence. It wasn’t even very dramatic––my coming out took place at Pizza Perfect on a Sunday while it rained. However, I must still come out most every day, and it is exhausting. I’m not very often read as a lesbian immediately, much to my chagrin. Blue hair can only take me so far. But every time I open my mouth and tell someone about that part of me (either directly or indirectly) I affirm that facet of my being. I cosign myself. I tell the story of me, and that’s the way I like it.

Do rad things with great love, y’all.

clare-signature

Clare is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at clare.mcdaniel@vanderbilt.edu.


Malik Hollingsworth, Senior

Pronouns: he/him/hisimg_1245

Malik Hollingsworth wakes up every morning and thinks about the ways he is marginalized as a bisexual student on campus. He thinks about what people are going to think when they see him, and how they are going to judge him.

“How much space can I and should I take up?” Malik asks himself. “How much of my identity should I or shouldn’t I reveal? Most people don’t have to make those decisions. They can walk out to the world and exist with few consequences, with few thoughts in mind.”

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Malik came out as bisexual when he was sixteen years old to his two best friends in high school, who he had known since the sixth grade. He was mostly friends with girls in high school, so arriving at Vanderbilt and living on an all-boys floor was an anxiety-producing experience.

“It definitely played a role in how I had to shape my interaction with people on my floor,” Malik said. “Because I was also one of maybe two, if not the only person, that was out in my entire building.”

Since he arrived on campus, he has been “coming out” most every day. He came out to his mom via text message when he was explaining to her that he would be attending an engineering conference for queer students.

“I guess I always live my life like there’s never any one coming out story,” he said. “Essentially, every day is coming out because you walk around, and people either assume one thing or another. So every day is a re-affirmation of your identity.”

It’s one thing to just be queer on campus, but it’s another thing to be queer and also to be a student of color. Malik Hollingsworth

It ended up that during his first year, he didn’t spend much time on his floor in West House. He didn’t know that Lambda existed or where the Office of LGBTQI life was. His RA never talked about resources for LGBTQI students, and while he liked his VUceptor, LGBTQI issues were never a large part of Visions discussions.

“My RA never really talked about it. My VUceptor was great, but had so much going on that it wasn’t really a large part of our Visions discussions,” Malik said. “So I wouldn’t have found that community had I not been introduced to it.”

Since then, though, Malik has moved to McGill, a gender-neutral residence hall. He is the Lambda large events coordinator, planning events such as the drag show, queer prom and pride festival. On a typical day, you can find him hanging out in the Office of LGBTQI Life, and he regularly attends the affinity meetings for queer people of color that the office holds.

“It’s one thing to just be queer on campus, but it’s another thing to be queer and also to be a student of color,” Malik said. “Having that supportive space has been very reassuring.”

Malik has developed a close relationship with the Director of the Office of LGBTQI Life, Chris Purcell. Because Malik plans on going into higher education someday, Purcell is also helping Malik create connections and learn more about the field.

“When I started coming to the office, I didn’t really see Chris as someone that I could mold myself after,” Malik said. “He’s a gay white man; I’m a bisexual black man. There wasn’t really a lot that we had to interact on. But as I’ve gotten to know Chris, we have a lot of similarities.”

Malik emphasizes that beyond breaking down the walls between faculty and students, the Office of LGBTQI Life is a helpful place to go, even if you’re just having a bad day.

“The moment someone walks in, someone will greet you,” Malik said. “Whether it be the person at the front desk, or Chris, or Liv–the program coordinator. Someone’s gonna greet you, someone’s gonna say hello. And it’s usually a smiling face.”

But Malik’s time at Vanderbilt hasn’t been all friendly relationships and smiling faces. During his first year, a fellow resident in West House called him the f-slur and the n-word in what he thought was a humorous manner.  

I will never tell someone that you need to come out because coming out requires you to feel safe and comfortable and prepared to deal with what the world has to throw at you. Malik Hollingsworth

“It’s not humorous to me,” Malik said. “It makes my living space very uncomfortable. It made my living space very uncomfortable for most of my first year. You can’t do a lot about microaggression on a daily basis because a lot of times those become unconscious. But macroaggression that people on this campus experience and can’t really do anything about because for most people, it’s like, “Well it’s just a word.” There aren’t any real large repercussions to have hate speech thrown around on campus.”

In order to prevent macroaggressions like the ones he has experienced, Malik believes that Vanderbilt needs more biased incident reporting, so that student accountability meetings aren’t reserved for infractions such as destroyed property, breaking the honor code, but can also be utilized to report incidents of hate speech.

To those students who are considering coming out or who have yet to share their identity with their peers on campus, Malik emphasizes waiting until you are ready to deal with some of the hatefulness that queer people still experience, even on campus like Vanderbilt’s.

“My metaphor is: if your closet is a walk-in closet, and you can live in there your entire life, by all means go ahead,” he said. “I will never tell someone that you need to come out because coming out requires you to feel safe and comfortable and prepared to deal with what the world has to throw at you, which is a lot of bigotry, which is a lot of hatefulness still in our day and age.”

While Malik’s experience hasn’t been perfect, he views being himself as his greatest success.

“I always leave on the note that my experience isn’t perfect,” he said. “There will always be positives; there will always be negatives. I wake up every day asking myself, ‘What am I going to have to combat today?’ As long as I can go to sleep saying, ‘I survived the day being myself,’ then I win. I win.”


Rebecca Bendheim, senior

Pronouns: she, her, hersimg_1244

Rebecca Bendheim can trace her first crush on a girl back to the sixth grade. It was on a girl in her theater group a few years older than her, and all Rebecca wanted to do was sit in her lap and make her arts and crafts. When her middle school friends started to be interested in boys, they incessantly asked her what boys she liked and who she had a crush on, questions to which she didn’t know the answers.

“I just never understood what a crush was,” she said. “I was like ‘What am I supposed to feel around these boys? Am I just supposed to think they have nice hair? Am I supposed to think they are smart or nice?” I just didn’t know, so that was kind of the first time I made up a crush. I kind of was thinking ‘Maybe everyone else is making all of this up too.’”

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In high school, she had two boyfriends, both of whom she enjoyed spending time with, but she never felt the connection that she saw her friends having with their boyfriends.

“The way I would choose a guy was kind of like a checklist. Is he nice? Is he cute? Is he smart? Will he not pressure me?” she said.

When Rebecca had crushes on girls, she passed them off as extreme jealousy. There was one girl who Rebecca used to journal about so much that she gave her a nickname, Red, after her favorite color. Rebecca wrote a letter to herself in the future, saying that she hoped she got rid of her jealousy problem.

I think part of the reason is because people have a perception of what a lesbian looks like and I had that perception too, like someone maybe with short, blue hair. Rebecca Bendheim

Rebecca continued to wonder why she wasn’t feeling connected with boys. In a game with her friends in which everyone in the circle had to name their biggest insecurity, Rebecca said she was afraid she would never fall in love. Still, however, she didn’t think that she might be attracted to girls.

“I think part of the reason is because people have a perception of what a lesbian looks like and I had that perception too, like someone maybe with short, blue hair,” Rebecca said.

When she got to college, Rebecca focused her attention on joining a sorority. She enjoyed going to an all-girls camp when she was younger, and figured that a sorority would be a similar experience.

“Freshman year, first semester was so much fun because everyone, all my friends, were doing exactly what I wanted do–trying to impress girls,” Rebecca said.

Sophomore year, however, was a challenge. Once she and her friends were already in sororities, the focus on boys went up more than ever before. When they would go out on the weekends, all they would talk about was which boys would be there and how they should dress to impress boys. Rebecca felt that while all her friends were similar, something about her made her different.

During the first semester of her junior year, Rebecca studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. The change of pace and slower environment gave her the alone time she needed to figure out what was making her feel so sad, so left out, so not herself.

I’m a huge do-er, so like at Vanderbilt, there’s such a doing culture, you just do things, do things, do things, and you don’t have a lot of time to think,” Rebecca said. “So I knew I wasn’t happy sophomore year, but I never gave myself time to really be like what is making me unhappy?”

During long hikes and runs by herself in the woods, Rebecca pieced together the identity that had been there all along. She taught creative writing in a prison while she was there, and she was inspired by how genuine the inmates were with themselves.

“There’s just so much time to think and reflect on who you are, and they taught me a lot about reflecting and really living your best self while you can, even though for them it was in a prison,” she said.

In Cape Town, Rebecca toyed with the idea that a possible reason why she didn’t like the way she felt in her relationships with boys was that she liked girls instead. She started to read Young Adult novels about girls who fall in love with girls. She read about girls wanting to hold a friend’s hand and not knowing why, about girls wanting to be closer than you can be as friends, and about girls being with girls in a sexual way.

“I read a few of those books and I was like ‘Holy shit, this really sounds like me,’” she said. “I knew that I wanted to be closer with this person, but I don’t know why or how. And I think about them a lot. So reading those books, I was like, maybe this is the case, but I’m not positive.

When Rebecca returned to Vanderbilt for the second semester of her junior year, she started working in Barnes & Noble. While she was shelving books in the Gay and Lesbian section, she would take out a book or two. During her downtime, she would read the books, and then spend hours shelving in silence, thinking.

“I started reading some nonfiction ones, like, there’s this really good book called Same Sex in the City, and that was the first book that made being lesbian seem so cool,” Rebecca said. “It made it seem way cooler than being straight. I was like ‘Wow, this sounds like something that I want to be.’ It’s about all these young, twenty-something lesbians in NYC just living life and killing it.”

Now feeling more sure of her identity, Rebecca began to wonder how people might react if she shared these feelings with them. She went home three weekends in a row, and one weekend, she was writing cover letters to publishing companies for summer job opportunities. One of the letters was to the company that published some of the books she had read, and she thanked them for enlightening her on the issues. Not remembering that she had written this, she asked her dad to read over the letter, and while she refused to talk with him about it at first, she wrote him a letter explaining how she was feeling–her first time coming out to anyone, even though she was still questioning.

That week, back at school, Rebecca watched the sunrise with her friend Nicole. On their way back to campus, they talked about upcoming fraternity formals, and Rebecca knew this was her chance. She told Nicole the real reason why she didn’t want to go to formal.

“And I didn’t honestly know until I said it, but once I said it I was like ‘Yeah, I’m really sure’” Rebecca said. ‘So then she was like ‘Oh, do you think that’s a bad thing?’ and I was like ‘No, but I’m worried other people will,’ and she dropped me off and I kind of teared up a little because it was so emotional to finally tell someone what I had been thinking about for so long.”

The next weekend, over spring break, Rebecca told her dad exactly what she was feeling during a long walk on the beach in Florida. After he reacted well and said he supported her, Rebecca told the rest of her family the following weekend. Back at school, Rebecca began individually telling her close friends what was on her mind.

I guess in different situations it's obviously such a difficult thing, coming out, but for me it felt like a birthday party. Rebecca Bendheim

“With every single person, I would leave those conversations feeling incredibly energized and so excited about my life and my future and how wonderful all my friends are,” Rebecca said. “A lot of people were very surprised, which I almost find funny because of the number of times I’ve said like ‘I’m worried I don’t like guys,’ and things like that. And what was interesting, even my friends who are very religious and believe in a strict interpretation of the Bible were still completely accepting and totally happy for me.”

Eventually, it became difficult to balance these long conversations with school work. Rebecca decided that she was ready for everyone to know. She wanted to tell her friends and peers in her own words, so that they would feel comfortable approaching her about it and it didn’t turn into gossip.

One of Rebecca’s friends, Larissa May (Lars) had started a social media campaign called Half the Story, which emphasizes that seemingly flawless Instagrams and Facebook posts usually portray only half the story of someone’s life.

“I look back at my social media from sophomore year and see how happy I look in every picture, and I totally believe in Lars’s thing of we only share half the story on social media and in our normal lives, when there’s so much about people you don’t know,” Rebecca said.

Lars took a nice picture of Rebecca in her favorite park, and she drafted a post. She decided to post it on Instagram that Thursday night around 9 p.m., then shut her phone off, and invited the 12 or so friends she had already told out to dinner. One of her friends even made her a playlist for the occasion. The next morning, when she turned her phone back on, she had around 100 text messages and tons of comments on her Instagram, all from people saying they admire her bravery and congratulating her.

“I guess in different situations it’s obviously such a difficult thing, coming out, but for me it felt like a birthday party,” she said. “It felt like it was my birthday times ten.”

Since then, Rebecca has been enjoying the newfound vulnerability and relatability she has with her friends.

I don't feel like there's a conflict between being in a sorority and being gay at all. Rebecca Bendheim

“I feel like my friends are more vulnerable with me and I feel like I can connect so much more with people. When people are talking about having crushes on guys, I can talk about having crushes on girls, and it’s basically the same thing. It’s really not that different––the feelings are all the same.”

Rebecca is the only openly lesbian member of her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, but she has received nothing but support and confidence from her sisters.

“I don’t feel like there’s a conflict between being in a sorority and being gay at all,” she said. “Honestly life has been super exciting since then.”

While Rebecca appreciates the Greek community, as almost all of her friends are in sororities or fraternities, she believes that the community can be limiting. She doesn’t have any close friends who are openly gay or lesbian on campus.

“I absolutely love Greek life because of the support system, but I also think sometimes it can limit the diversity of your friendships.”


Lily Williams, Junior

Pronouns: she, her, hersimg_0946

Around a year ago, Lilly Williams said to herself, “Hey, maybe being a guy isn’t the best, maybe being a girl is better.”

She was looking at womens’ clothes on the Internet, and decided to comment on the post, saying that they were cute and that she wished she could wear them. After a few people asked her ‘Why not?’ she started seriously thinking about her gender identity. One of those commenters became someone who Lily talked to, and still talks to, quite a bit about her unfolding identity.

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“She had told me that a year before she was saying similar things, and earlier that week had legally transitioned, and so I thought ‘Yeah that’s cool, I want that,’” Lily said. “So she was really the first person I came out to and that I guess was me saying “Yeah, I’m trans, turns out.”

During the next two weeks, Lily began to confide her feelings in a few close friends.

“I had a couple of my female friends just help me with how to be a woman, which is not an easy thing when you spend 19 years not being a woman,” Lily said.

I had a couple of my female friends just help me with how to be a woman, which is not an easy thing when you spend 19 years not being a woman. Lily Williams

By the time she returned to school from winter break, she was wearing women’s clothes pretty much all the time. Some people still stumble over her pronouns, and some still ask her why she wears women’s clothes. She’s had some other significant milestones since then: her first shopping trip, the first time she did her makeup, and most of all, choosing her new name. She decided to start deciding on a name because instead of just telling people who she wasn’t, she wanted tell them who she was.

“I just started making lists, some in my mind, some on paper, just a bunch of names,” Lily said. “My thought was ‘Hey, if I find the right name, it’ll just click and I won’t have to look anymore.’ I was thinking about flowers and how flowers have good names. I knew a person named Lilly with two L’s but I wanted to be named after the flower which only had 1 L. And so that’s what I chose. It just seemed like the perfect name.”

While she still hasn’t changed her official name in the school system or on her driver’s license, she writes Lily on all of her school papers, resumes and unofficial documents. On the first day of class each semester, Lily has to tell her professors, usually in front of the class.

“Usually they would expect me to go from Benjamin to Ben, but I go from Benjamin to Lily,” she said.

While the experience coming out was overall positive, and most people she told embraced her new identity, Lily encountered some stumbling blocks along the way. Her five hallmates, while ambivalent at first, began to act strange around her. One day, once she started presenting herself in women’s clothes, one of them said that he was embarrassed to be around her. Her roommate stopped sleeping in their room and eventually moved out into a single. But Lily didn’t let this bother her.

Gender, I feel, is an important part of people’s identity, including mine, but it's not really a thing that we need to use to discriminate people. Lily Williams

“I got a Kissam double (to myself) for a semester,” she said. “Two closets to hold all my new clothes.”

She sold most of her old clothes, and gave some of them to one of her trans friends. She now lives in a single in McGill, where a lot of her friends live as well.

Lily’s parents back in Phoenix, AZ also didn’t react positively to her transition. They still call her Ben, saying that she can’t come home unless she presents as a male. So after Christmas break, she stopped coming home. She stayed on campus for spring break, and got an apartment nearby over the summer while she was working in a research lab on campus.

“My parents were not and still aren’t big fans of me not being Ben,” she said. “They don’t understand transgender. They don’t think I could ever be trans. They think I’m taking away their son from them and not being their son anymore.”

Lily has since started hanging out at the K.C. Potter Center, and has made a number friends of friends in the LGBTQI community whom she considers to be her closest friends. She plans on starting hormone therapy in the near future, but for now, she mainly relies on her clothes to showcase her identity. It still makes her day when someone tells her they like her outfits.

Lily’s interest in women did not falter with her change in gender identity. She has a girlfriend, Carly*, who she met early in the summer. While Carly no longer goes to Vanderbilt, they met at Lambda over the summer and have been dating since Carly asked Lily to go shopping with her one day. Their relationship is somewhat long distance, because Carly lives in Manchester, but they see each other every 10 days or so.

“We see each other fairly regularly, but not quite what you expect to see from being in college and being in a college relationship, like how boyfriends or girlfriends eat every meal together or spend much of their free time with them or are in the same classes,” Lily said. “So I miss her a lot, and it’s hard to compare our relationship to any normal relationship I see around because it’s just not at all the same.”

While Lily’s journey has been a bumpy road, the challenges of being a trans student on campus bring her both excitement and nervousness. During room selection for McGill, when she opted to live on the female side of her floor, representatives from the Office of Housing and Residential Education told her that because she wasn’t a woman, she wasn’t allowed to live on that side. Over the summer, she got it straightened out and is living on the correct side of the floor, but the experience, which was supposed to validate her new gender identity, ended up making her more self conscious.

“Gender, I feel, is an important part of people’s identity, including mine, but it’s not really a thing that we need to use to discriminate people, for good or bad reasons,” Lily said. “I don’t think there’s many good reasons there, it’s just like ‘Why are you separating people in the first place, like what good does it do?’”

*name has been changed


Mac Ploetz, junior

Pronouns: He, him, hisimg_1246

During Mac Ploetz’ senior year of high school, he came out as a lesbian. Confused? So was he.

At the time, when Mac identified as a woman, his best friend asked him to take the Kinsey Scale test, which measures homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality on a scale of one to five, where zero is strictly heterosexual and six is strictly homosexual. Mac scored a five.

In a panic, he lied to his best friend, telling her that he scored a two. He had an anatomy test the next day, and was so frantic that he walked up to his teacher’s desk and told him that he couldn’t take the test because he was gay. For the next six months, Mac identified as a lesbian, only out to his anatomy teacher and his best friend.

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“My parents in the past had told me that they thought that gay people were God’s mistakes, so I was really hesitant about coming out,” he said.

Mac prepared for college by buying all the skirts he could, even though he had started to question his gender identity as well.

“I came to college, and it took me all of 2 days before I was fed-up,” Mac said. “I wore like two skirts, and I was like, ‘Shit, I’m trans.’ So I came out to my roommate.”

Being from a small town in Indiana, Mac barely knew trans people existed, or that anyone could identify with a gender their sex didn’t assign them to.

I came to college, and it took me all of 2 days before I was fed-up. I wore like two skirts, and I was like, ‘Shit, I’m trans.’ So I came out to my roommate. Mac Ploetz

“So many people in their first week of college realize something about themselves,” Mac said. “And that could be ‘Fuck, I miss my parents,’ or ‘I’m not really as good at chemistry as I thought I was,’ or it could be the queer piece.”

To those who may be going through similar experiences and having similar thoughts, Mac’s advice is to be gentle with yourself. While he came out almost immediately, he “came out and went right back in.” While his three best friends were aware of his new identity, he was still allowing others to misgender him all over campus. He wasn’t out in his classes, and he was wearing different clothes when his parents came to visit.

“I wish that I had given myself the space to learn, I think,” Mac said. “And to try new things and not try to please other people as much as I did. So I guess that being gentle piece is just really important, especially because folks will, when they realize that they’re queer, will be like, ‘I need to do everything right, I am now representative of this community.’”

For Mac, the most significant aspect of his transition was the change in the community that he chose to spend his time with. After a few months, in November, he attended his first transgender-queer affinity group meeting at the Office for LGBTQI Life, which he describes as “a real game changer.” In February, he attended Queer Prom, an event organized by Lambda designed for those who couldn’t go to prom in high school, or at least not as who or with who they wanted to, but open to all.

Mac was hesitant to start attending Lambda meetings, afraid that the tight-knit community would reject him, but when he finally did, he was “overwhelmed with the amount of love.” After a couple meetings, the president knew his name. While he participated in several communities in high school–German Club, piano, voice lessons, choirs, lead crew, natural helpers–none of them felt as personal as Lambda was starting to feel.

Lambda isn’t here only for people that come for Lambda. Mac Ploetz

“And I think that was the biggest transition for me, was transitioning from that environment in high school that’s so competitive, to Lambda and Vanderbilt, that’s so genuinely familial.”

Mac’s transition has been more than just physical, although he has been on testosterone therapy for about a year now. Last year, he served as the recruitment and retention chair of Lambda, and he is now the president of Lambda.

He emphasizes that his hesitation and fear of attending Lambda meetings is really felt around campus every day, as people are afraid to get to know communities that seem close, passing them off as crazy.

“Going in the spaces is really personally challenging those stereotypes and prejudices, and really, honestly, just holding your breath and doing it,” he said. “Because I guarantee you, on any day when you walk into the K.C.  Potter Center, somebody or everyone will say hello.”

While Lambda has grown significantly this year and the K.C. Potter Center is overflowing during meetings, Mac emphasizes that Lambda is not only here for the out members of the queer community.

“Lambda isn’t here only for people that come for Lambda,” Mac said. “Lambda is here for the person sitting in their dorm who can’t come because they’re not out to their roommate or the person sitting in their dorm who won’t come because they don’t want to be associated. Lambda is making change for everyone.”

Similar to most of the queer community, Mac is looking to break down the gendered nature of first-year housing. As a freshman, he lived on a split floor in Gillette, but he couldn’t access the men’s side of the floor.

“How can you boast gender inclusivity when you literally lock off the other side of the hallway, and say, ‘Well, it’s in the same hall, so we’re fine.’”

Now, the second floor of North House is all singles, which Mac sees as an improvement, but not the end goal.

“First of all, you have to tell people, beforehand, ‘Hey, I need a single because I need it for medical reasons or because I’m trans,’” Mac said. “And that’s like, god, why do I have to come out to Zeppos?”

The process of changing rooms on the Commons is close to impossible, according to Mac, so if you realize that you belong on this floor a few weeks in like he did, then the chances that your residential life will adjust to your identity are slim to none.

While he is impressed with the administration’s efforts, he knows that what is really holding them back is a much tougher force to reckon with – parents.

“Administration is really, really on board, but it’s not quite happening as quickly as we need it to, and that’s less of ‘How do we as a university adopt these values?,’ and more of, ‘How do we deal with parents?’” Mac said.

Gender neutral bathrooms have also been a topic of discussion, as that initiative has been expanding for a few years now. The gender neutral restrooms came about when a trans student went all over campus and located the single restrooms, and asked for the signs to be changed to indicate that they were gender neutral. No new restrooms were built. Mac emphasizes, however, that having one single gender inclusive bathroom in a building is, in most cases, just not enough.

“So it’s like, not even just the trans population but the folks that need it for accessibility, folks that need mental health wise, like claustrophobia, physical accessibility, then you have the trans piece — it’s like, that is so much to address, and you’re doing it with one bathroom and there’s a giant four-story building,” Mac said. “We’re paying 60 grand to go here, please for one second, think about converting the closet space that nobody uses to a bathroom.”

The most important part of Mac’s activism, however, is showing each and every student that they deserve respect on this campus.
“Part of the reason that I didn’t go to Lambda (at first) was because I was scared, and the other part of the reason was because I just didn’t want to,” Mac said. “And I don’t really remember what my specific version was, but I think it was ‘I don’t want to be part of the gay club,’ and now I’m president of the ‘gay club.’ So I did a 180 there. I deserved as much respect about my identity my first week of college when I was bad-talking Lambda that I do now that I’m the president of LAMBDA.”


Glossary

Lambda – the undergraduate gender-sexuality alliance. According to its Anchor Link page, Lambda “serves and supports Vanderbilt’s LGBTQIA community as well as provides a voice on matters of gender and sexuality to the greater Vanderbilt community.”

Affinity groups – safe spaces organized by the Office of LGBTQI Life for those who are seeking community and support for their identities, such as queer people of color, asexual/aromantic, bisexual/pansexual/fluid, and many more. Affinity groups have discussions about the needs, challenges, and successes of the members. They are free and open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Office of LGBTQI Life – according to its website, “a cultural center and a place of affirmation for individuals of all identities, and a resource for information and support about gender and sexuality”

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