Nonbinary @ Cal

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Living Queer at Cal

When applying to college, I took a leap of faith and clicked nonbinary as my gender designation. (Even now, I still feel a little giddy when I see my gender listed in my CalCentral!) Living queer at Cal has felt like coming home. This blog captures my experience as a nonbinary student at UC Berkeley and offers resources for students like me. Note that I’ll use the term “QT” (queer and/or trans) below when discussing resources and events because most are catered toward the QT community at large.

My Gender Journey

For the first fifteen years of my life, gender wasn’t something I gave much thought to. I started artistic gymnastics—a sport known for its hyper-femininity—at age three, then switched to dance in high school. My varsity team mandated waist-length hair and a full face of makeup for performance. For most of my life, I didn’t have the time, space, or resources to push the boundaries of my imposed gender. Instead, I was relegated to dressing in my brother’s clothes on the weekends and dreaming of getting his short haircut one day. 

The COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 brought the silver lining of free time. One afternoon, I stumbled upon a comic about someone’s experience as a “nonbinary” AFAB (assigned female at birth) individual. It put into words everything I’d been grappling with for so long. The comic ended with a panel saying, “There is no right way to be nonbinary.” And that’s how I knew.

Nina, the author of this article, smiles in front of the Progress Pride Flag at Portland Pride in Oregon in 2023.

Nina at Portland Pride in 2023.

Understanding Nonbinary Identity

Nonbinary refers to a subset of the trans experience. A nonbinary individual, or gender nonconforming individual, is someone who does not identify as exclusively a man or a woman. They may identify with multiple genders, as in my case, or no gender at all. Being nonbinary looks different on everyone. Keep in mind that there are no prescribed life experiences, types of personal expression, or pronouns that characterize someone as nonbinary.

Staff, students, and alumni from UC Berkeley marching in San Francisco Pride Parade in California in 2023, holding up various pride flags.

UC Berkeley staff, students, and alumni marching in San Francisco Pride in 2023, holding up various Pride flags to honor the diverse range of identities in the LGBTQ+ community. Photo by Emma Ancel.

Gender-Affirming Materials & Clothes for Berkeley Students

Did you know that QT students are eligible to receive gender-affirming materials free of charge? This life-changing collaboration is run by three organizations dedicated to uplifting LGBTQ+ students at Berkeley: the Gender Equity Resource Center (GenEq), Queer Alliance Resource Center (QARC), and Trans Student Wellness Initiative (TSWI).

GenEq is a campus community center that provides services, opportunities, and education related to gender and sexuality. QARC is one of UC Berkeley’s oldest student-run organizations, established in 1969 shortly after the Stonewall Riots. It supports programming for QT students and serves as an umbrella organization for all active QT communities on campus. TSWI is a collaboration between the Multicultural Community Center and GenEq. 

To receive up to $100 in gender-affirming materials, a student can fill out the Transition Care Intake Form linked in QARC’s Instagram link tree. After submitting, they will receive an email confirming the materials they would like the care team to order and another email with pick-up information once the materials arrive.

I ordered a pair of gender-affirming swim shorts and a chest binder through the Transition Care Intake Form. I highly recommend this resource! Note that the Transition Care Intake Form closes for summer and reopens in fall.

Nina’s chest binder and gender-neutral swim shorts received through the Transition Care Intake Form.

A gc2b chest binder and pair of Humankind gender-neutral swim shorts received through the Transition Care Intake Form.

To find gender-affirming clothes, students can also visit the Gender Affirming Closet hosted in the Queer Alliance Resource Center (QARC), which is in Hearst Annex Building A, Room 15. The closet’s hours are dependent on when QARC itself is open; last semester, this was 12–5 p.m. on weekdays. QARC also sometimes has their Gender Affirming Closet out when tabling on Upper Sproul Plaza, so keep an eye out for that.

A hand holds up a yellow and white blouse in front of a rack of clothing at the Gender Affirming Closet pop-up on Upper Sproul.

Fashionable finds at QARC’s Gender Affirming Closet pop-up on Upper Sproul Plaza.

Celebrations

There are several celebratory events for QT students throughout the school year, from Prom to the UNITY Drag Show. One highlight is the annual QT+ (queer and/or trans+) Prom hosted by QARC in spring. When I attended, it featured elements such as an aerial performance, free mocktails, a photo booth, and a killer drag queen emcee. 

A collage of two images taken at QT+ Prom. The left image is an aerial performer in country attire holding a split handstand in front of large letters spelling out “prom.” The right image is drag queen Curveball performing in a pink bodysuit and bold pink makeup.

Acro and drag at QT+ Prom.

Akira Ono, the Public Relations Director at QARC for the 2023–2024 academic year, describes QT+ Prom as “a dance to allow LGBTQIA+ students on campus to experience a proud, out loud, and gender-affirming Prom.” He adds that many folks had not yet come to terms with their own QT identity or weren’t able to be out during high school, so this is their organization’s effort to let students reclaim that time and allow everyone to be “as queer as they want.”

Akira poses in country attire at QT+ Prom.

Akira in country attire at QT+ Prom.

I attended QT+ Prom with my friend Felix (class of 2024) who wasn’t able to attend their high school prom because of COVID. This made our experience even more special.

A collage of two images. The left image is two nonbinary students, Nina (right) and Felix (left), hugging each other in their QT+ prom semi-formal attire. The right image is Nina and Cal’s mascot, Oski the Bear, posing together at QT+ prom.

Nina celebrates with her best friends at QT+ Prom: Felix and Oski.

Healing Opportunities

UC Berkeley offers resources to help QT students maintain their emotional and mental well-being. For Trans Day of Remembrance, I attended a Trans Healing & Grief Circle event co-hosted by TWSI and GenEq. It was indescribably powerful to be in community with other QT students. Though we all came from different walks of life, as gender nonconforming individuals, we were working toward healing similar wounds. As I listened to people’s testimonies—and shared my own—I was reminded of this quote from transmasc artist Sage Thee: “The grief is never ending, but so is the love.”

A collage of two images taken at GenEQ’s Trans Healing & Grief Circle in November of 2023. The left image is an over-the-shoulder-shot depicting a student looking at a colorful memorial for late trans folks decorated with flowers, lights, and butterflies. The right image is a close up of the memorial with flowers and origami cranes in the foreground.

The beautiful memorial for late trans folks at the GenEQ’s Trans Healing & Grief Circle in November of 2023.

Advice for QT Students

Housing

Though there is a great deal of support for QT students, I had some difficulty with my residential housing roommate request as a first-year. Because I have a gender outside of the traditional binary, I had to reach out to Cal Housing Assignments ​​(reshall@berkeley.edu) and ask for a temporary 24-hour gender designation update from “nonbinary” to “female” so I could request to live with my current roommate, who was designated as “female” in the housing portal. I’m sharing this here because it is something I would’ve appreciated knowing in advance. If you might be in this situation, reach out to Housing ahead of time. Many of my queer friends took comfort in the UNITY Theme Program, which is a residential housing community that focuses on LGBTQ+ education and leadership. 

Clubs & Orgs

There are dozens of clubs catered toward students with intersectional LGBTQ+ identities or interests. Here a few examples: Delta Kappa Alpha is a gender-inclusive professional cinema fraternity. Lavender Alliance promotes safety and well-being for Chinese and international students. Cal Queer & Asian provides a space for LGBTQ+ students with Asian heritage to explore what their intersectional identities mean to them.

Members of Cal Queer & Asian pose on a balcony in the woods while holding up a banner that reads “Queer & Asian” with a rainbow.

Members of Cal Queer & Asian on retreat.

Community

Back in high school, I never imagined that I’d be as comfortable as I am today with my gender identity. But UC Berkeley’s LGBTQ+ community welcomed me with open arms, and I was lucky enough to meet several amazing QT folks whom I have the privilege of calling my closest friends. It is a gift to feel confident in who you are; it is a gift to feel loved.

Happy Pride Month, Bears. Let’s keep the celebration going all year long.

Staff, students, and alumni from UC Berkeley marching in San Francisco Pride Parade in California in 2023. One individual holds up the 6-color pride flag.

Celebrating Pride, today and every day. Photo by Emma Ancel.

 

Nina Takahashi is a second-year at UC Berkeley majoring in film & media and minoring in Japanese and creative writing. Feature image by Emma Ancel.

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