I’m about to tackle something big, because I’m pretty sure it’s on some of your minds (especially you parents out there). In case you didn’t know, co-ed housing is a thing here. Maybe it’s because we started it all (sidenote: visit the college archives at some point and look at the LIFE magazine in person one day. It’s a sight to behold), or maybe it’s because Oberlin realizes that as budding adults, we can choose many things for ourselves, including the most ideal living situation for ourselves, and that that might fall outside the conventional bounds of roommate-ness. All our dorms — with the exception of Baldwin (the Women and Transgender Collective) and Old B (which is based on a house vote every year) — are co-ed. And this is a truly awesome thing.
First off, some things to know:
Living in an all-gender room is not automatic. Both you and your roommate(s) have to state that you want to live together. You will not be randomly placed in one, ever. As of a few years ago, all halls on campus have all-gender housing options unless it is in conflict with specific gender themes of the space. And while this seems to be an awesome excuse to live with a significant other, that’s definitely not the situation for most students choosing this housing option (though when I started asking around for quotes for this post, I got a fabulous one from Jackson stating that he was “already used to sharing his space with his significant other and while they initially began in separate rooms, they preferred to be together”).
So, what is this all-gender housing thing?
My junior year, Harris was taking a semester off, but he was still around Oberlin for most of the semester. At some point, we decided that once my (not chosen, but randomly assigned and definitely not working out) roommate moved at the end of the semester and Harris moved off the Harkness waitlist into Harkness proper, we would live together. Come the end of January 2009, it was true. A dreamy dreamy dream come true.
I don’t even know how it began beyond the fact that Harris and I got along splendidly, we could talk about anything but also be comfortable in silence together, and we just got each other, better than most people I know at Oberlin. I had roommates ranging from awesome to not so much over the few semesters before early 2009, and I was looking for drama-free and (hopefully) quite delightful.
I’ve been very picky about the people I have lived with, for a very long time, and there always seemed to be some additional element of stress and uncertainty with the lady-folks I lived with. What I wanted was someone I could trust, as a human, as a roommate, and as a friend. I always treated my room as my place of work and my place of retreat, but when I lived with Harris, it was those places and more. We had office hours (BEST IDEA EVER), homework parties, and Ben Jones even visited us for teatime once.
It turns out Harris and I are always the people with the cameras, so we are rarely in pictures together. Have this one of the two of us taking photos of things, taken by Kate Riley ‘10!
If you recall, this experience went very well and was reduxed for the past two years in Delightful House. The moral of this story is when you find good people, you find good people. It doesn’t matter what gender they are. (To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”) It is a truly fabulous thing that Oberlin recognizes that and trusts us to make appropriate decisions regarding our living situations that makes it amenable and excellent for all.
Think it’s just me? Well, if it were just me, it wouldn’t be a thing. Here are some thoughts from other Obies who lived in a co-ed room and called it splendid as well.
“I didn’t really think about it in gender terms. She seemed like a cool person and we were both looking for roommates. Then while living together, we became great friends. Other than having fewer housing choices, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that was really influenced by having different genders…. I definitely think I benefitted from having a wider pool of friends to choose from for housing than I would have had at other schools.”
“I lived with one of my best friends my sophomore year [and it was d]efinitely one of my best roommate experiences in Oberlin. For us, it wasn’t really about trying to find a roomie of another gender, it was about living with one of our best friends.”
“It wasn’t a big political or cultural statement. The person I wanted to live with and clicked best with lifestyle-wise happened to be a man. While I did enjoy scandalizing people back home or at other schools by talking about it, I almost never thought about it as any different from any other friends rooming together. Some of my best Oberlin memories are from that time: making pancakes in the tiny dorm kitchen together, admiring our art rental pieces, having tea-and-Scrabble time. Our friends called us the grandparents and we loved it.”
“There wasn’t anything that felt super different about living with someone just because of their gender. [We] got along really well, and what we looked like naked was kind of beside the point. Neither of us ever cared about changing in front of the other or anything. I mean, even if your roommate is same-gender, it’s not like you stare at them when they’re changing. I guess the gender thing just kind of felt entirely besides the point. The real point was just that it was really nice to live with a friend that I got along with […]. I’ve definitely lived with girls who I got along with less than him and was much more uncomfortable around.”
And finally, a quote from my friend Sam, who was interviewed by USA Today after deciding to live with our friend Grey sophomore year.
“I roomed with Grey because he was a close friend who happened to be male. Rooming with him was a wonderful experience; he was always there for me if I needed to talk or just wanted to chill/hang out… Generally he is just a really respectful dude, which is why I wanted to room with him in the first place! Initially my parents were a little skeptical, but part of what eased them into the idea was that we had a divided double, and thus were more sharing a doorway than a room. Overall I loved being able to room with someone who was a great friend and really supportive.”
We can’t have an Oberlin blog post about gender-neutral housing without tackling some of the questions Harris and I received when we were living together in Harkness. I got really good at answering them, and I know they’re percolating in your mind, so I’m just going to throw them out here:
- So you live together. Are you dating?
Nope. Harris is probably the most amazing human I’ve ever met, but no attraction there. He’ll be my kids’ godfather, though. He’s just that great, and he’s going to be a part of my life for a very long time.
- Sooooo… do you sleep together?
Nope, not in the same bed and not in the euphemistic sense of the word. While Harris is a huggable human, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t get along as well if we shared a twin XL bed. They are just small.
- Sooooo… what if you’re naked?
Fact of life: people are naked sometimes. We’re not in the market to make each other uncomfortable in the space we share.
- Sooooo… what happens when you have someone over?
We would talk about it, like any roommates would. (This is applicable everywhere, in any room, not just in an all-gender room.)
- Sooooo… isn’t living with a co-ed roommate weird?
No. Why would it? Though… I am weird and Harris is also weird. Two weird people living in the same room is bound to be weird. But not weird weird. I have now written that word so many times there is no longer meaning to it. So no, it wasn’t weird, but the word weird is now weird.
(I just asked Harris what kinds of questions he had to answer about us living together, and apparently the main one he got was “You’re living with YOUR AUNT?” My name is so complicated sometimes.)
Since this is very much a combined effort post — much like living with someone, you have to think beyond yourself — I decided to get some of Harris’s input as well. His thoughts below:
“Living with you was not about living with someone of a different gender so much as it was about living with a friend. However, I did also see it as an opportunity to educate the people around me who were skeptical, scandalized, or suspicious (friends and family back home, mostly) about issues of gender and sexuality. Despite the fact that, to me, living with you was no different than living with a friend of any gender, there’s no denying that other people reacted differently to it.
My mother told me it was weird and implied that it was volatile and dangerous. I was asked, even by people close to me, with suspicion, what my relationship with you was. And of course, you and I have both had conversations with people who seem unable to believe that sex is not part of our relationship.
That all-gender housing is still met with much resistance and suspicion indicates to me a few things:
- that people are still unwilling to consider that homosexuality, bisexuality, & al. exist and that therefore same-gender housing is not exempt from the issues they imagine all-gender housing is subject to,
- that people also do not consider that trans people exist, for whom the concept of same-gender housing is complex or infeasible,
- that society has not let go of the Victorian notion that a man and a woman in a room together will inevitably have sex, and
- that many people still do not believe that college students are adults who are capable of making independent living decisions, regardless of whether sex and romance are involved.
I am grateful to have attended a college that is letting go of these outdated attitudes and to have had the opportunity to live with you. Living in a room with you was a lovely experience. I mean, we had a full tea drawer and weekly office hours with Apples to Apples! It doesn’t get much more pleasant than that. And, of course, it led to two more great years of platonically cohabitating.”
See? That kid. I lived with that kid and let me tell you, everything he does is thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’m so lucky to have spent so much quality time with him, and now I know you’re jealous that I did, too.
College is meant to be this eye-opening learning experience, but it goes way beyond that. It’s an educational experience for yourself to know how to be a person. The real world is much bigger and more complicated than college could ever begin to touch upon, so I like to think of many of the things I did here as a teaser for what the rest of the world can be like. Living with someone is a big deal, and my cohabiting experiences with Harris are nothing short of a miraculous opportunity that I am glad I was afforded.