SingaporeUniversity dormitories give transgender students a great sense of security, but toilets...

University dormitories give transgender students a great sense of security, but toilets are a big problem

For transgender college students, being able to find a safe space in a campus dormitory gives them a “great sense of security,” but it’s not a given, and toilets are a major concern.

Elliot, a transgender male student in the English Department of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said: “Transgender people just want to use the toilet that matches their gender. There is no malice.”

Kieran Elodie Ng, a transgender female student in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at NTU, also said: “If I go to the men’s restroom, I worry about harassment. If I go to the women’s restroom, I also worry about harassment.”

CNA which spoke to several transgender students for its Insider series, said that they prefer to use gender-neutral toilets, otherwise they will try to endure it until they go home or return to the dormitory. Like Elliot, he will drink as little water as possible.

Kieran came out two months into college because she could no longer live in a boys dormitory, wear men’s clothes, and make people think she was a man for four years.

“I had panic attacks every day. I remember not wanting to step out of my dorm room at all.”

After coming out to family and friends in October 2020, she had to overcome other obstacles on campus, such as changing rooms.

It took five months to arrange a room change

She asked the dormitory office last February if trans students could change rooms because she wanted to move to the girls’ floor after being diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a doctor.

There is no progress on her request. After meeting with Victor Yeo, the vice provost in charge of student life, to discuss a research project in June last year, the other party said that she would talk to the dormitory office. She finally made the request five months later. Moved to a single room with a toilet in July last year.

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“It’s on a women’s floor, and I’m grateful for that. It really helps with anxiety and a fresh start.”

All four local universities told CNA Insider that they are committed to the well-being of their students, including transgender students. Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore also said they were committed to creating an environment of “respect” and “inclusiveness” on their campuses.  

In recent years, NTU’s campus dormitory office has handled several transgender students’ room-change applications.

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Kieran, who is also the president of Kaleidoscope, a support group for sexual minorities at NTU, estimates that there are 50 to 60 transgender students at NTU. Lune Loh, who founded TransNUS, a mutual support group for transgender students at NUS, said that NUS estimates that there are at least 10 to 20 transgender students.

Lune, an English literature and philosophy graduate who lives at Tembusu College, revealed that when she moved into the dormitory, a professor wrote to welcome her and said the college had a newly renovated gender-neutral toilet for her to use, which made her “quite happy.”

However, she pointed out that this toilet is open for public use and is easily dirty. Every time she has to take the elevator down several floors to use the toilet or even just absorb it, it is quite “troublesome”.

Every semester, she asks to change the dormitory room to the girls’ floor, but the request has never been granted.

Common misunderstanding

Clinical psychologist Soon Siew Peng said gender identity disorder (gender dysphoria) is a psychiatric condition with specific criteria and treatments.

For some, gender identity disorders can be alleviated through social transformation, such as name or pronoun changes, hairstyles and clothing choices, for some, she said; others may seek medical interventions such as hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery.

A sense of social identity, belonging and community in youth is important, she added.

The importance of school dormitories

As with cisgender students, living on campus is very important for trans students who would otherwise have to commute up to four hours a day. Living on campus also has a lot of social life, such as eating supper with classmates and participating in sports activities.

“I didn’t want to miss out on the experience because when I was in polytechnic I was depressed and anxious. I didn’t really have a social life,” Kieran said.

For students whose home circumstances are less than ideal, a residence hall can be a space to transition and express their gender identity.

Andy Winter, a 25-year-old transgender female student at NTU, said: “Having my own space gives me a great sense of security because I know I have a place to be fully myself.”

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