I live in a co-ed cluster this year, and it's given me the opportunity to fall in love. No, not with one of my male cluster mates; rather, with my twenties, with mixed living and with the community we've formed.
A co-ed cluster comprises five double rooms and four single rooms around a common room. The doubles are sorted by sex, but the cluster as a whole isn't. Neither are the bathrooms—in a unanimous vote at the beginning of the year, we decided to make the bathrooms gender-neutral, in part because the cluster includes nine women and five men, and having nine women sharing one toilet and one shower wasn't anyone's idea of a good time. The arrangement took a while to adjust to—one night in early September, one of my male cluster mates stumbled backward out of the bathroom when he caught sight of me brushing my teeth—but we're all comfortable with each other by now.
Being comfortable with each other is one of the things I like best about the cluster. I like having a familiar group of people to come home to every night. I like walking in and knowing that I'll find my cluster mates studying or discussing dead languages or playing "Legend of Zelda" on the TV. I like the predictability, the familiarity and the rhythm of days.
Sometime around February or March, I realized that this is the Hogwarts common room I've always wanted. We're not witches and wizards, of course, though some of us might very much like to be. Our card game of choice is Bards Dispense Profanity rather than Exploding Snap, and we only have regular chess. But what I mean by the analogy is that, for once, I'm sharing a common living area with a lot of people and it feels like a community, not just a random group of people who happen to live in the same residence hall.
What does community feel like? Like getting ready for a shower, realizing I'm out of soap, and walking into the common room in a towel to ask if anyone has any I could use. Like not being sure who’s going to draw the next picture on the whiteboard on my door, but leaving the markers up anyway. Like keeping an electric kettle in the common room for anyone to use and trusting that nobody’s going to break it.
The opportunity to live in this kind of a community with both men and women is positively changing the way I view men. I've always found men frightening in the aggregate, even when I’ve been close to individuals. But living in close proximity to several men, some of whom I already knew well and others of whom I'd barely met before this year, has helped me become less nervous around men in general.
Yet for all that this cluster is an experiment in mixed living, it's not gender-neutral, and that distinction matters. For people who identify as transgender or non-binary, being able to live in gender-neutral housing, where they can room with someone of a different assigned sex than themselves, may be vital to their ability to live authentically. At present, Luther has one gender-neutral cluster in Farwell Hall and has set aside space for gender-neutral first-year housing in Brandt, although that space is not currently being used for that purpose.
There's been reluctance to advertise the new gender-neutral housing options—the current class of first-years didn't find out about Brandt's gender-neutral corridor until after housing applications were due—but there needn't be. Mixed housing can be life-changing for cisgender and transgender people alike. For trans people, mixed housing may be the only comfortable living arrangement available; for people like me, it may be an opportunity to develop comfort across gender barriers.
A major concern about gender-neutral or co-ed housing is always the potential for couples to live too close together. But people of any gender may date people of any gender, so the potential for couples to live too close to one another—if indeed a certain degree of proximity qualifies as "too close"—always exists. And what I really value about my co-ed cluster is not the opportunity to live close to the person I'm dating but rather the opportunity to live in a large, mixed group, most of whom chose to live together.
This is the love story I have to tell about my cluster: a story of things borrowed and things shared, of brushing my teeth to someone else's shower playlist, of towel-clad conversations, of card games and of whiteboards on doors. It's the latest chapter in my extended coming-of-age narrative, and it's one of the most casually pleasant. I'm going to miss this group next year.