Ari Kravitz is a student in the Master of Nursing program at Ohio State who transitioned into a man during his undergraduate years as an environmental public health major. When Ari entered OSU as a freshman from Cincinnati, though, he hadn’t yet considered himself a trans male.
“I first started questioning my gender identity in high school,” he told me, “but the whole process of questioning and getting to where I am now took about five years. I didn’t come out [as trans] and start taking hormones until my sophomore year of college–pretty late in my sophomore year.”
Kravitz went through the random roommate process when he entered Ohio State, and, like anyone who’s had a roommate gone wrong, he can attest to the shortcomings of the roommate selection process. But for trans and non-binary students, the student housing process presents another unique set of problems. The questionnaire, according to Kravitz, is not optimized for ensuring that a trans or non-binary student has an appropriate roommate. And while there are gender-inclusive housing options at Ohio State, these options happen to be the most expensive ones, so the cost becomes prohibitive for many students.
“I did my entire first two years at Ohio State in Morrill Tower,” he told me. Recalling one of the most comically cramped residence halls on campus, I asked how his experience was. His concerns didn’t have to do with the severe lack of personal space, but rather his roommates.
“Living in a suite with nine girls was… it was something that made me think…” I suggested like one of them wasn’t exactly like the rest, and he agreed that the sentiment was accurate.
“In the beginning, I identified as a lesbian,” he laughed. “I knew I wasn’t a straight girl, I knew I was queer in some way, and I had a group of lesbian friends and I kind of thought, ‘Well, close enough?’”
While living in the dorms for his first two years, Kravitz continued to explore his uncertainties about his gender, which was not always met well by his roommates. “I had one roommate who was very not-okay with that. She would put up a curtain whenever she was changing. Even though she changed in front of [her] guy friends all the time? Like, I don’t wanna watch you change, straight girl! Eventually I got a new roommate because she threatened me. Well, her friend did. They both thought I was asleep but I was awake listening and her friend made a threat about me.”
Kravitz takes issue with how difficult it is for trans and non-binary students to live with someone who makes them feel unsafe. “The university will say something like, ‘Living with someone different from you is a learning experience,’ but I don’t think the university should be using its students as learning experiences like that.”
Buckeyes have been preached the whole learning-outside-
the-classroom bit since they first came to campus, but Kravitz sees a clear line that, to him, the university unintentionally ignores. Respecting a difference of moral opinion can be a perfectly fine conversation in the classroom, but when it’s intertwined with home life, serious problems erupt.
He recalls firmly, “I should never have had to live with someone who feels hateful or bigoted towards me like that. A difference of opinion is not the same thing as that.”
We moved on from the student housing problems that Kravitz and many LGBTQ students face to talk more about his transitioning process. I wanted to know any significant events that he felt were important to his transition. He had a few answers for that.
“Something I would call a pivotal experience for me was during my sophomore year. I was at a Trans*Mission meeting and they had a speaker from Equitas there who was talking about hormones and hormone therapy. They were describing the side effects of estrogen in the body and I remember hearing them and thinking, ‘Hmm, I’ve had all of those. Maybe the hormone that my body naturally produces isn’t right for me.’ That was when I realized that I could actually do something about what I was feeling, that there was a solution and it was something I could do.”
Another big moment for Kravitz came in November 2016. “Oddly enough,” he said laughing, “when Trump got elected, that was a big moment to me.” He clarified, saying, “Because I was afraid that, if I waited too long, I might lose access to a lot of resources and treatments that I needed. So when I got to the point where I knew I was trans, and then Trump got elected, that actually expedited the process for me.”
I asked Ari how difficult or easy OSU made the process for him. Fortunately, aside from the student housing problems, OSU’s resources and staff members have been mostly helpful for him.
“I think if I didn’t go to OSU, I would not have transitioned and I would not be as happy as I am now,” he told me. “I used Student Legal Services for the legal name change. They were great, they were like, ‘Yeah, we’ve done this a million times. Just fill these out.’ They helped me with all of the paperwork and even publishing it in a newspaper because that’s a thing in Ohio. If you change your name legally, you have to publish it in a newspaper for it to be verified. They got me through that really easily.”
Kravitz went to Columbus’ own LGBTQ-focused healthcare provider, Equitas, for hormone therapy, and he had only positive things to say about the Columbus trans community and healthcare options. “Columbus has probably the most connected trans community in Ohio. I’ve never been to Cleveland–I know they have the Clinic up there–but in Cincinnati, where I’m from, the community’s not as close, and there’s really only one option that I know of for trans health, which is Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.”
Kravitz considers himself extremely lucky not to have experienced any blatant disrespect by fellow students outside of dorm life. While he’s had a few awkward and embarrassing interactions with well-meaning students and professors, the most persistent problems he’s faced and continues to face are incorrect pronoun use and clerical problems with his legal name on class rosters and at Wilce Student Health Center. All-in-all, he’s optimistic about the future for trans acceptance and equality at OSU. Simple and practical areas for improvement, he says, would be an option for your preferred name and pronouns on BuckeyeLink and to be used on class rosters and more training for professors, especially in STEM departments.
When it came to advice for other trans Buckeyes, Kravitz encourages students to seek help and support from the city of Columbus as much as they would from the university.
“OSU has a big city around it, so there are a lot people you can meet. There’s clubs you can go to; Trans*Mission is a great place to learn, and there’s Equitas for trans health.”
For the more student-oriented side of things at OSU, Kravitz encourages trans students to be confident and talkative. He spoke realistically about how no one can help or understand if you don’t tell them first.
“Tell your RA and hall director about yourself. They’re supposed to be your allies. If your RA isn’t doing their job, go to your hall director. Don’t be afraid to use BART (Bias Assessment and Response Team) reports. If you experience bias, or if you see someone experiencing bias, report it. And go to your professors on the first day and talk to them so they understand and you get called by the right name and pronouns. Basically, don’t not tell anyone anything. It can be tempting, but it’s so much easier to explain early on when you have a chance.”
Lastly, he added warmly, “You’re supposed to be here. You’re allowed to be here. You’re supposed to be who you are, and you should be who you are. And don’t let anyone try to take that away from you. •
Header photo by Adam Fakult.