Cal State Fullerton is known for its diversity. After all, 37.2 percent of CSUF students are Hispanic, 23.2 percent are White and 20.8 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. CSUF is also number one in California and fifth in the nation for awarding the most bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics. Students and faculty wander around campus comfortable in their own skin as passersby float past them unnoticed. But for a small community at CSUF, thinking about safety and experiencing microaggressions based on how they look are a part of everyday life at a campus that appears inclusive to everyone.
“A lot of people stare … I’ve had people point and laugh at me,” said Destiny Caro, a transgender student at CSUF.
This past semester has been increasingly tough for Caro, who has recently begun publicly presenting as male. In August, Caro started experimenting with his body and how he wanted to express himself. He decided to cut his hair short, grow his body hair and wear a breast binder. Going against society’s normative behaviors, however, can have its restrictions.
“Overall, I don’t really feel safe on campus,” Caro said.
At one point, Caro felt safe and free to dress how he desired on campus. But in September, he began to feel as if he did not belong at CSUF.
While searching for an open gender-neutral restroom in the Education Classroom building, Caro was directed to the women’s restroom by a faculty member and was subsequently confronted by a confused faculty member when Caro asked to use the restroom he was directed to. The faculty member, who will not be named due to an ongoing Title IX investigation, told Caro, “Well this is for only women. You have to use the men’s restroom.”
“At that point, it made me really confused. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere,” Caro said. “Like you don’t belong in the women’s restroom, you don’t belong in the men’s restroom.”
Caro felt the faculty members were telling him where to go without asking him what he needed, assigning a gender to him instead. When people look at him, Caro is aware that they see a girl. He learned that he has to verbally say he’s not a girl, and that scares him.
“That reaction is what I’m always scared of. It’s like, ‘What do you mean you’re not a girl? What are you, then?’” Caro said.
That reaction is equally terrifying to Caro’s partner of four years, Carlos Rodriguez, who identifies as a cisgender male, meaning he identifies as his biological sex.
“When I know Destiny is alone, I do tend to get a little worried,” said Rodriguez, a kinesiology major. “Because (of) everything you hear in the news that is constantly happening in the trans community, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Seeing Rodriguez support Destiny for the past four years is empowering, said Ashley Rojo, a psychology and sociology major at CSUF. Rodriguez was always there for Caro during the transition and provided him with nothing but support and optimism, she said.
“I think that’s really rare to find somebody like that that can be there for you,” Rojo said.
Since both Caro and Rodriguez’s families have a hard time understanding their lifestyle, the couple has chosen to live together. Both come from a traditional Mexican background where couples are expected to marry and have children of their own. With no plans to get married because the two don’t believe in marriage, Caro’s family finds it hard to understand why he and Rodriguez choose to be together.
“Just finding different ways of living and not feeling that we have to conform to a certain timeline is very liberating for us,” Caro said. “We feel like we can be ourselves.”
Caro releases the frustrations he has encountered within his family through outlets such as Pride Talk, in which he is a discussion facilitator and LGBTQ activist every Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. in the WoMen’s Center at CSUF. Members of the LGBTQ community constantly face questions such as, “How do I deal with these emotions? Who do I tell? Who will understand?” Caro said.
“You need that (support). Without support, it kind of feels like you don’t know where to go from here,” he said.
After encountering the bathroom discrimination at CSUF in September, Caro considered not returning in spring to take a break from stress.
“I fell behind in my classes,” Caro said. “It’s difficult and I don’t think the administration is realizing the experience of transgender people on campus.”
Caro, who was once homeless and unable to find a job because of the discrimination he experienced, feels that there are not enough resources on campus for the transgender community. He said the administration does not understand the many obstacles the community faces, on and off campus.
As a human services major, Caro is currently working with Associated Students, Inc. on a set of resolutions for the campus to begin including the transgender community. The set of resolutions will ask for self-identifying forms to allow students to choose what they wish to identify as and ask for more adequate Title IX training, specifically on transgender issues.
“I really hope that this campus, at some point, starts including trans students,” Caro said.