University Recognizes a Third Gender: Neutral

unnamed-7For Rocko Gieselman, a student at the University of Vermont, the label “girl” or “boy” never felt right; “transgender” did. Credit Jacob Hannah for The New York Times

Rocko Gieselman looked like any other undergraduate at the University of Vermont but perhaps a little prettier, with pale freckles dancing across porcelain skin and bright blue eyes amplifying a broad smile. Black bra straps poked out from a faded black tank top emblazoned with the logo of the indie band Rubblebucket; a silver necklace with an anchor dangled over ample décolletage.

Gieselman, a 21-year-old senior majoring in gender studies, was chatting cheerfully from a futon, legs tucked sideways, knees forward. In the tidy, poster-filled apartment that Gieselman shares with a roommate near campus, we were discussing the dating landscape. Gieselman, who came out in seventh grade, blushed and smiled shyly: “My partner was born female, feels female. The partners I’m attracted to are usually feminine people.”

Gieselman, too, was born female, has a gentle disposition, and certainly appears feminine (save for a K. D. Lang cut). But Gieselman self-identifies not as a gay woman but as transgender. Unlike men and women who experience a mismatch between their bodies and their gender identities and take steps to align them, Gieselman accepts having a womanly body, and uses the term — along with “genderqueer” — to mean something else: a distinct third gender.

While a freshman at Burlington High School, Gieselman began feeling that the label “girl,” even “lesbian,” didn’t fit. “Every time someone used ‘she’ or ‘her’ to refer to me, it made this little tick in my head. Kind of nails-on-a-chalkboard is another way you can describe it. It just felt wrong. It was like, ‘Who are you talking to?’”

Being a boy didn’t feel right, either: “I had a couple months where I gave it a go. I tried to bind my chest with an Ace bandage every day. I wore some masculine clothes and told my friends to call me Emmett”…

…Gieselman dumped the girlie name bestowed at birth, asked friends and teachers to use Rocko, the tough-sounding nickname friends had come up with, and told people to use “they” instead of “he” or “she.” “They” has become an increasingly popular substitute for “he” or “she” in the transgender community, and the University of Vermont, a public institution of some 12,700 students, has agreed to use it…