SOU student leads charge for gender-neutral acceptance

When Amiko-Gabriel Stocking was filling out his online housing application at Southern Oregon University last fall, the mandatory gender question stymied him. The only two options &

male or female &

did not describe him, but he couldn't submit the application without answering.

When he complained to the housing office, they made the question optional for him and added a third category &


Stocking, born Amy Nicole Stocking, does not identify as either a man or a woman and prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze," "zim" and "zir" rather than he, she, him or her. In print, Stocking requested the pronoun "he" be used to "mix things up a bit," and friends often refer to him as "Gabe."

Since enrolling at SOU, Stocking, 23, has encountered several gender roadblocks, but has been surprised at the willingness of the administration to work with him. In his final two years at the school, he plans to initiate changes to make it a safer campus for everyone.

"I've definitely done a lot of healing since I've come to Ashland and SOU," he said. "It's stable, and when I've had a problem, I've gone to the administration, and they've looked into it and took steps to fix it."

Stocking is regularly asked to sit on classroom panels about human sexuality and gender. He organized the campus National Intersex Day last year and is part of a movement to get more unisex bathrooms and a gender neutral residence hall with coed rooms on campus.

In his first English class at SOU, his professor Alma Rose Alvarez used his paper as an example on the acceptable use of alternative pronouns after she attended a conference on transgender, transsex and intersex people at the university.

While Stocking doesn't identify as male, female or intersex, he accepts any pronoun used to describe him.

"A lot of people say, 'Well, what are you really?'" Stocking said. "Well, I'm me and I don't go further than that because it doesn't matter."

And he is not afraid to teach people the use of alternative pronouns or engage in lengthy debate and dialogue about gender.

"What's great about Amiko is that she's really vocal," Alvarez said. "She's a great student, participates really well in discussion, so it's really hard not to get to know Amiko."

Out of the past

Growing up identifying as a girl, Stocking seemed to be just the opposite. He moved more than 30 times throughout California and Washington, suffering from extreme shyness and being frustrated at what seemed like arbitrary rules for girls &

no playing tag in a dress because it might get dirty, no climbing trees because he would get pitch in his hair.

the time he was eight years old, he was regularly tossed out of both boys and girls restrooms, being mistaken for the opposite gender. In high school, he changed his name to Amiko-Gabriel and decided he might be bisexual. He was attending a private Christian school at the time and was "extremely unacceptable" to himself, he said.

He left high school a year early and attempted suicide two different times. He earned a GED and started attending Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, where he tried identifying as a lesbian and later as a boy. He even got a friend to teach him how to lower his voice and walk like a boy.

"That didn't work, so I thought, 'Crap, I don't feel like a man or a woman,'" he said. "And that really scared me. At that point there were no other possibilities, so I just felt like a freak."

An assault at age 19, however, served as a catalyst to make him more assertive, he said, and eventually he began participating in panels in front of classmates and counselors.

He still did not feel particularly welcome, as attempts to organize a National Intersex Day were met with strong resistance. In one year, he filed three police reports for verbal harassment and attempted assault.

Since moving to SOU, much of that resistance has fallen away.

In addition to speaking on panels and organizing campus events, he also serves as an RA on an all-female floor he chose because he has breasts and thought it might make males uncomfortable.

He serves on the board of Oregon Action and plans to work with Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance which is considering a statewide student-led initiative to get gender-neutral housing on all public university campuses in Oregon.

Housing at SOU

If the campaign gains a strong following, the school would work to meet students' needs, said Jonathan Eldridge, vice president of student affairs at SOU.

"Obviously we want to make sure that we provide comfortable and appropriate accommodations for any and all students," he said.

Eldridge served as the dean of students at Lewis and Clark University when the school implemented gender neutral housing in 2005. Since that time, only one student has actually taken advantage of the offering, but the move sent the message of caring about its diverse student body, he said, a diversity that is present at SOU as well.

In a 2006 survey of the SOU student body, 6.3 percent of the student body identified as bisexual, 2.5 percent gay or lesbian, 2 percent unsure and 0.2 percent transgender, he said.

If students start pushing for specialized housing, Eldridge said he believes the school would be open to possibilities while being careful not to create a "cohabitation policy" for students in romantic relationships.

"What we don't want is to create a situation where in solving one problem we create another one," he said.

While at SOU, Stocking sees his mission as engaging students and the world as much as possible, whether about gender neutral housing or any other issue.

"Dialogue is the biggest way I'd like to make ripples in the world," he said. And although he's been on campus just shy of a year, the ripples are already forming.

"I'm starting to hear from people, 'I've heard of you before I even met you,'" he said. "I really kind of like it because I want to be a go-to person. I want people to know that they're not alone."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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