First openly transgender man in UO Greek Life transitions Delta Upsilon style
The fall 2018 rush season is almost over, and like many fraternity members, sophomore Oliver Cochener is looking forward to more free time. Even though the process can be stressful, he remembers fondly the time he spent rushing in fall 2017 and views it as a major hurdle he overcame.
“I wanted to see if it was possible to be in a fraternity,” Cochener said.
Cochener is a transgender man. He began his transition around age 14 in his Kansas hometown. Because he grew up in a more conservative environment, he experienced at a young age the rejection that is part of being in the transgender community. Therefore, he was happy to be accepted into the University of Oregon Delta Upsilon fraternity, becoming the first openly transgender man in UO’s history to be let into a social fraternity.
Cochener grew up as an only child in the heart of the “bible belt.” His parents divorced early on in his childhood and he moved with his father to Kansas City. Even though he was born as a female, Cochener remembers feeling much more comfortable amongst boys than around girls.
His body began developing earlier than others and he became more uncomfortable in his own skin. Though he didn’t know anyone transgender at the time, he vaguely remembers hearing something about the LGBTQIA community in the news one time, which prompted him to begin looking up transgender stories online. A few months later, he came out to his aunt who lives in Portland, Oregon — he said she is progressive.
“I knew that she was generally a fairly accepting person, and I wasn’t completely sure of my identity yet,” Cochener said.
He said that at first he was about 80 percent sure he was transgender. According to Cochener, this is relatively common for people with gender dysphoria to feel, though every transgender person’s transition experience is different.
“Being transgender is something where there’s very few people who completely understand,” Cochener said. “It’s hard to understand something that you aren’t actively doing or pursuing.”
Yet Cochener decided to take the “leap of faith” and begin his transitioning process as soon as he could. Looking back at it, he’s really glad he did because he’s much happier now, he said. He lives in the attic room of the DU house with his pet fire ball python Gerald, and, like many other students, has a lot on his plate. He juggles human physiology prerequisite classes, colorguard practice, spending time with his girlfriend, band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi meetings and DU meetings.
Because he’s so busy, Cochener occasionally forgets to take his testosterone shot — which he administers to himself in his thigh once a week. He said it’s super painful, but if he forgets, he’ll become low energy, depressed and have little to no appetite.
The DU president, Bryant Mclaughlin, has enjoyed learning about what it’s like to be transgender from Cochener, who is the first member of the transgender community that Mclaughlin has met. He remembers when Cochener first rushed and told fraternity members right away that he was a transgender man.
“He brought up that he was going through a hormone change and when we asked why, he said he was transgender,” Mclaughlin said. “We didn’t think much of it, obviously.”
Cochener said that he wanted to be up front from the start in order to make sure that the fraternity would be accepting before he went through the whole rush process. In addition, he did research on each of the fraternities at UO before rushing. He found that DU and DTD (Delta Tau Delta) were the only fraternities that specifically stated transgender acceptance in their national bylaws. Cochener immediately said yes when DU offered him a bid because he said he melded nicely with its members — his now-brethren.
“I like how diverse the group is,” Cochener said. “There’s pretty much every type of person in DU.”
DU’s accepting nature is a stark contrast from the environment at Cochener’s high school in Kansas, he said, where even the authority figures rejected him.
“I was forced to use a different bathroom than everyone else,” Cochener said. “And I was kicked out of choir.”
The principal’s excuse for this treatment was that he didn’t want to be liable for anything that might happen to Cochener while he was transitioning. Cochener also said that many teachers refused to call him by his preferred name and pronouns, and he had to fight to have “Oliver” show up on his high school transcript. The only teacher that advocated for him was his swim instructor, who let him switch from the girl’s team to the boy’s team.
Cochener knew that he would experience a lot of backlash from the start, so none of this surprised him. He saw how other people in the LGBTQIA community were treated by his school.
“They outed one student to his parents, who then beat the kid up and kicked him out of the house,” Cochener said.
Cochener didn’t let his high school experience weigh him down — actually, he’s grown several inches since then. Cochener moved to Oregon right after high school graduation to be closer to his aunt, the only member in his family he still talks to. He’s now an Oregon resident, but he still has to go back to Kansas at some point to change the name on his birth certificate. He’s dreading it, he said, having not gone back to Kansas since he first left. He would much rather just stay here, where he is accepted as he is. Mclaughlin said that DU’s happy to have him.
“He’s very busy so he can’t come to all the events — but when he’s there he’s very present, very talkative, and he tries to come when he can, which is all I can ask for,” Mclaughlin said.
The men have seen no evidence of discrimination against transgender men in UO fraternities. They both hope that transgender people will feel more comfortable joining if they think Greek life is right for them.
“I think joining a fraternity depends on the person, whether your transgender or cisgender,” Cochener said. “Fraternity and sorority life is something to check out and if it’s for you, it’s for you, and if it’s not, that’s okay.”