By Jasper Griswold, Columnist
Going back to college can cause many different kinds of emotions to different people. It could bring anxiety, excitement, nervousness, hope… but for some trans people, it brings a reprieve. For those trans folk, college is the only place where they’re allowed to be themselves. They may not be out at all at home, or they may have come out to their family, but they are still misgendered and deadnamed. A college campus is a more progressive environment and is oftentimes more accepting than the environment they have at home.
In my personal experience, I feel a lot more accepted in my identity in college. My pronouns are used a lot more often, and I’m only called by my name because no one knows the name I was given at birth. My family does try, but they still struggle sometimes. In college, I can wear a name and pronouns pin every day without it being anything strange. No one has to reteach themselves how to refer to me, to get themselves to stop using an old name and old pronouns and switch to new ones. Pronouns can be brought up when making an introduction to the class, during roll call, or simply when making a personal introduction to a classmate or a small group of classmates. And for the most part, students and professors are accepting and make a concerted effort to refer to trans students correctly.
Another positive aspect of returning to college is the ability to be surrounded by other trans people. Many trans people do not know any other trans people in real life outside of college, and the only spaces where they interact with other trans people are in college and online. It is always easier to have discussions when you’re in the same room as someone else. That way body language can be read, emotions can be inferred by the way they are speaking, and the discussion is in real time instead of at the speed of typing and sending messages. And of course, another student can physically be there to give hugs or other forms of physical contact to be comforting. I love my online friends dearly, but sometimes I just need a hug. This is certainly the case for many others. While it certainly feels nice to have support groups online to share stories and ask for advice, I personally feel a much greater sense of camaraderie with my fellow students with whom I can share a room.
Another way college can be exciting is something that can seem very simple – bathrooms. There are not a lot of all-gender bathrooms in the general public. And that makes going to the bathroom a struggle, and it requires a judgement call. Male or female? Which one feels safer? Which one feels like it fits better? For nonbinary students, neither could seem to fit. If they go in there, will other people be able to tell they are trans? One of the single most painful moments of my life was when I went into the men’s bathroom and another man walked in and saw me in there, so he checked the sign to make sure he was in the right bathroom. All in all, bathrooms can be a nightmare for trans folk. While TU isn’t perfect with its abundance of all-gender restrooms, it still has many more than most public places.
The college atmosphere is very refreshing compared to the typical home atmosphere. There has been a greater push for social acceptance in the formative years of much of the college populace. College campuses mostly have students in their late teens or twenties, who grew up learning about diversity and acceptance for people in the LGBTQ+ community. This makes the general population of the school more accepting of trans folk, and they often treat trans people like they would treat any other person. And even for those who weren’t raised to be accepting and inclusive, college is a place to learn. Not all of the learning in college is done in a classroom.
All in all, college is a positive place in the lives of many trans students. Here are some tips for keeping it that way:
- Tell professors your name and pronouns ahead of time. If you haven’t changed your name through the school already, they will only know to refer to you as the name in the software.
- If you haven’t already, consider joining a trans-inclusive group on campus. The counseling center has a support group for LGBTQ+ students, and there are four related clubs which are the Queer Student Union, GenderBLUR, In the Life, and Pride Mentors.
- However, do not limit yourself to only LGBTQ+ spaces. There are other student organizations, sports, and even Greek life to choose from.
- Try to open up to people and make a few LGBTQ+ friends. The previous tip helps with this! I have a friend, Ray, that is only out on campus, but in another college. She says school itself is fine, but she has a problem in that she doesn’t really have any friends. Having a friend group will make college a much more positive experience.
- Know your rights on and off campus. A professor could always say something transphobic and make you uncomfortable, or something else could go wrong. Make sure you know who to contact if this happens. The Center for Student Diversity could help steer you in the right direction.
- Lastly, always remember that you are not alone. At least one person understands you and what you are going through. I implore you to go find them.