two suggestions, and a criticism
|Jul 17||Public post|| 13||4|
Last month, I put out a call on Twitter to trans and non-binary people who had either attended, or were currently attending, college or grad school, asking them to send me anecdotes about their experiences of higher education. My stated intention was to publish a synthetic account of what college and grad school can be like for trans people, and I promised the respondents absolute anonymity in anything I published. I am not a sociologist, and I don’t claim a scientific basis for this work. For those interested in a detailed, scholarly treatment of the themes I’m describing here, I wholeheartedly recommend Z Nicolazzo’s pathbreaking book Trans* in College (2016). My hope for this work is rather that it offers greater insight into the experiences that trans people face in schools - experiences that, even if we know what they are like on paper, we all too rarely hear described in any detail.
I received twenty-one detailed narratives over email, and fifty detailed narratives over my Twitter direct messaging service, so the following account is based on an assessment of seventy-one unique narratives. A larger number of people DM-ed me to tell me that they planned to send emails, but it’s difficult to know how many people did that and then didn’t follow it up, because the Twitter accounts and email accounts frequently had different names or details attached to them. I’m not going to further disclose numerical information about the respondents, mostly because I didn’t collect it systematically. I asked people to send in stories and narratives, and didn’t include the kinds of questions one would need to make any kind of quantitative sociological argument. I don’t know what percentage of respondents were trans men, trans women, and non-binary, for instance (though several people mentioned their particular identities).
Since I didn’t collect that information systematically, some responses that I have included will sometimes seem to make general observations about trans and non-binary people as a whole, while others will talk specifically about the interests of a smaller group within that field, like “non binary people” or “trans men.” Where the correspondent did not state their identity specifically, I didn’t speculate – and so I ignored any evidence of gender identity (including: the name attached to the email account; the avatar attached to the Twitter account; even the correspondent’s stated pronouns) when a named identity was not specifically disclosed. That is, if I say below that “a trans woman wrote [x] to me,” it is because the person who wrote [x] has described herself as “a trans woman,” and not for any other reason.
Likewise, while some people mentioned the names of the schools they attended or had attended, many did not, and I have no way of estimating most of that information. I will say, however, that I heard from college students and graduates; students at and graduates of professional schools and graduate program; from people associated with small liberal arts colleges (SLACs), including women’s colleges; major (“Research 1”) universities; and a range of large public and private institutions; from students and graduates of educational institutions in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australasia. I’m not going to name any of the institutions– whether they were singled out for particular praise or criticism. Nor can I, on the strength of the evidence I’ve seen, generalize about whether some kinds of institution handle this topic better than others – on the contrary, I’ve been struck most of all by the uniformity of the evidence, across different kinds of schools, from different kinds of people.
I should be clear about what the synthesis contained below is intended to achieve, and perhaps I should be even more clear about what I believe it can’t achieve. This latter goal seems especially important to me, since my initial call was criticized by some people on Twitter, who saw it as a futile attempt by a particularly privileged trans person to tell cis people what they already know. I certainly acknowledge the extraordinary institutional privilege that I bear as a tenured trans woman, and I wouldn’t want anyone reading this essay to believe that it substitutes for the direct activism and self-advocacy of trans student and staff groups. I don’t believe that meaningful institutional change is brought about solely by the kind of report I’m about to give. Nor does anything I report here indicate a lack of commitment to institutional change on the part of the students and graduates who have written to me. On the contrary, their grassroots activism is most apparent, as is the value of unionization for student workers, whether bargaining for healthcare provision for trans students, mobilizing against anti-trans activists on campus, or developing grievance procedures for trans and non-binary workers.
Rather, I think that this document can exist to rebut a set of claims, made in public and in private, about the experiences of trans students. And I think that two big conclusions can be derived from the seventy-one testimonies I’ve had the opportunity to read. These are:
(a) some of the biggest challenges trans students face are infrastructural, both bricks-and-mortar structures (the housing of trans students; bathroom facilities), and digital architecture (course information software, transcripts, diplomas and email databases all routinely misidentify students);
(b) an overwhelming majority of students and graduates described the experience of being misgendered and/or deadnamed by their professors as an extremely common experience.
The first of these conclusions requires significant institutional intervention at every scale. It was, indeed, one of the main subjects I raised in an interview I gave for a (paywalled, sadly) article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reforming software architecture, for example, is by no means a dramatic goal, but throughout so many of the letters I received, I was struck by the real grief and disappointment, as well as the serious material consequences, occasioned by the failures of data management platforms to handle trans students and workers.
The second conclusion flatly contradicts the commonly-held notion that institutions of higher education are places where teachers have been hammered into compliance by over-mighty Title IX offices and trans-affirming policies. On the contrary: almost all the trans people who wrote to me described the experience of being misgendered by their advisors as absolutely unremarkable and commonplace.
Neither of these conclusions surprised me greatly – indeed, one downside of the congruity of the responses is that I’ll not have much information (though I think there’s some) that will surprise anyone with experience of being trans at college or graduate school. But, on the other hand, I do think there’s real value in hearing stories of what it feels like to be misgendered or deadnamed, for example – stories that are usually recited from the perspective of the person (generally presumed blameless) who is doing the deadnaming or misgendering.
I would like to thank here, as I hope I thanked each individual respondent over email, all the students and graduates who wrote to me to share their experiences. I am struck by the honesty, wit, and resilience of all. If I neglected to email you back, I am sorry - please know that I am moved by the trust you have placed in me by sharing these experiences, and deeply conscious of my responsibilities to ensure your anonymity and protection above all things.
* * *
Before I go on, a note on why I decided to solicit this information. It is a topic on which the political right has been agitating for decades, and which has recently led to their targeting trans students: the difference between academic freedom and free speech. Anti-trans academics who claim that their rights are being infringed are heard far more frequently in the mainstream media than are the students who are apparently doing the infringing. That imbalance needs correcting.
Specifically, I decided to ask for this information in response to a letter by a group of British academics entitled “Stonewall Is Stifling Academia,” written by the anti-trans campaigner Kathleen Stock and published on June 16th in the Sunday Times, accompanied by a story under the headline “Stonewall Is Using Its Power to Stifle Trans Debate, Say Top Academics.” The letter and accompanying article make the claim that training for faculty provided by the LGBT advocacy organization Stonewall is “a threat to academic freedom.” These statements were roundly condemned by UNISON and other teachers’ unions, and were met by a counter-letter written by Caroline Dodds Pennock, and signed by more than 3600 academics (including me).
On July 6th, Stock recapitulated her argument against Stonewall guidelines in an extended essay for the right-wing journal Quillette. Here, however, her argument was slightly different, as the title of the essay – “Stonewall’s LGBT Guidance Is Limiting the Free Speech of Gender Critical Academics” – makes clear. To readers outside the academy, the difference between “academic freedom” (as the objection was framed in the original letter and article) and “free speech” (as Stock reframed it for Quillette) might seem, um, academic. But it’s significant, and the distinction between the two is vital to understanding the value of either, as is demonstrated in a couple of recent books by Hank Reichman (the Chair of the American Association of University Professors’ committee on academic freedom) and Joan Wallach Scott (a longstanding member of that committee).
Put simply, the difference is between a collective freedom to think, write, and publish unencumbered by external interference, and an individual freedom to say whatever one wishes. The former, academic freedom, is violated when scholars are forbidden from conducting and publishing their research. (It is not, obviously, obstructed when scholars publish their work freely, and the work is not well received.) The latter, free speech, is an abstract individual right routinely held in contention with many others – it is compromised but not violated, for example, when codes prohibiting sexual harassment are enforced. It is a generally established principle - established, indeed, primarily through the institution-building work of feminist legal scholars and activists over the last century - that “free speech” should be deprioritized in policies on sexual harassment.
In other words, academic freedom is a value of deep institutional importance to the independence of the University from entrenched power. Free speech demands no such institutional defense, and is rightly deprioritized when in conflict with other interests such as equity of access to education, or the health and wellbeing of students. As Scott in particular argues, the interests of academic freedom and free speech may converge, but there are times – as, for example, when the federal government threatens to demand “ideological diversity in hiring” – when the collective interests of the University are profoundly at odds with the individual’s right to say whatever he wants to say.
Stonewall training that requires staff to use appropriate names and pronouns for trans students is manifestly an issue of free speech (and therefore legitimately compromised in the collective interest of the academic community) and not at all an issue of academic freedom. I have written Twitter threads on this topic here, here, and here. And I published an essay on the political context in which this debate takes place last year, which can be found here.
Stock is quite right then, in a sense, to abandon for her Quillette headline the earlier claim that her academic freedom is threatened by Stonewall codes of conduct – as is perfectly apparent, nobody is stopping her or anyone else from thinking or publishing their ideas about trans people. The rights of gender critical philosophers, in this respect, are unimpeachable – as, of course, are the rights of editorial boards who wish to exclude from their number someone whose scholarship they find to contravene their values; the rights of students to protest their professors’ published work, and the rights of scholarly communities to select speakers whose views they wish to hear. These consequences are no more evidence that academic freedom has been violated, than one’s preferred candidate losing an election would be evidence of electoral malpractice. The gender critical academics’ views aren’t being censored; their work in the field is not well respected. As a result, these academics have redirected their attention from disputing with their colleagues, to publicly attempting to undermine their students. Hence they don’t complain about the theoretical underpinnings of the Stonewall guidelines – which would be the legitimate remit of academic freedom – but the duty of colleges and universities to protect students from abusive treatment.
What is at issue here is the unprecedented attempt by gender critical academics – an attempt that, in the Quillette essay, Stock seemed to have quietly abandoned – to bring the dignified treatment of students under the rubric of academic freedom. And the Quillette essay does not drop the claim from the body paragraphs - Stock, indeed, returns to claim that attempts to ensure equitable standards of address for trans students have had the effect of “curtail[ing] academic freedom.” So there is no reason not to remain vigilant on the topic. The attempt by a minority of British professors to assert a right to choose their students’ names and pronouns derives from a profound misunderstanding of the traditions of higher education, and is an attempt to dignify forms of discourse that require no other name than “abuse.”
What follows are stories from seventy-one trans people, many of whom found their experiences of higher education to be thrilling, enabling, and a source of community and strength. But almost all of whom were sometimes subject to this kind of abuse – sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately; sometimes occasionally and sometimes consistently. To listen to trans students and graduates is to be sure that, whatever the British gender critical academics argue, the training of the professoriate on this issue is woefully inadequate. It does not seem to have functioned correctly in the vast majority of cases. It probably goes without saying, but below are first-hand narratives of experiences of transphobia, some of which are likely to be painful to read.
* * *
Various questions of data management were at the core of my of the responses I read. One student spoke for many others when saying: “the systems that universities use for admin are often total bullshit and they need streamlining.”
The question of how colleges and universities maintain and use data on trans students is one that trans students often encounter before arriving at college. One Black non-binary trans student, for example, found that their school “listed gender statistics – “this school is X% men and X% women” before arriving, and realized that non-binary students were either not present or not counted. Another observed that “trans male students aren’t allowed to host prospective students, are never included in promotional materials for the college.”
Those who transition while at college frequently find the task difficult or insulting, perhaps deliberately so. One person reports, “when I was changing my name in the campus system, I had to go to disability services”; another “had [their] Mx. Prefix replaced with Ms. by the ethics board” when submitting work. Many respondents reported that it has been “a headache to find all the places I needed to change my information on campus,” and indeed sometimes it seems as though there is no way to correct the information. One person reports, for example, that they experienced “mix ups with my name, gender and pronouns on documents, university accounts and from staff across the board. This occurred despite providing the university with my change of name documents and my passport with my updated gender marker at the start of my transition.” A number of students reported that their colleges’ “photo ID policy” forcibly “outed” them.
One transgender man observed that his college “had also not implemented any administrative system for trans students to basically register with names besides their legal names.” Another writes “every now and then I get emails addressed to my deadname because they do have to keep my legal name on file.” Another reports that at their college, “diplomas are required to be made in the legal name of the student.” Many trans people decide not to change their name legally at once – among this group, for example, are many migrant and undocumented trans people for whom legal name changes are either impossible or potentially dangerous. For this reason, one respondent, a trans man, expressed his relief that “this year we gained the ability to change our gender in the uni system without having to sign a legal declaration.” This change was apparently brought about by the threat of legal action.
Still, the evidence I have collected suggests that even students who do change their names and gender markers legally are unlikely to have their new identities respected by their colleges and universities.
“My university has a preferred name policy, but it's inconsistent, incomplete, and not clearly communicated. I was deadnamed in a number of ways that were unnecessary and humiliated. In particular, my (then legal) deadname was printed on my students’ schedules despite my full time presentation as a woman […]. Even after my legal name change, I find my deadname still pops up in odd places on documents and communication from time to time.”
The fact that colleges and universities maintain this information threatens students’ wellbeing: one person reported that someone had used university resources to “sort-of stalk me to find out my deadname.” Many more reported their distress and disappointment to find their deadnames printed on their college diplomas, and at other occasions of public celebration. One transgender man wrote:
“The most egregious thing that happened was my deadname being printed in the graduation program. This happened to at least one other trans student that I know of (including one who has been out since his freshman year). Our university’s official policy is that your preferred name can appear everywhere except payroll and on your diploma. I was emailed back in January because my preferred name in the system is listed as something other than my legal name, being invited to share how I wanted my name to appear in the university program. I emailed back before their deadline, as I was instructed, specifying how I wanted my name to appear in the program. In March, every graduating student was sent an email asking them to record the pronunciation of their name. I saw that my name was still listed as my deadname. I emailed them, asking if there was an issue with my preferred name appearing in the program. I got a response assuring me that it was just appearing wrong online, but that it would appear properly in the program. It did not. I was listed in the program five different times, for different degrees/honors/etc., and the only place my preferred name was mentioned was for [Greek organization], and it still appeared in quotations between my old first name and my surname. - I filed for a legal name change on [date], and due to restructuring/incompetence on part of the Superior Court of [State], it took until [six months later] for a judge to sign off on the order. I was in communication with the university registrar about the delay as soon as I realized it would be more than six weeks, to ask if it would be possible to hold off printing my diploma until the name change order was signed, or if the initial paperwork I filed would be sufficient evidence of the name change. The answer was no: they were willing to wait until a couple days before graduation to print my diploma, but no longer, so now I’m going to have to pay $50 for a new one. The university issues new diplomas all the time and I never received a satisfactory explanation for why it would be a problem to hold off printing mine and mailing it, as is done with many other diplomas. If you don’t attend the graduation ceremony, your diplomas is mailed for free, and I assume their printer works year-round.”
Some of the problems of data management are specific to email. One trans femme describes being unable to change the name on her email account as “a constant punch in the gut,” adding that she “could send emails with [her] correct name through thunderbird, but not the official web client.” One trans student described a distinctive problem: when arriving at college, they were assigned an electronic ID based on their initials. This person was, at the time of arrival, married, and had changed their name (and therefore initials) as a result. Later, this person’s relationship ended, and “I feel a little stab every time I see it, because I was in an abusive relationship with those initials.”
Other reporters described encountering “hostility” from administrative and academic staff responsible for facilitating changes in metadata. Others report condescending responses from “student health insurance plan staff” who “aren’t very informed on what’s covered,” and “slow” academic administrators with little experience handling trans issues. Sometimes the resistance from personnel entails significant violations of trust: one trans masc person reported that “a trans guy friend of mine had his name and pronouns forcibly changed by an editor of a story in the college’s alum newsletter after they had already sent him the “final” proof.”
Two respondents mentioned some recent salutary developments from their colleges. One described course information software that “uses a pronoun change form that's thorough and complex, and allows students to choose which pronouns their parents see vs. what their teachers see”; the other describes “a feature where you can add your name and pronouns so that teachers and admins won’t see your deadname.”
* * *
Many trans and non-binary students reported challenges finding built environments where they could feel safe at college. “They keep housing me with men,” wrote one trans woman; another trans woman reported that, despite being roomed with “transphobic students,” her administrators “weren’t, in general, willing to cut me a whole lot of slack because I hadn’t legally changed my gender marker.” A trans man reported being “placed on an all-girls floor even though I stated clearly on my housing form that I’m a trans guy.” Another student described the non-accommodation of trans students as an official policy: “my school matches roommate based on assigned sex, and refuses to accommodate trans students.” One more reports, “The housing system is very alienating to trans students, as well: the dorms are self-governing to an extent and create their own guest policies, some of which alienate trans masculine students by requiring students to report guests only when they’re men.” Lastly, one trans masc non-binary student offers a candid assessment of their college’s potential for growth: “we will literally never have gender neutral student housing, because the Board of Regents will pull uni funding for any dorm where male and female students use the same restroom. The newest dorms are all single-person locking shower stalls & toilets that open onto a row of sinks, but because of that edict they're all labeled M or F.”
A handful of students reported problems with gender neutral restroom facilities, noting that there were too few overall, and that they were often concentrated in new buildings. One non-binary student wrote:
“There are like 3 gender neutral bathrooms on my side of campus, they’re all the accessible bathrooms, 2 of them have wheelchair access buttons that unlock the locked doors so they're not safe, and they're mostly used (as far as I can tell) by cis boys who want to shit and don’t want to do it where other men might be aware of that. It’s a miracle I haven’t had a uti yet.”
Many students wrote with great enthusiasm about LGBTQ support centers on campus, which provide trans students with community and guidance. One writes that “younger uni empoyees and employees who were queer or allies were actually pretty great”; another says “the campus LGBT centers at two of the institutions where I experienced […] discrimination were amazing”; another writes that “the gender equality center is really working to help students and we have queer profs and Pride programming.” Another describes the vibe at the LGBTQ center as “quite tumblr but very supportive.” Students reported valuing the opportunity to invite speakers and guests themselves, though some report a wish that more resources for such programming were available.
One wrote that there is a “small but quite mighty trans presence on campus,” adding that there “is an umbrella organization for all trans students, along with separate groups for trans Latinx students, trans students of pan-Asian descent, and black trans students.” This is not always the norm. One respondent wrote of the LGBTQ center that “many of the QPOC on campus don’t feel comfortable there, and establishing a QPOC-specific space has historically not been super successful.” And a number of respondents reported either that “no dedicated space or group for trans people on campus, and no designated LGBT space” existed, or that such centers were under financial or political threat. One mentioned that their “Gender Equality Center” “only gets half the uni funding of any other affinity group.”
A number of students wrote to express their dismay at the poverty of counselling resources for trans students. One wrote:
“When I finally went to the school therapist and broke down and confessed, she asked for my chosen name, then proceeded to tell me that I wasn't trans, I just needed to learn how to be content with the “woman’s body” god gave me. This triggered the worst disassociative episode of my life, where I basically have no memory of what the following 6 hours of my life were like. I couldn't even get out of bed the anxiety was so bad.”
* * *
A large majority of respondents – close to all - explicitly reported experiences with “deadnaming” and “misgendering” by their academic advisors – their professors and mentors. Some of these instances were “deliberate,” “malicious,” “continued,” or “transphobic,” while others were merely “ignorant” or “accidental.” One respondent reported having been taught by two kinds of teacher: “profs who never asked for pronouns and always misgendered me, and profs who asked for pronouns but would still misgender me every time and apologize every time under the guise of ‘trying their best’.” Sometimes, misgendering is part of a pattern of “sexual harassment from professors,” for example, “repeatedly staring at my breasts/crotch while talking one-on-one and while giving lectures.”
Respondents talked a lot about figurative and jokey evocations of trans people in class. One trans woman reported a lab class in which a professor mimicked “asking lab mice and rats about their preferred gender.” Another described a visiting speaker joking about making “trans mosquitoes” by introducing cross-sexed genetic matter. Both these reporters recalled the jokes eliciting laughter from the student body – in one case, the entire room (“100 graduate students, postgraduate researchers, and faculty, all of whom actively conduct biomedical research”) laughed. Another correspondent experienced a teacher “offering up trans people as like a debatable subject while students laughed.” Another reporter mentioned a male professor discussing his admiration for Germaine Greer, claiming that his admiration for her had been censored, and adding that “just because you lop your dick off doesn't make you a woman.” Another reported that the prominent public anti-trans position of a senior scholar in their field “specifically sent me back in the closet.”
More generally, though, I was struck by how infrequently trans students directly referred to campus invitations being extended to controversial anti-trans speakers, perhaps because this issue is already so widely discussed. The one counterexample was a student who objected to a speaker who argued that “afab trans folks have internalised misogyny,” and the reason for their objection was not the speaker herself, but the fact that “the Zapatista society were stopped from protesting” the event. Another reported a failure of leadership by campus administrators: “when Conservative groups attacked the college for enrolling a trans student, the President said publicly “Well, we're an educational institution, so we're not allowed to prevent anyone from attending.””
A trans woman reports, “[the chair of my dissertation committee] misgendered me twice during my proposal defense and I was too stressed and freaked out to correct him.” Many emails mentioned the difficulties of being deadnamed or misgendered by one’s direct supervisor, especially those students who work campus jobs. One reported “having my old name on my office door, on course information, etc,” a year after transition. Sometimes being misgendered at a key moment in one’s school career throws students into emotional disarray at an inopportune moment. A transfem student who had worked as a peer supporter wrote:
“In April I had one student who as far as I could tell was purposely misgendering me. After I confronted her about it and she emailed my supervisor saying I was “violent and aggressive” and referred to me as my deadname. My supervisor contacted my mother who I’m not on speaking terms with before I had heard about any of this. Eventually I had to have a meeting with my boss and my boss’s boss about it. Throughout they continually misgendered me despite my constant objection. Both of these people were cishet and at one point said to me “it’s hard for us to see you as not a man”. Then they fired me.”
Trans antagonist professors seem to exist in a range of disciplines – from the rat-baiting scientist to “English professors who prioritized ‘they is a plural word!’” over the stipulations of their non-binary students; statisticians who “gloss over” the casual binary sexism of many statistical data collection methods.
A trans masc student described encountering problems from the “old guard,” while another trans masc student reported a “mixed bag with professors respecting or remembering pronouns, even (especially?) the queer ones who make a point of liking me/my work.” Along similar lines, a grad student reports a queer studies seminar in which the single week on trans issues was dedicated to the scholarship of a controversial and (to the respondent’s mind) outdated scholar, leading to the conclusion “everyone’s a bit trans, really.” To the trans student (who was not out to classmates or instructors), that remark sounded censorious rather than liberatory.
Nonetheless, some students recall empowering and engaging encounters both with faculty and fellow students. I was moved by the following two stories especially:
“I was extremely lucky in that one of the classes requiring me to participate using the online platform was “Gay Male Writers”, and the professor was an unapologetic shit kicker […]. He had been working there a good few years, was tenured, and had gotten some fat grants for the university. I explained the situation to him, and he immediately walked down to admin with me. Before we got there he took a moment to asked how involved in the interaction I was, and if I wanted him to take the lead. I decided to stand back and let him work. I identified the supervisor I spoke with, and he gave her what for. I don’t know what was said, but by the end of it my name was changed on the online platform. He also turned me on to the transgender law center’s guide tp changing documents, and offered to help me pay if I couldn’t get a fee waiver. I got the fee waiver and it worked out.”
“And I guess... so, one of my fellow grad students […] is an old-school feminist and who I, uh, sort of... worried about...? I remember at one point trans people came up in a conversation in the shared TA office back when I was closeted and I just had to leave because I couldn’t deal with it. But she brought up MichFest about when I was walking out the door. But. She's since become an extremely close friend and staunch ally, because she really cares about me (and in turn I think she’s brilliant and wonderful). I think my experiences have in some ways caused her to shift her thoughts on some things there. And I'm not saying she was a TERF specifically, just that she hadn't thought about certain things a lot, and talking more with her has led to her reevaluating some terfy rhetoric she had heard at some point and kind of passively accepted.”
* * *
As I’ve said, I think the evidence of the emails I’ve received and transcribed was fairly clear. First, colleges and universities are failing to establish adequate infrastructure for trans and non-binary students (especially in respect of digital architecture, which perhaps receives less attention than bricks-and-mortar). And second: staff and faculty, far from being the mindwiped drones of the gender critical academics’ fantasy, are mostly pretty incompetent at addressing and discussing trans students.
I will end by saying that my own experiences of college and grad school were mostly, but not entirely, closeted. I say “mostly,” because I never asked anyone to use a different name or pronouns for me, and I never sought medical treatment as part of a transition. But not entirely: as an undergraduate student, I attended classes in female or feminine-presenting clothing, and wore dresses most of the time. And as a graduate student, I was sort of half-out (“I think I’d transition if I could start again now”) to a small number of people at different times.
I wonder, often, why I chose not to transition fully in either case. I can think of many reasons – an unsureness about the nature and scope of my trans desires, a fear of looking or feeling stupid, or of doing something irreversible that I wanted to reverse. But I do think that, in both cases, I additionally felt some sense that to transition would have been inconvenient to the institution that was housing me, both in the sense of being difficult to accommodate, and being vaguely off-putting. I feared losing access to resources and I feared losing friends. Whenever I think about this, I feel vaguely resentful at my own inability to follow through, and at the ways in which my transition felt prohibited, despite my being located within institutions that would seem, to the outside, trans affirming and trans competent.
I mention this at the end because almost all of the emails and DMs I received were from out trans people, rather than people in the closet, or people at that earliest stage where transition seems like a foreclosed or lost opportunity – something desired but not yet realized. I applaud and admire the forthrightness of those who have begun transitions in spite of institutional disincentives; who possess or possessed, that is, the courage that I lacked. And I also want to retain in my own mind the thought not merely that I have a responsibility as a teacher to ensure minimum standards of care and equitable access to education for all my trans students, but also that I have a responsibility to push back against those institutional disincentives. So I try to assume, in any room I walk into for work, that in addition to the students whom I know to be out, that there are additionally students who are closeted, even closeted to themselves, who have their own interests, and their own stories.