Transgendered students face unique challenges at college

To most people, the words “sex” and “gender” are synonymous. But for people who identify as transgendered or transsexual, gender is not a clear-cut issue of being physically male or female, girl or boy. Instead, it is a contradiction between physical features and psychologically determined gender identity.

Some students believe the visibility of transgendered students is minimal, and many wonder what the second “T” in TTLGBC actually stands for. The Tufts Transgendered Lesbian Gay Bisexual Collective attempts to provide a safe space and a forum that allows these “trans” students to learn about and discuss sexual identity issues. Transgendered students are present at Tufts, though they may keep a low profile.

“There is not a large population of trans students at Tufts,” transgender senior Phillip Anwar said. Of the trans students on campus, many choose not to make it known because of the delicate issues surrounding the lack of knowledge about transsexuality.

“The trans students on campus are a large part of TTLGBC because that is

a home they can reconcile with,” Anwar said. “Many people don’t understand gender in the broad way that TTLGBC does.”

“The general atmosphere [of students] is totally unaware,” Anwar said. “Trans students are not always cross-dressers, and so it is very difficult to say who is and who isn’t. This is propagated by the lack of knowledge about trans issues in the general populace.” Anwar identifies himself as a transgender person who is mostly male but also partly female.

Those who are active in the LGBT community at large say that lack of knowledge about transgendered individuals is common, and the Tufts campus is no exception to the rule.

“In society, people are always questioning, is that a man or a woman?” sophomore trans-activist Kelly Sanborn said. “Tufts is not exempt from this. People can react violently when confronted with something or someone they don’t understand or treat as equal.”

Trans students say accurate information about transsexuality is crucial for the creation of a safe space for the discussion and questioning of the traditionally binary concept of sexuality and gender.

“We all grow up knowing things about transsexuality, but it’s all wrong. Information is everything,” Stacy Montgomery, a self-identified male-to-female transwoman said. Montgomery was a workshop leader at Safe Colleges Conference 2002, which was held on campus two weeks ago.

Transgendered students say they have to face even more hurdles than most in the LGB community.

“They do not have a large population of individuals who are going through similar changes [and] realizations,” Anwar said. “There are tons of coming out stories, and many supportive nods at meetings, however the trans experience is basically shrouded in mystery.”

“When you’re trans, you’re always alone,” Montgomery agreed.

According to transgendered individuals, these problems extend from the realm of personal to political because many basic civil rights laws do not cover transsexual discrimination.

“You can be fired for being trans,” said Montgomery. “You lose out on basic civil rights, jobs, health care, etc.”

Oftentimes trivial luxuries are not available for those who wish to transition to their psychologically identified gender. Montgomery feels that single-sex bathrooms are especially troublesome for both people who are mid-transition and those who have already fully transitioned. Transgendered people who do not completely pass as the gender with which they identify can be arrested when they use bathrooms of either sex. As a result of this possibility, Montgomery abstains from eating or drinking whenever she leaves home for fear of being accosted or arrested for using a bathroom.

Sanborn is currently spearheading a trans-friendly bathroom initiative in which single-sex bathrooms could be made trans-friendly by changing the sign in front to say unisex instead of being gender specific.

“Being trans can be a huge draining experience, especially when people can’t safely use a restroom all day long,” Sanborn said.

While they may face more sexual identity issues than most, trans students at Tufts refuse to fade into the background. In addition to using the TTLGBC community as a safe haven, many trans students have found that it is a forum in which they can take an active role.

“Trans students are active; they have been TTLGBC co-coordinators,

helped lead activist events, as well as other great things in the queer community,” Sanborn said.

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