Monday, April 18, 2005

Boys at Smith

Like Amber Taylor, I'm going to have to come out against Smith allowing transgendered (female-to-male) students to enroll. Because what transgendered people are arguing for is this: Gender is something you choose, either by default, as most tend to do, or by way of hormone treatments, surgeries, and so forth. If gender can be chosen, then one's "original" gender shouldn't matter in the least. If someone born female wishes to be called "he," checks "male" on gender boxes, and otherwise presents himself as a man, conservative (and, hell, not-so-conservative) skeptics may still call that person a very confused woman, but to the open-minded masses, he is a man. But then these same people are demanding that their original gender be taken into account, that their one-time womanness permit them to stay at a woman's college. This strikes me as beyond hypocritical--if someone takes offense at being referred to with pronouns of his former gender, then he ought to accept the new gender across the board, not just when a touchy, knee-jerk, "get with it, you ignorant fools" response is required. Accepting a new gender means taking the benefits along with the drawbacks, and while perhaps the transgendered will one day lead us in our fight for justice for both genders, Smith's women-only policy is (probably) a just one, and if natural-born men can't attend the school, then anyone who considers himself to be as much of a man ought not to be allowed in, either.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

A transgendered co-ed may feel just because he likes women, he's no different from half the cruising others on campus, and so should be allowed to enroll. This is true. Leaving aside sexual orientation, you come to biology. No matter how much she feels, looks and acts like a guy, her genes still say she's female. And so entitled to a place at Smith. What other claim could she have, apart from the genetic?

Phoebe said...

But s/he is renouncing the genetically-based identity, and is unwilling to let biology determine anything. What I'm saying is, you can't have it both ways. Someone who identifies as butch should obviously be allowed at Smith; someone who identifies as male, and who insists that others identify himself as such, shouldn't expect any females-only benefits.

Anonymous said...

Renounced or not, her femaleness persists.
And would this be a break-through in co-education? No. I'm assuming the transgendered female-to-male has no particular desire to pave the way for biological men.

david benke said...

i agree with you, phoebe, but it raises the somewhat hypothetical question of what to do with a male-to-female transgendered person. would they be allowed into a women-only school? the same logic that says the f-t-m should not be allowed in should also argue in favor of allowing a m-t-f into the same school, correct?

Anonymous said...

the same logic that says the f-t-m should not be allowed in should also argue in favor of allowing a m-t-f into the same school, correct?

Obviously, given that the f-t-m case has occurred, this isn't all that much of a hypothetical stretch. So yes, the same logic would dictate allowing a trangendered m-t-f person into Smith. And this would be a problem? It certainly wouldn't be hypocritical, or unfairly exclude men who, um, are actually men. For that matter, is a chromosome test required for admission to Smith? It's conceivable that there is already a transgendered person attending a women's college.

Renounced or not, her femaleness persists.

In what relevant way? If a person thinks of himself as a male (which is not the same as being a gay female), and even has a male phenotype, why would he have "persistent femaleness?" Basically, "because God made her that way," right? Because simply invoking biology is stupid, especially in the context of women's colleges, which exist due to social issues involving gender.

--mds

zoe kentucky said...

First of all, I went to school near Smith and I've known quite a few trans people and I find it sort of perplexing that this is even an issue.

Unless they're making a "Third Sex" kind of argument, I don't know why a f2m would think they are entitled to go to a woman's school. Born-women who live as men, want to perceived to "be" men, who have undergone medical procedures to become men, who want society to treat them as men, well, don't get to go to Smith. It's pretty simple.

As a queer whose pretty keen on transgressive, messy gender politics, I'm all for challenging the idea that there are more than 2 sexes, frankly. But in this case, Smith is actually treating them as they would a man, which is exactly what they want.

Anonymous said...

Accourding to the article, the student switched genders after his first year. What Smith did was probably correct in this situation. It seems a little harsh to kick the student out.

Joe O

Half Sigma said...

Who knew that transgendered students apply to college was even a problem!

But I don't buy into the idea that a man becomes a woman because of some freakshow surgery. He still has a Y chromosone.

Maureen said...

Half-Sigma:

So do some women with androgen insensitivity syndrome--they have Y chromosomes, but their external appearance and brain chemistry is female because they can't process testosterone. While the "chromosome = sex" works 99.9% of the time, there's always that .1% that requires more nuance.

Besides, you're conflating gender with sex. Two point penalty.

david benke said...

But I don't buy into the idea that a man becomes a woman because of some freakshow surgery. He still has a Y chromosone.

half stigma, srs is not a freakshow surgery. it's a very effective treatment for a serious predicament. i hesitate to call it a condition or an ailment, because it's not really a disease, in my opinion. gender dysphoria can, however, be quite debilitating, often pushing those who have not sought treatment to the verge of suicide, sometimes even all the way to suicide. srs renders no one a freak. it's not the treatment that's the problem. the problem is society's ridiculous system of defining gender, one which is far too rigid to accept people who fall into the blurry gray areas of traditional gender roles.

moreover, the notions of "man" and "woman" extend far beyond the chromosomal level. once you alter the sex organs and balance out the hormones, a m-t-f does in fact become a woman in every single way, except a tiny little chromosome that no ever sees or knows about. but beyond that, being a woman is more a state of mind than it is a physical state. much of that state of mind is influenced by higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone, but it's more than even that. a man with low levels of testosterone does not a transsexual make, nor, for that matter, does a genetic male without a penis. but, i must wonder aloud to myself, why am i even bothering to explain this to someone who can't even conjugate a gerund?

mds, no, i think smith absolutely should allow m-t-f transsexuals to attend, if they want to, and i certainly didn't mean to imply otherwise.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that Smith shouldn't admit or matriculate ftm students--they are, after all, not women--I think there is a good argument for allowing students that entered as women and subsequently discovered their transgender identity to remain, if they felt comfortable. (I know that I, as an ft?, would not) That argument is simply this: discovering a transgendered identity is an incredibly stressful and confusing time, and then moving on to and through a medical or social transition also creates quite a bit of instablity in a tg person's life. Having to change colleges in the middle of that would be extremely unpleasant and possibly detrimental to the tg person, since transferring can itself be a difficult decision. Given that the number of tg people is small, even at Smith, I think that it's best for these instances to be handled case-by-case by Smith's admin in cooperation with the tg person, and that with those considerations, Smith was right to allow the ftm student to remain.

Anonymous said...

As pedantic as it may seem, the college should take a purely legalistic approach. Look to state law sources to determine which measure of gender dictates the assignment of other benefits: genetic (chromosomal sex), biological (physical manifestation as male or female at birth), or expressive (acts, dresses, and behaves as the socially constructed female). Given these options and their application in most states, I would guess that he would be allowed matriculation into the college because he is technically female based on his genetics and his birth gender. Absent a complete change in state laws concerning gender expression and the assignment of other benefits, this would be the outcome. For examle, look to the determination of sex for the purposes of recognizing marriage (another hot topic these days!)

fhqwgads said...

As an FTM myself, I can't imagine why someone like myself would want to go to an women's school, let alone graduate from there and have to explain that for the rest of *his* life.

The school has every right, I believe, to make the student leave.

Transition is a profoundly difficult decision for most of us, and no one that hasn't been in our shoes can really imagine what a nightmare this whole condition is. So I think it would be kindest and most reasonable to allow them to finish out their current year, and it should probably be considered on a case-by-case basis.

I think David was right on with his post, with the aside that suicide, or suicide attempts, are unfortunately not a "sometimes" thing among TS people, but more of an "often" thing. I can't think of any TS person I've ever met that hasn't admitted to suicidal thoughts, at least.

And to all the people crying "genetics!" - who cares? With FTMs in particular, many of us "pass" spectacularly and live amongst you, all over the country. If you found out that your mailman with the beard and the deep voice was born female, would it change who he is? Would there be any reason to change how you interact with him? Would you start to call him "ma'am?" Ridiculous!

Who a person is, how they act, how they are perceived and how they live their lives is FAR more important than the SMALL matter of chromosomes.

If chromosome testing became a universal requirement for all tomorrow, attitudes would start changing quickly. Quite a few "real men" and "real women" found that, as it turns out, they aren't - genetically. They're just a little bit off. But would that realization suddenly make them the opposite sex, in practice? Would we then force them to get divorces? Would/should we care? No.

Anyone who thinks this is a crazy concept should do an hour or two of research on intersex conditions. You'll see that this gender thing isn't as cut-and-dry as most people are led to believe.

Chris

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands."
- Douglas Adams