Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quotes from the anonymous

One of the things about long-term blogging is that I can see an article about transgender students at women's colleges; think, I remember blogging about that topic!; and then find that I did... in 2005, in college, in a post written a) shortly before I'd met anyone (I knew to be) trans, and b) long before trans awareness had entered the mainstream. And, unsurprisingly, it's not the post I'd write today. (Presumably in 2023, everything in this post will seem similarly out-of-date and out-of-it.)

Anyway, what's great about Ruth Padawer's article is that she addresses why there'd be transmen at a women's college in the first place - something that may seem confusing if you don't stop and think about it, or haven't gathered the relevant anecdotal evidence. But here's how it seems to go: Masculine-leaning 17-year-old girls who haven't quite come out (perhaps even to themselves) as trans are applying as female applicants, and are going to gravitate to colleges known to be accepting of gender-non-conforming women. But then once they pass a certain threshold on the gender-identity spectrum, they have to either transfer or ask for the school to change for them. And... if this were just a rare occurrence, one might say, so be it, but because transmen especially gravitate to these colleges, the schools must address this.

And then there's this confusing problem of... what's the progressive approach? This isn't like the radical feminists who find themselves behind the times when they refuse to accept transwomen as women. The female students opposed to having transmen classmates at women's college are doing so precisely because they understand these classmates to be men. If they said, by all means, stay put, it's not as if you're real men, wouldn't that be worse? But if they say their classmates can stay and be accepted as men, the door opens for cisgender men to attend. Maybe. A policy of letting anyone who identified as female upon applying finish their degree seems the only sensitive way to go.

Here, though, is where things get interesting:

Many Wellesley students, including some who are uncomfortable having trans men on campus, say that academically eligible trans women should be admitted, regardless of the gender on their application documents. 
Others are wary of opening Wellesley’s doors too quickly — including one of Wellesley’s trans men, who asked not to be named because he knew how unpopular his stance would be. He said that Wellesley should accept only trans women who have begun sex-changing medical treatment or have legally changed their names or sex on their driver’s licenses or birth certificates. “I know that’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old just applying to college,” he said, “but at the same time, Wellesley needs to maintain its integrity as a safe space for women. What if someone who is male-bodied comes here genuinely identified as female, and then decides after a year or two that they identify as male — and wants to stay at Wellesley? How’s that different from admitting a biological male who identifies as a man? Trans men are a different case; we were raised female, we know what it’s like to be treated as females and we have been discriminated against as females. We get what life has been like for women.”
Yes, I can very well see why the student in question wouldn't have wanted to attach his name to this. College students, though, as I can attest, say the darndest things.


Also interesting: Another for the endless-childhood files, and perhaps the parental overshare ones as well. (In this, Randye Hoder refers to - and, I can only imagine, embarrasses - an adult child, but has evidently shown less restraint in the past.) Also a state-of-journalism angle - we learn that a recent college grad who's "an editorial assistant at a well-respected magazine" is a) receiving parental financial support after college, and b) the child of someone whose "articles have appeared in The New York Times, Time, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate."

I think this piece does that thing that journalist-types call burying the lede. The story is not about children of rich parents staying dependent for longer. It's about the mess that's out there for those without rich parents. It's yet another case of privilege being acknowledged but not even slightly grappled with. Here's what Hoder provides:
Extending financial help to one’s children in this way is, of course, a luxury. Many of my friends—as well as my husband and I—are upper-middle-class, and more than a few in our circle are one-percenters. The majority of Americans simply can’t afford to help their children to the degree that we are fortunate enough to be able to.
And - and I'm starting to think I'm part of the problem, showcasing what could well be clickbait, pitchfork-bait content - we learn both that the author treats her daughter to the odd "mani-pedi" and that the author's got this friend...
Another friend, whose 23-year-old works for a wealth management firm and earns a mid-five-figure salary, says she and her husband still pay their daughter’s car and health insurance and have kept her on the family’s cell phone plan. 
“She makes a good salary, but rent and expenses are high,” the mom says, adding that her daughter’s job requires that she look professional. “She has to dress well, get her nails done, and drive a reasonably nice car. 
Ms. Another Friend, too, chooses not to be named.


caryatis said...

Does anyone *need* to get their nails done? Is this a "wealth management" thing? Am I now your only commenter?

caryatis said...

Also, why reject the possibility of asking students who officially identify as male to transfer to a coed school? Going to one liberal arts college rather than another is hardly a draconian consequence. And after all, identifying as male is voluntary. If a student wants to stay, "he" should just not change his official gender. Wouldn't prevent him from dressing male or asking friends to use a male pronoun.

Phoebe said...


You may well be not only my one remaining commenter, but the last of the blog-commenters, period. (Not really. Even I have others, but less blogging means less reader response.) Also, I'm having trouble reading my own blog in Chrome... who knows... anyway:

The manicure thing struck me as well, and was - I must admit - the angle I noted when I shared the piece on Facebook. Not sure what that added, other than connecting spoiled-ness with female-ness in a way that would make the piece more clickbait than it already was. Clearly there's no job where you'd need a professional manicure, unless it's, like, hand model. And it's not even as if getting manicures saves time over putting on sheer polish (or not even!) at home.

"Going to one liberal arts college rather than another is hardly a draconian consequence."

No, but it's a major inconvenience, and an avoidable one, because, like I say, these schools could simply let anyone who entered as a woman graduate as whatever they end up being. It's a nice gesture, and ultimately not that big of a deal. And it neatly avoids the slippery-slope question of whether the school has to be coed if it has some transmen students.

fourtinefork said...

I went to Smith (in the 90s).

At Smith (and Mount Holyoke), at least, having men in class is not at all unusual due to the 5 College exchange. I think I had men in almost all of my classes. Male Smith faculty were in my language classes. Male students from Amherst, Hampshire, and UMass were in my seminars. In one of my seminars, it was probably 40% men. I had more classes in graduate school that were all women-- by which I mean students and faculty-- than I did in college, but I am in a female-dominated field.

Even in my day, bathrooms were coed, and I pretty much ran into dudes all the time in the bathrooms and halls. These were mostly boyfriends of other students, not trans men.

So, from my limited experience as a women's college student in the 1990s, this is really a non-issue, at least at Smith and Mount Holyoke. (And maybe Bryn Mawr, too? Can't they take courses at Swarthmore and vice-versa?) Holding office or positions of power maybe gets a little more complicated, but even then, the balance of power really is still with women. And it's about as safe a space as you can imagine, even with those random men lurking in the libraries, bathrooms, dining halls, and academic buildings.

I will admit that I do object to attempts to scrub gendered language from college documents as long as the college still (primarily) exists as a women's college. The arguments I've heard-- and I've heard many, for years-- have not yet convinced me on that front.

fourtinefork said...

Although one issue with transmen graduating from a women's college: would this not raise eyebrows to be a man with a degree from Wellesley? Doesn't that telegraph to everyone-- HR person, colleagues, anyone who asks that 'where did you go to college' question-- that you used to be a woman? Unless someone is willing to have this aspect of his past so obviously known, and also deal with the still very real chance of discrimination on that front, that would be an argument for transferring to a co-ed school.