Being Transgender at Lesley: One Student’s Experience

I am a 31-year-old new LCAL student. I came out as transgender at age 19. I’d like to share about my experience as a transgender student with the Lesley community.

As a new student, and a commuter, I haven’t had the opportunity to connect with many other transgender students. This article is the perspective of only one transgender person. Others’ experiences may be quite different.

So, what does it mean that I’m transgender? In short, it means I was assigned a gender at birth, but I’m actually a different gender. In my case, my gender is best described as nonbinary or genderqueer. Some people’s genders might be “man”, or “woman”, or something else. Some transgender people are men or women, but I am not.

Compared to past experiences I’ve had, being transgender at Lesley has been remarkably positive. I’ve generally been treated respectfully when I tell someone I’m transgender. Lesley is doing many things well. There are also things which could improve. I sense a strong desire among the Lesley community to support transgender students. I hope sharing my experience will help.

In Fall 2016, I came to Lesley for an admissions tour. To schedule it, I had to fill out a form, requiring me to check “male” or “female” as my gender. Since I’m neither of those, I’m giving misinformation if I check one of those boxes. I sent an email explaining the issue, something I’ve done hundreds of times when encountering forms like this. Usually I get a defensive, dismissive response when I email people about gender issues on forms, so I was surprised by the response I got from Lesley: They apologized, promised to fix it…and immediately did so. This gave me a positive first impression, which contributed to my decision to attend.

My request that my preferred first name appear in the Lesley database was also addressed immediately. If my former name showed up whenever I turned in homework or posted on Blackboard, I would be distressed, and my professors and classmates would be confused. I’m not closeted in any way, and do typically choose to tell people that I’m transgender. However, it’s important that I get to choose what to tell people, and not have a computer database make that decision for me. My former “legal” name and gender are not things that I share.

In many of my classes, professors have modeled first-day introductions by giving their name and pronouns. For example: “Hi, I’m Dr. Fabio Lusness. Please call me Fabio. My pronouns are they/their/them”. Students can then introduce themselves with their pronouns, if they wish. I would then say, “I’m Danni, and my pronouns are ze/zir/zim.” Some people will choose to say their pronouns; some won’t. That’s fine. What’s important is to offer the opportunity for people who want it. This may seem trivial, but it can make a tremendous difference to me in class. Have you ever noticed how frequently people use third-person pronouns to refer to someone in a classroom? In my experience, it happens more often in classrooms than other settings. I always notice, and if I’m afraid I’m going to get misgendered if I participate in class, I may avoid participating altogether.

Another practical concern is bathrooms. There are a few gender-neutral bathrooms around campus, which is great when I’m in a location that has one. However, it’s not always easy to know where those are located, and most locations only have “men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms. I can’t use the bathroom if I don’t know where it is, or if it’s far away from where I am! Finding solutions to this issue is important for making a space friendly for transgender people.

I would love to see more course content relevant to transgender and nonbinary people. Students of all identities who see people like them reflected in their course content are more likely to engage with the material and get more out of their education. In courses specific to human services and/or teacher education, learning best practices for working with transgender and nonbinary individuals will serve all students well. All academic disciplines can benefit from highlighting transgender and nonbinary people’s contributions to that discipline; for instance, I know a math instructor who actively incorporates transgender mathematicians’ work in her curriculum. In fine arts fields, work by transgender and nonbinary artists can be found in every medium.

A staff person whose role is supporting LGBTQ+ students would be a welcome addition to the Lesley community. Some other schools I considered have this, and while I did end up choosing to come to Lesley anyway, the absence of someone in this role has been challenging when I’ve needed support. I would love to see Lesley work toward offering this.

I welcome further conversations about how to make Lesley as welcoming as possible, and to continue the steps that have already been taken. I hope, too, to hear from other transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, and/or agender students about how your experience has been, whether similar to or different from mine, and working together to support each other in getting our needs met and getting the most out of our education.

4 Responses »

  1. Signage is very important, as with transgender, so is DISability– and the lack of bathrooms as outrageous as that is, (there should be equal access), can be mitigated by signage. Signage goes a long way in at least providing information for the out of the way, secondary consideration of bathrooms that are accessible to people who can’t use the main bathrooms. or people whose bodies may not conform to the narrow constraints of social and architectural assumptions.

  2. This is so well put and so insightful; as another member of the Lesley community who identifies as non-binary, I enjoyed reading this and thank you for writing it!

    Though I haven’t undergone transition myself, I do agree that bathrooms can be an issue around campus for those who are uncomfortable using binary ones and that it would be very helpful if we had more gender neutral ones. At the very least, it would definitely help if we had a more efficient way of finding the ones that we do have (going back to that issue of signage).

    A staff person dedicated to LGBTQ+ support would also be great — I haven’t personally run into anyone around Lesley who has been disrespectful about non-binary issues, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to have someone dedicated to providing support and might also be helpful to provide training to existing staff and faculty in this respect.

    Also, it’s interesting that you referenced ze/zim/zir pronouns in your article — I’ve noticed that a lot of people use they/them/their around Lesley (which is great!), but I think it would also be nice to see ze/zir/zim get a bit more recognition as I feel they don’t carry the same third-person connotations that throw some people off about they/them/their.

    Just a few thoughts, thank you again!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story and experience at Lesley, Danni. I hope that your candid, well-written article will encourage more students to share their stories and experiences as well. I think there are many ways that we can continue to improve Lesley to make it welcoming and comfortable for all students. Thank you for your thoughtful and important suggestions.

  4. Just reading this a second time, Danni, before I send it off to Dean Shapiro’s office to be circulated to all the faculty. This Tuesday, two transgender students visited the college meeting accompanied by the dean of student’s (who may be that point person of support at this time (?)). It was clear to me that faculty want to be supportive and know more. Your article is such a big help in that direction, as well as for creating a climate of exchange where students can feel comfortable speaking out knowing that their perspectives matter.

    Thank you for all you have taught me …as I still working at doing a better job with ze, zir, and zim!

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