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.