A great feature in this week’s New York Times Magazine explores many of the questions surrounding the visible rise in transgender students at American women’s colleges, especially Wellesley College.
Although there are no numbers on students’ gender identity, it appears that increasingly, students are becoming more comfortable with the idea that gender is fluid, or even something that you can change. As the NYT Magazine explores, a seemingly large number of these students attend women’s colleges — according to contributing writer Ruth Padawar, many transgender students “chose a women’s college because it seemed safer physically and psychologically.”
Historically all-female colleges are now faced with the potential issue of having men on campus — both transmen, born female, and transwomen, born male, are seeking admission to colleges such as Wellesley. Here’s how Padawar explains the divisive situation:
What’s a women’s college to do? Trans students point out that they’re doing exactly what these schools encourage: breaking gender barriers, fulfilling their deepest yearnings and forging ahead even when society tries to hold them back. But yielding to their request to dilute the focus on women would undercut the identity of a women’s college.
One transmasculine Wellesley student, Jesse Austin, told Padawar that attending a women’s college allowed him to explore what it meant to be female, and why it never felt right to him. “I figured if I was any kind of woman, I’d find it there. I knew Wellesley would have strong women. They produce a ton of strong women, strong in all sorts of ways,” Austin said.
This is not a unique line of thinking. As Padawar writes about another transmasculine student, “Though Eli secretly suspected in high school that he was a boy, it wasn’t until after he arrived at Wellesley that he could imagine he might one day declare himself a man.”
However, there are often many practical problems that students face when they begin to change their gender. Once Austin started injecting testosterone, his whole body changed — two years after he began the process, he tells Padawar, he would be asked if he was a student when trying to enter a Wellesley dorm or use a “Wellesley only” bathroom, rather than one for visitors.
Austin eventually chose to withdraw from Wellesley — “I still think of Wellesley as a women’s place, and I still think that’s a wonderful idea … It just didn’t encompass me anymore. I felt it was a space I shouldn’t tread in,” he told Padawar.
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