Very little has been professionally written about the lives of college students who happen to be trans. It’s easy enough to find the statistics about other facets of our lives—41% of us have attempted suicide, 18% of us have incomes below 10,000$ annually—but if you try to find out how many transgender students attend colleges, there’s nothing. Maybe this is because of how awfully we’re treated by student administrations, faculty, LGBT departments and, in terms of statistics, college survey groups. I am by no means a comprehensive source, but if you’re a college-aged trans woman wondering what life is like for those of us who did, by magic or miracle, make it here, I can hopefully shed some light on the hell that is an “LGBT-friendly” campus.
On the second day of moving into the dorms this year, I was harassed by a group of cis men who all called me “it,” and made other disparaging remarks like “what the fuck is it?” Although it was the first time it happened this year, this was one of many times I’ve been harassed on campus. I didn’t bother reporting it to anyone, officially. An RA or RLC (resident life coach, or essentially a higher-paid, non-student RA) would’ve had me come with them to identify the people who did it to me, which anyone who’s ever been harassed knows sounds like as much fun as eating a bowl of nails for breakfast (without any milk). A few days after this, I had to bear witness to a group of homophobic pro-life protesters who are allowed to display graphic signage of aborted fetuses and shout at any passersby about how we’re all going to die because we touched our genitals at some point. After having to listen to these insufferable assclowns for a year now, I decided enough was enough that day and assaulted them with a completely uneaten stir fry. I always advocate for destroying men’s suits with stir fry whenever possible, but in this instance, I was pretty damn peeved that my only course of action to deal with these harmful folks was to try and assault them out of leaving campus because the university refuses to ever do anything about them. And these, of course, are just the two keynote incidents of harassment this year. The amount of times I’ve been called a sir, or had he/his pronouns used in class after I speak is literally uncountable. Talking to professors usually helps with this, but it’s really a case-by-case matter—if you get a transmisogynistic teacher, your only option is going to be dropping the class, which is going to cost you.
Aside from constant harassment and misgendering, there are also little to no resources for trans people on my campus (or indeed, most campuses, I would hazard to guess). UW Milwaukee has a 4.5 rating out of 5 according to Campus Pride Index, and I shudder to think what a school ranking any lower than us entails. Our university only this year started allowing trans people to use the locker rooms we identify with. The university’s preferred name system still keeps your deadname on your student ID and on any sort of documents you’d really prefer it not be on. Teachers will frequently mark trans students who haven’t had the luxury of getting a legal name change absent if they refuse to respond to their deadname. The mailroom loses the mail of trans students constantly because the inept sorters cannot possibly fathom the fact that someone might have a different name than the one in their system. But what really takes the cake for me is our Inclusive Housing system. The university doesn’t allow many co-ed dorms, but it does for the sake of Inclusive Housing—however, unlike every other room community on campus, Inclusive Housing is not a shared floor, so we do not frequently get to spend time with other queer students, and the sorting methods are still (supposedly) ‘randomized’, which is how I, a trans woman who is definitely very heavy on the femme side of things, ended up in a suite with two trans men, a nonbinary person, and a cis gay man, most of whom are very excellent people but who, from a glance, are 100% not anyone’s first choice for staying with a woman. I’ve talked to multiple people from the housing and university offices about this and they assure me it was somehow random that this happened, but it’s really upsetting that I wasn’t put with a single other woman, be she cis or trans.
The LGBT Resource Center can be most easily found by searching for the giant, Comic Sans-printed sign reading “Allies Welcome!!”—which is why I don’t go there often. While there are a few trans women and relatively decent allies in the center, the resources themselves are incredibly limited. If you consider “one of the Midwest’s largest drag shows” somehow a “resource” for trans people, then you’re in luck, but if you’re a person with any sensibilities whatsoever, it’s a massive red flag that the biggest “LGBT-friendly” event on campus is a drag show that allows and encourages cishet performers and has no anchor or reflection of the historic significance of drag (despite the best attempts of queer students to add that connection). In most cases, trans women on campus are probably better off hitting up the Women’s Resource Center and the Women’s Studies departments for any type of help. I’ve heard from a few people on campus that both of these have been working to be inclusive, and in my own experience none of the professors or peers in my Women’s and Gender Studies classes have insinuated transmisogynistic academic beliefs—so far, anyway.
I will say one thing in UWM’s favor, though: the bathrooms are just about the only place on campus I can usually feel safe. There are tons of women’s bathrooms, and most of them are relatively low-traffic, so I’ve yet to be harassed by any other women when I’m trying to do my business. But for nonbinary students or anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable using the gendered bathrooms, finding the non-gendered bathrooms is quite a chore, as half of them are situated down service hallways and are technically for staff use. If you need to pee on the way to class and need a non-gendered bathroom, you’re probably out of luck, which is unfortunate. For any student who has a physical disability and wants to use a non-gendered bathroom, well, then you’re really out of luck, because most of them are quite out of the way and are not easily accessible. I don’t even know if we have elevators in every building on campus—some of them are tucked away in obscure locations clearly meant to passively say “sure, we’ll take you as a student, but also go fuck yourself on a regular basis.”
If you’ve got the money, or are willing to crush yourself beneath mounds of debt, and you’re considering attending a campus like UWM, don’t. The importance of a college degree for the workforce is one thing, but having to deal with daily transmisogyny on a campus you were expecting to be friendly ain’t worth the big bucks.
Art by TN.