LynnConway.com Web
How Colleges and Universities
Can Improve their Environments for TG/TS Students
 
by Lynn Conway
 
http://www.lynnconway.com/
Copyright @ 2002-13, Lynn Conway. All Rights Reserved.
[Updated version of 9-11-13]

 

Deutsch עברית (Hebrew)
 

 


 

News updates:

 

> 9-11-13:  IMPORTANT ALERT: After years and years of inhumanely treating its transgender clients, the UMHS-CGSP has been re-invented.

"UMHS-CGSP: Understanding the past, seizing the moment, shaping the future", by Lynn Conway, lynnconway.com, Sept. 11, 2013:

"During the past two years, a wave of change has swept through the University of Michigan Health System’s Comprehensive Gender Services Program. Under the leadership of its new director, Nancy Quay, the program has broken with its infamous past, and moved to the front of the emerging transgender-healthcare movement. We can learn much by reflecting on CGSP’s past, on its reshaping via new leadership, and by envisioning the impact it could have in the future . . . " [Printable PDF]

 

 

> On April 26, 2004, the University of Michigan published the "Report of the Task Force on the Campus Climate for TBLG Faculty, and Staff and Students at the University".   That Report built upon many of the recommendations Lynn first published in this page in 2002 . The UM "TBLG Report" is now serving as a guide to understanding transgender issues not only at UM but also many other universities. You can download the full 64 page report as a PDF file (380KB) by clicking this link.

 

> During the fall of 2005, the Sundance Channel presented "TransGeneration" (more), a program that follows the lives of four young students who are transitioning while in college.  This program helped raise awareness of the trend towards earlier and more open transitions. 

 

> 12-06-05:  The Michigan Daily: "What’s in a name? A lot, transgender student says."

 

> 4-14-06:  The Michigan Daily: "SACUA urges regents to add clause to bylaws: Regents have long refused to add 'gender identity and expression' to non-discrimination clause."

 

> 8-28-07:  The Advocate: "GenderPAC updates report on gender identity in school" - "Although all eight Ivy League schools have inclusive nondiscrimination policies, the press release notes a few omissions from “Top 25” schools, including Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., which all lack protections for gender identity and expression." (link to the GenderPac report)

 

> 9-05-07:  San Jose Mercury News: "Stanford safeguards transgender students" - Following the GenderPAC report, Stanford University finally added some policy protections for gender identity, although it was very quiet about it when doing so - apparently not wanting to raise alarm amongst its many conservative alums and supporters. The Stanford announcement was finally published in a small note in the Stanford News Service on September 12, 2007. (more)

 

> 9-18-07:  The Michigan Daily: "Change to policy goes to regents - If board approves, non-discrimination clause would expand" - "After years of pressure, the University Board of Regents will vote on whether to add the phrase "gender identity and expression" to the non-discrimination clause of the University's bylaws."

 

> 9-20-07:  The Michigan Daily: "From the Daily: Delayed acceptance" - "For a university that consistently prides itself on being on the cutting edge of equality issues, the newest amendment being considered to the University's non-discrimination policy is reprehensibly overdue."

 

> 9-21-07:  The Michigan Daily: "Regents approve addition to clause - After four years, change comes with split vote". At long last, the University of Michigan adopted protections for gender identity and expression.

 

 

 

CONTENTS:

 

 Introduction

 Background about gender transition while in college

 Different phases of gender variance and gender transition

 How many students are transitioning these days?

 What can be done to help TG/TS students?

 What offices should be involved in helping TG/TS students?

 LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS

 APPENDIX: An e-mail from "Kelly" reveals many challenges faced by

 transitioning students at Michigan, especially in interactions with the

 infamous "Comprehensive Gender Services Program" (CGSP).

 

 


 

Introduction:
 
Lynn Conway's TG/TS/IS webpages provide background information on transgenderism and transsexualism, including a discussion of TG and TS gender transitions. We learned in those pages that there are many advantages to transitioning early in life for those suffering intense gender dysphoria, rather than waiting till one is older.
 
As a result of more widespread knowledge about gender conditions and improved access to care-givers, we are now seeing growing numbers of younger transitioners, especially among high school and college age young people. High school is still a difficult time to undertake a gender transition, due to extreme peer-pressure towards conformity and the dangerous levels of transphobic behavior among insecure male classmates. Therefore, most transgender (TG) and transsexual (TS) teens remain closeted while in high school, even if they are taking initial steps to transition (hormones, electrolysis, etc.) and even if they are supported by their parents. Once a TG or TS teen has graduated from high school, one of the best ways to transition is to enter college and undertake their transition while there - and this is now becoming a common pathway through transition.
 
If a young person has been on hormone therapy and other treatments that alter secondary sex characteristics for a year or more, they may be able to make a smooth social (TG) transition and begin living in their new gender while in college. Upon graduation, they can emerge into the job market with an established identity in their new gender, and with a degree and other important identification papers in their new name. They can then begin earning a good income and undertake further medical treatments, such as sex reassignment surgery (for those who want to complete a transsexual (TS) transition).
 
However, most colleges and universities are still unaware that small but not insignificant numbers of students are undertaking such early gender transitions. Therefore, transitioning students often have to fight frightening and lonely individual battles with the "bureaucracies" at their schools in order to accomplish even the simplest things - such as properly updating their records or getting access to basic health care - whilst maintaining their privacy. Few schools have any points of contact to help these students smoothly and safely negotiate the maze of practical difficulties they face.

A number of universities in the U.S. have had "gender clinics" and "research programs" on transsexualism (John's Hopkins, Stanford, Univ. of Minnesota, Univ. of Michigan, etc.). However, most such programs (often espousing theories similar to that of the infamous Clarke Institute in Toronto, Canada) have somehow never connected with the practical needs of transitioning students and staff members. Instead, they've focused on (i) gate-keeping (controlling access to gender transition treatment) and (ii) on doing on "research" (to "categorize transgender people", while spinning speculative psychological theories regarding the "causes of transsexualism"). 

When asked to educate their universities about transsexualism, such clinics discuss how to classify trans people according to "types", in the process implicitly and paternalistically caricaturing gender transitioners as being extremely rare, socially marginalized, mentally disordered, pathetic sexual deviants only encountered amongst marginalized groups in society.  Thus it would never occur to such clinics to refer to trans people as if actually "amongst us" as quite normal students or faculty at any particular university. 

In response to these well-known old-guard biases, most student and faculty transitioners have long avoided coming under the control of such clinics, leaving the clinics oblivious to the numbers of gender transitioners present in our universities.  Those old university clinics have been especially clueless about the many successful transitioners out there (who've seldom if ever passed through such clinics), as evidenced in Lynn's TS Women's Successes and Successful TransMen pages.  Blinded to reality by their own elitist paternalistic views of gender transitioners as pathetic mental cases, it hasn't occurred to such clinics that many transitioners can and do go on to live perfectly normal, happy, productive lives. 

Given this historical context, those old university clinics have completely overlooked the many practical obstacles long standing in the way of safe and smooth gender transitions at our universities, and have seldom if ever approached university administrators on behalf of transitioning students, faculty and staff regarding those problems .  Therefore, it's no surprise that university administrations have had no clue about these problems or how they might alleviate them.  Instead, universities have been lulled into ignorance and inaction by the very existence of their old-time university gender research programs and gender clinics, which they've assumed were taking care of these matters.

In this report, we go right to the heart of what should have been dealt with a long time ago:  We discuss how colleges and universities can better help transitioning TG and TS students with the many difficult practical problems they face during transition.  Most of the recommendations are non-controversial, common-sense, practical sorts of things that schools should want to implement, once they become aware of how extremely serious these problems are for transitioning students.

 

Also note that on April 26, 2004, the University of Michigan published the "Report of the Task Force on the Campus Climate for TBLG Faculty, and Staff and Students at the University".   That Report built upon and included many of the recommendations originally published here in Lynn's website in 2002, and it is now serving as a guide for planning regarding transgender issues by many other universities. You can download the full 64 page report as a PDF file (380KB) by clicking this link. Appendix III of that Report (starting on page 41) is a particularly good introduction to transgender issues for University administrators.

 

 
 
 
 
Background about gender transition while in college:
 
Transitioning while in college has now become one of the best paths to a successful early transgender or transsexual gender transition. It is, for example, a much better path than just going directly into the work force in an entry-level job, and attempting to transition "on the job" there.
 
Students are very anonymous while in college (much more so than in high school or in an entry-level job), especially if the college is a large one that is reasonably far from their own hometown. The college student's classmates will be more mature, less "gossipy" and less insistent on conformity to group norms than were their high school classmates. The atmosphere in most modern colleges and universities is very accepting and tolerant of diversity, and few classmates will be transphobic, at least at modern, mainstream colleges and universities (other than religious-based schools or schools in southern "redneck" areas of the U.S.). In many college towns and university locales, students will find areas for shopping, recreation and socializing that are relatively safe and fun places to hang out, even while in mid-transition.
 
Many female-to-male (FtM) students are now openly transitioning while in college. There is often little resistance to their masculinization, because they usually "pass" as lesbians and are well-accepted as such by faculty members, staff members and other students during the intermediate stages of transition, and then are pass easily as "guys" once their voices break and their facial hair appears. Thus many FtM students are "out and activist" in college LGBT circles and are well accepted in those circles.
 
In contrast, students who are transitioning from male to female (MtF) must usually be far more secretive, in order to avoid constant harassment and physical danger due to the extreme stigmatization of MtF transitioners. In great contrast with their FtM brothers, these MtF girls are usually very stealthy and are seldom visible on college campuses. Very few are "out" to anyone but their closest friends. Most never make contact with LGBT groups on campuses, because of their fear of the anti-MtF transphobia that still lingers in many gay, lesbian and feminist circles in academe (as a holdover of decades of academic polemics against transsexual women by the older-generation of gay and feminist thought-leaders such as Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer).
 
However, by working hard at part-time jobs, MtF students can often make the extra money needed for hormones and electrolysis, and then get far enough along in physical feminization to suddenly and stealthily socially transition sometime during their college years. If a trans girl socially transitions and gets her ID's changed over a summer (for example between her junior and senior years, or between graduation and grad school), she can return to school the following fall without her classmates realizing who she is/was - especially in the highly anonymous environment of a large university. Her transition can be made even stealthier if she transfers into another college that fall.
 
By completing a hormonal and social transition while in college, transitioning students can graduate in their new name and identity. They can then more easily find employment and start their careers without having to reveal their gender transition (except, for example, to the human resources people at their new companies). As a result of all these advantages, this has become one of the very best paths to early transition.
 
That is not to say that transitioning while in college is easy to do. It can be an incredibly scary time. Few colleges and universities have any formal procedures or points of contact for helping transitioning students. Even such basic things as getting student ID's and records changed in a coordinated manner can sometimes be a huge hassle, especially for the highly stigmatized MtF student transitioners (who often face harassment, stalling-tactics, ridicule and outings when trying to accomplish such updates via university bureaucracies).
 
Upon her social transition, the MtF student must get her nerve up and go see the various records offices at her school, and tell them that she has changed gender and has a new name. If she "passes" OK in her new gender, makes these requests calmly, doesn't show too much fear and has appropriate documentation, some administrators will simply accept her gender change at face value and change her records to her new name. However, if she is unlucky and runs into the wrong bureaucrat, she may have great difficulties in changing her records. If she is the victim of harassment or assault on campus, she may be afraid to call the campus security people for help, lest she be hassled and possibly outed by them. And if she becomes ill or injured in an accident, she may face huge hassles from typically uninformed medical staff members at her college's health service.
 

 

For examples of challenges faced by transitioning students,

see e-mail from "Kelly"

 
However, even given all the problems (including those identified below), it is a lot easier to transition while in college than at most other times and places in life. Importantly, when procedural hassles and outings do occur in college, they are usually confined within the school environment and few outside will find out about it later.
 
Fortunately, a number of large universities are now quietly taking notice that trans students are occasionally transitioning at their schools. Although most schools don't know how to deal with this reality quite yet, transitioning students who are persistent can usually negotiate with bureaucrats at their schools and eventually get their records changed correctly. Once a transitioned student graduates, they can then start their new life with the option of stealth and without worrying about rumors and gossip following them. Once working and saving good money, they'll then be able to afford more expensive procedures such as sex reassignment surgery (SRS), and be able to complete their transitions.
 
 
Different phases of gender variance and gender transition:
 
It is important for college and university staff members to realize that TG/TS students may present themselves in any of a wide range of situations of gender variance or gender transition. Some students may have taken no steps to modify their gender or gender presentation, but may be seriously questioning whether their birth gender assignment is right for them. Some students may present as visibly "gender variant" as a means of expressing their mixed-gender feelings, independent of whether or not they are gay or lesbian. (Of course some other non-TG/TS students may present as visibly "gender variant" as a traditional means of signaling that they are gay or lesbian, but without themselves having mixed-gender feelings). Other students may be actively engaged in gender transition, or be newly transitioned into their new gender. Others yet may have transitioned some years before and already be assimilated into their new gender. There is no one path or time line for transition. Each person must explore what's best in their own unique situation, and proceed at their own best pace. Furthermore, many people do not proceed any further along this path than "questioning", or being "gender variant", at which point they may reach a personal comfort zone where they remain.
 
 
Stages of gender variance and gender transition: 
Questioning > Gender variant > Transitioning > Newly Transitioned > Assimilated.
 
 
For TG/TS students in the earlier stages towards the left in this list, access to information and counseling and protection from discrimination and harassment are the more pressing issues. For students in the later stages towards the right on this list, privacy and secrecy are increasingly important and the number and severity of difficulties increases - including difficulties with updating records, access to housing and access to health care.
 
If university staff members simply realize that there are various stages of transition, and that TG students face different problems depending on the stage they are in, they will better visualize students' problems and be better prepared to help them
 
 
How many students are transitioning these days?
 
These numbers are hard to come by, but through information from Lynn's contacts in many universities, the following general picture seems to be emerging.
 
Roughly one in every 2000 people in the U.S., both male and female, now completes a social, hormonal and surgical gender transition sometime during their life. Even more people complete hormonal and social transitions without undergoing SRS. And an even greater number explore and attempt a hormonal and social transition, but stop short of completing it. In total it seems likely that ~1:500 or more people in the U.S. now attempt a gender transition at some point in their lives.
 
An ever increasing fraction of those who attempt transition are trying to do it early in life. If perhaps 1/4 of all transitioners now attempt to transition during their high-school and college years, then a large state university of 20,000 students might have at least 4 to 8 transitioning or transitioned students at any one time. Some FtM transitioners will be fairly visible and "out" in university LGBT circles, while most MtF students will not. (Note that these are "lower bounds" and in a few large urban schools the numbers may be much higher). However, people seldom notice the transitioning students, because they usually try hard to "pass" and are thus "invisible".
 
The 20,000-student school will also have many times that number of students who are seriously questioning their gender (perhaps 0.3% or more, and thus about 60 students), and/or who are gender variant in appearance as part of signaling their sexual orientation (perhaps 1% or more, or about 200 students).  A school of that size will also have many students who (though not transgendered) engage in occasional private crossdressing (perhaps 2% or more, and thus at least 400 students).
 
Some of the students who find themselves "questioning" their gender will seek help from their schools psychological counseling staff, and may ask for referrals to gender counselors. Some of the "gender variant" students will become active in college LBGT circles, and gain emotional and social support through such groups.
 
Although the number of gender transitioners among these groups of students is small, the personal and emotional difficulties that transitioners face are enormous when compared to those faced by "questioning" or gender-variant students, because of all the social, legal, bureaucratic, medical, ID's/records, and other problems that arise during each transition.
 
Traditional college bureaucratic processes, when combined with the transphobic reactions of various staff members, can ruin many of these kids chances for a successful early transition, and in some cases can ruin their lives altogether. Although the larger number of gender variant students don't face these serious transition challenges, they too also face harassment and discrimination which can damage their self-esteem, derail their studies and in some environments even put them in danger of physical assaults.
 
 
What can be done to help these students?
 
Transgender advocates have become increasingly active in recent years, and have made a lot of progress in getting "gender identity" and "gender expression" added to the Equal Opportunity (EO) policies of many companies and many major cities. As a result, the LGBT offices and activist groups at many colleges have begun lobbying their administrations to add "gender identity" and "gender expression" to their universities' EO protections.
 
But this has been an uphill battle. Only modest numbers of universities have policies that protect trans people, in contrast with our major corporations and major cities where such protections are now quite common. There appears to be an inherent conservatism and provincialism about gender matters in university culture that stands in strong contrast with universities' public stances about other issues.  In matters of gender-identity, many colleges and universities seem to behave much like organized religions: They wait until the last moment, when outside pressure, precedents and changes in the greater society force such changes upon them.
 
Even so, when we look at the most pressing problems facing transitioning students, we see that they are primarily practical in nature. They are things like difficulties in correcting their records to reflect name changes, difficulties in accessing health care and counseling, and difficulties in maintaining privacy and secrecy regarding gender changes.
 
These gaps in university services can often be fixed by practical, non-controversial solutions out of a sense of fairness to the students.  Such solutions do not require everyone to agree on "deep moral issues" nor even require the expenditure of additional funds.  Instead, the big hurdle to overcome is simply getting administrators to see these unrecognized problems, to see how deeply and unfairly the problems affect the lives of trans students, and then getting them to implement practical solutions to those problems.
 
Universities can implement solutions to many of those problems even in the absence of formal EO protections for those students. However, it can be difficult to fully implement such solutions, if staff members are free to openly stigmatize, harass and discriminate against TG/TS students without any risk of sanctions.
 
Therefore, universities need to change their EO policies to include protections for "gender identity and expression", in order to provide an environment in which it's possible to implement solutions to the problems facing trans students.
 
However, simply putting EO protections in place is not enough by itself - for those protections alone do not solve the many practical problems facing trans students. Practical solutions must be developed to deal with all those problems, and implementation insured by enforcing effective EO protections.
 
 
What offices should be involved in helping TG/TS students?
 
When college and university officials learn about the concerns of TG/TS students and wonder what to do, they almost automatically toss the ball to their "LGBT Affairs Office", if they have such an office or group on campus.
 
Most administrators are not aware that being transgender has nothing whatsoever to do with being gay or lesbian, and that someone's gender identity is an orthogonal dimension of identity from their choice of love-partner. Nevertheless, many administrators automatically assume that "being transgender" is simply an extreme form of "being gay", and thus that trans concerns can be handled by LGBT offices.
 
However, many LGBT offices have only recently "tacked the T" onto their name, out of a sense of being current and politically correct.  But that doesn't mean they actually have any contact with TG/TS students or are aware of their special needs.
 
Most such LGBT offices are traditionally concerned with (i) gay and lesbian activism, and (ii) providing a social environment where gay and lesbian students can meet and mingle, and these offices often have very little contact with most transgender students, especially MtF students. Many of the students who hang out at those offices who appear to be trans are simply gender variant gay and lesbian students who use variant presentations to signal sexual preferences.
 
Furthermore, while LGBT offices are often good places for FtM trans students to come out and get support, such offices are seldom places where MtF students would feel welcome. This is a result of the long history of stigmatization of transsexual women by prominent thought leaders among the older generation of gay men, lesbians and traditional feminists (people such as Jim Fouratt, Janice Raymond, Germaine Greer, etc.). MtF students concerned with being "stealthy" often avoid associating with LGBT student groups, for fear of encountering members who might diss them or even "out" them due to the lingering transphobia amongst lesbians and gays.
 
As part of their activist activities, LBGT offices sometimes hold meetings and public forums where they speak for "transgender people" and talk about "trans discrimination".  At best, these offices usually advocate only for adding EO protections for "gender identity and gender expression" to the university policies.  However, without participation by or contact with transitioning MtF students, such offices are not usually aware of the many practical problems faced by those students. Thus those offices are not usually in a position to recommend practical solutions to the practical problems faced by trans students (especially by MtF students).
 
Therefore, it is important for university offices other than the campus LGBT office to coordinate the implementation of practical solutions to the problems facing trans students. Staff members in many different university offices, such as health services, housing, public safety, and psychological counseling, need to work together in this effort.
 
Taking the above issues into account, and having explored the situations at a number of leading colleges and universities, I've compiled the list below describing the difficulties and gaps in university services that TG/TS students face, and have made recommendations for practical solutions to each of those problems.
 


 

 

LIST OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR

ENHANCING COLLEGE ENVIRONMENTS FOR TG/TS STUDENTS:

Many of Lynn's recommendations below were initially adopted in 2002 for inclusion in a Report of the "Gender Identity Working Group" at UM. That committee was formed by the Vice President for Student Affairs at UM to study the situation of trans students at the University, identify gaps in services for these students, and make recommendations to the University on how to close these gaps. Lynn served as a consultant to and prepared recommendations for that committee during the summer of 2002. Lynn went on to serve on the Provost's TBLG Task Force at UM, which investigated the overall university climate for trans people. The task force's TBLG Report, issued on April 26, 2004, also included many of Lynn's recommendations.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

 

1.   Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Protection

2.   Health Care

3.   Housing Services

4.   Updating of Student Records

5.   Student Psychological Counseling

6.   Student Safety 

7.   Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness

8.   Career Counseling

9.   Campus Orientation

10. Insuring the Privacy of Students 

11. Patterning on "Best Practices" Now in Place in U.S. Industry

12. Coordination Among Offices to Provide for Individual Student Needs

 

1. HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY PROTECTION:

It often comes as a surprise to people to learn that their college and university EO protections for "sexual orientation" which protect gay men and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing and other services do NOT protect transgender and transsexual students and staff in the same way. The reasons for this oversight are complex, and include the past "invisibility" of transgenderism and its conflation with homosexuality. In the past, many people simply assumed that transgender people are gay. However, being transgender has no correlation with whether one is gay or straight - in either one's original or new gender.

Since being trans has nothing to do with one's sexual orientation, EO protections that apply to gays and lesbians do not automatically include trans people in most jurisdictions. Therefore, it is important to provide specific EO protections for trans students. Otherwise there is no means to enforce proper and fair implementation of recommendations for easing the burden of those students.

Recommendation:

1.1. A very high priority should be placed on updating college and university EO protections to include "gender identity" and "gender expression".

 

2. HEALTH CARE:

Many TG/TS students express concerns about obtaining health care at university health services. The perception that medical staff are unfamiliar with the needs of trans patients, and fears of explaining their situations to potentially transphobic medical personnel, are serious barriers to access to health care services. Many trans students who are very ill and in need of medical help do not seek that help but instead suffer in silence, out of fear of being outed into the university and/or being treated in ways that might humiliate and embarrass them.

Recommendations:

2.1. University health services should build a list of "TG friendly clinicians", and this list should be available to TG/TS students via university internet information services.

2.2. Health services should make every effort to guide trans students to those staff members who are known to be "friendly". Such staff members do not need to be highly knowledgeable about trans issues. Instead they only need to feel comfortable around such students, and able to maintain an open mind and LISTEN to what the students' health concerns are, recognizing that when dealing with trans-specific areas the students may actually be more knowledgeable than they are. Trans students need open access to health care from people who are not prejudiced against them. Nothing is more frightening than being sick or injured, and then being suddenly confronted by shocked, angry, hostile "care givers" who are unfriendly to trans people.

2.3. Health services should make it widely known that they provide regular health care services to trans students WITHOUT requiring that they register as trans with any particular gender program. Students should feel free to seek special gender counseling from a caregiver of their own choice. Health services should especially NOT force students to sign up for any university-based "gender program" having a research focus. Such university-based programs are notorious for having (i) a focus on older transitioners in the larger community, and (ii) rigid patterns of "gate-keeping" to try to hold back older transitioners from transitioning. Such programs are thus totally unsuited to the treatment of young student transitioners (for an example that is illustrative of the difficulties, see "Kelly's e-mail in the attached Appendix*). It is also important that confidentiality of their health care issues be maintained.

2.4. Health services should build and maintain a list of physicians and gender counselors in their area who are known to be trans friendly (and who do not require students to be controlled by any university-based gender-clinic). The list should include various specialties, including endocrinology.

2.5 University health insurance policies should at least provide coverage for gender counseling for trans students, and for hormone prescriptions and endocrinology tests for those trans students over 18 years of age.

 

3. HOUSING SERVICES:

Housing is a very sensitive area for trans students. Their living arrangements have a great impact on their overall success as students, their social opportunities, and their emotional wellness. Their ability to study, to insure their privacy, and to make friends and socialize are all greatly affected by their housing.

Housing staff in most schools seldom receive any orientation about trans issues. If staff members had a basic awareness of the issues facing TG/TS student in residence halls, life could be made easier for those students. It would be especially valuable if students had someone to go to regarding harassment of trans students, handling challenges with roommates, resolving problems with restroom access, etc.

Staff members need to be aware that most trans students are not "out", and do not want to risk being "outed". They need to be sensitive to such students' privacy, and help them while maintaining confidentiality - unless the student tells them otherwise. Fear of outing is a major problem for many trans students, and efforts to help them can sometimes only make them more fearful about outing. On the other hand, for some trans students, knowing that a friendly staff member is there to help them can make big difference, and provide them with much needed peace of mind.

Recommendations:

3.1. Housing staff should receive basic orientation regarding the issues and needs of trans students. They need to be especially sensitized to the difficulties faced by visibly gender variant and transitioning students who may be subjected to harassment by other students.

3.2. Housing staff orientations should make it clear that trans students may sometimes quietly transition while living in the residence halls. Staff must learn that such transitions are an "approved" action for the student to be taking, and that transitions are not in any way "illegal" or signs of insanity, etc.  Staff members then need to learn that trans students may have some special needs that staff members can and should help them with.

3.3. Housing information should inform trans students that if special circumstances warrant a private room (such as when students undergo SRS surgery requiring lots of private aftercare), that they will be given special priority for such rooms.

3.4. Residence hall staff members should be informed that protection of privacy is very important for many trans students. Confidentiality is of the utmost importance and they should NEVER engage in gossip about trans or cross-dressing students.

 

4. UPDATING OF STUDENT RECORDS:

Updating names on student's records to reflect the legal name change for people that are transitioning is a major problem for university students. In most universities there is a complete lack of any systematic, coordinated procedure for updating such students' records. These problems are serious ones. Most students now have to go to many different offices where their records are kept, and then "out themselves" in each office in order to try to explain their situation and get their records changed.

The continual need to be outing oneself to potentially unfriendly or even hostile bureaucrats is extremely stressful, especially during the difficult adjustment period of gender transition. However, students may be forced to keep trying to make these changes in records lest their old name and gender cause even worse outings and damage their post-transition life.

It is important to remember that students' records affect remainder of their lives. Any lapses in updating of records can have disastrous consequences for these students at a very vulnerable time in their lives.

Recommendations:

This is a complex problem that cuts across all university activities. Some university unit needs to take the lead in coordinating a method for enabling transitioned students to quietly get their name and gender changed on all records.

4.1. The university should identify a small multi-office team to devise coordinated methods for records changes for the occasionally transitioning student.

4.2. The existence of this record changing team should be made known to trans students; perhaps through internet listings of "TG/TS services" or via the university's LGBT office.

4.3. All key administrators of offices responsible for maintaining student records need to be oriented that a change of name and gender is appropriate and approved for those students who have socially transitioned and who have obtained legal name changes and documentation.

4.4. Oversight is needed to insure that records changes for transitioned students do not lapse and that old records do not resurface. This process for making these changes needs to be timely and comprehensive.

 

5. STUDENT PSYCHOLOGICAL COUNSELING:

There is a big gap in awareness among many university psychological counseling services regarding the needs of transgender students. Many university counselors are uninformed about gender conditions and are not even aware of good sources of information about these conditions.

In many cases, trans students need basic counseling to help cope with family and relationship problems, problems handling depression, and problems with ongoing harassment because of their appearance. Having occasional access to a friendly counselor who is aware TG/TS issues and who can help with these matters would be of great help to such students.

Recommendations:

5.1. All university counselors should be provided with a basic orientation concerning TG/TS issues and the many practical problems that trans and gender variant students face. At the very least they should gain a basic familiarity with TG/TS issues by reading and studying introductory articles such as  Gender Identity 101: A Transgender Primer (more, more, more). They should also familiarize themselves with the wider availability of references as in the List of TG/TS Informational Websites (as discussed in Recommendation 5.6).

5.2. Counseling services should maintain a short list of "trans friendly" counselors on their staff. This list should be shared with the school's LGBT office and health service, so that trans students and other university staff members can find out who these counselors are. The trans students seeking counseling often do not need a counselor who is an expert in trans matters. Instead they often just need to be able to talk with someone who is friendly and accepting of trans people, and willing to listen and help them find practical solutions for their day-to-day problems. Such a list would help trans students feel much more comfortable about approaching counselors for help, instead of trying to cope with serious issues on their own.

5.3. A procedure should be established so that student identifying as TG/TS or having concerns about gender issues, can be discreetly referred to staff members who are on the "trans-friendly list" and in these cases known to be knowledgeable about transgender conditions. This is especially important when a "gender-questioning student" comes in for counseling. Such students are extremely vulnerable to insensitive and/or uninformed treatment during their first contact with a counselor.

5.4. Counselor staff should build and maintain a list of experienced gender counselors in their local region who are willing to take trans students as clients. The national list of therapists maintained by Becky Allison, M.D. is a good source of information to start with when compiling such a list: 

5.5. Counseling staff should make it widely known that they provide regular counseling services to trans students WITHOUT requiring that they register as being trans with any particular gender counselor not of their choice - and especially without requiring that participation in any university-based "gender program" having a "research focus". Such university-based programs are notorious for their old-time theorizing about transsexualism as being a mental illness, for focusing mainly on older crossdressers and late-transitioners in the larger outside community, and for rigid patterns of gate-keeping to hold back older transitioners from transitioning. Thus such programs are extremely unsuited to the treatment of young student transitioners (for an example, see e-mail below).

5.6. All counselors should be made aware that there are many nationally prominent, highly respected, web-based TG/TS support sites. These sites, such as those on the following list, can be very helpful when encountering students who are beginning to question their gender identity. Students can be pointed to this list of references for follow-up study on their own, and some of the links may also be useful as further background for the counselor when handling individual student situations:

 

 

LIST OF TG/TS INFORMATIONAL WEBSITES:

http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/TGTSISLinks.html

 


6. STUDENT SAFETY:

Historically and nationally, many incidents of harassment and assault on trans people go unreported because trans people often fear law enforcement officers even more than they fear their attackers.

In fact, a substantial number of assaults on trans people in the U.S. come at the hands of law enforcement officers. Many other trans people are verbally abused, publicly outed and otherwise harassed by law enforcement when they seek police help as victims of assaults or other crimes.

Given this historical background, there is a general fear of police and even of university public safety staff among trans students, and a general unwillingness to seek police or public safety help or to report incidents of harassment or assault. This is true even though trans students are much more likely to be harassed, attacked or sexually assaulted than is the average student. Furthermore, criminals are often aware of the fear of police by trans people, and sense that they might make "easy victims who won't call the cops". As a result, many trans students feel very unprotected and vulnerable to public harassment and assault.

Recommendations:

6.1. University safety personnel and local police officers should receive orientation so as they become sensitive to the needs and issues of trans students. They need to be aware of the additional risks and problems that such students face, and also become aware that trans students may fear and mistrust of law enforcement personnel .

6.2. Residence hall safety programs needs to find ways to assure trans students that it is safe for them to report incidents and to seek immediate help from university public safety officers, without fear of verbal or physical harassment or fear of outings.

 

 

7. SEXUAL ASSAULT PREVENTION AND AWARENESS:

Historically, sexual assaults on trans students are reported far less frequently than among students in general, especially "date-rape" type assaults on MtF students. MtF students are so fearful of being outed and are so afraid of harassment by the police that they almost never report such assaults. Can anything be done to help in such cases?

Recommendation:

7.1. The university should integrate the concerns of TG and TS students into existing sexual assault prevention and awareness programs and agendas.

 

 

8. CAREER COUNSELING:

Trans students who have transitioned often face problems in getting references and ID straightened out, and that can often affect their options for job interviewing, etc. There is often a lack of awareness by career-planning staff of the special issues of trans student, and of the information available regarding which companies provide EO protections for trans people.

Recommendations:

8.1. Placement offices should become aware of HRC's Corporate Equality Index, and in particular of HRC's list of companies that provide anti-discrimination protections for trans people. Knowledge of that information would enable trans students to be aware of good options for employment after graduation.

8.2. When a student applies for employment upon graduation, consistent and currently-accurate records are especially important, for any errors can be very damaging at that time. Someone in the career and placement office should be tapped to handle the occasional special-needs of transitioned students, especially regarding securing confidentiality of their records and references when interviewing and applying for employment. That person should coordinate with the office that updates students' records, to insure that everything is consistent.

 

 

9. CAMPUS ORIENTATION:

Most university initial student orientations do not alert trans students to any resources that might help them, nor do they alert all other students to the university's acceptance of and support of trans and gender variant students.

Recommendation:

9.1. Incoming trans students need to be alerted somehow that their needs are recognized and are being served by various offices, health facilities, ombudsmen, etc. All other incoming students should be aware that trans and gender variant students are welcome at the university, that some classmates may transition while at school, and that such gender transitions are fully accepted at their university. The addition of a few lines here and there within the current orientation would accomplish this purpose.

 

10. INSURING THE PRIVACY OF STUDENTS AND THEIR TG STATUS:

Transgenderism and transsexualism are highly stigmatized conditions in large sections of our society. For this reason, most TG/TS people make a great effort to conceal their conditions, especially if they have socially transitioned. Although a minority of trans people will be out or open and some may be visibly transgendered, most are not and are very concerned about anything getting into their records that would identify them as TG/TS. A person's gender status as trans should be viewed by all bureaucrats as CONFIDENTIAL MEDICAL INFORMATION, and any breach of that confidentiality should be deemed very serious indeed.

Recommendations:

10.1. All staff orientations should include a strong mention of the need for confidentiality of information about trans students. Staff members should realize that any major breaches of any student's privacy about their trns status could lead to all trans students permanently losing confidence in that office.

10.2. The team of points of contact who coordinate trans student assistance should construct their procedures, files and communications in ways that insure complete confidentiality of students' trans status - even in cases where the students are fairly open about their status while in college.

 

11. PATTERNING ON "BEST PRACTICES" NOW IN PLACE IN U.S. INDUSTRY:

Few university bureaucrats are aware of the fact that many elite corporations in the U.S. not only provide EO protections for TG/TS people but also have procedures in place to assist those employees who undertake gender transitions "on the job". In recent years, many major companies have officially included "gender identity" in their anti-discrimination policies, and are accommodate transitioning employees. Examples from the HRC list of such companies are Intel, Lucent, Apple, Xerox, American Airlines, J. P. Morgan, AETNA, Eastman Kodak, Nike Inc., PPG Industries Inc. By late 2005, 73 of the Fortune 500 companies provided such protections.

The "best practices" among such companies are often patterned after a set of "Workplace Guidelines for Transgendered Employees" initially adopted by Lucent. The guidelines deal with many practical issues of OTJ transition, and the guidelines address the responsibilities of all parties involved - including specific responsibilities of the transitioners themselves.

Recommendation:

11.1 Key university staff members responsible for designing and implementing any TG/TS policy changes and support programs should study the Lucent's Workplace Guidelines for Transgendered Employees in order to better visualize the problem space they are dealing with and better frame practical solutions to various practical problems.

Universities should also carefully monitor the development of "best practices" regarding the treatment of trans people, whether employees in industry and or students in other universities, in order to continually evolve and improve their own local practices. (See this link for a list of universities now providing EO protections for trans people).

 

12.0. COORDINATION AMONG OFFICES TO PROVIDE FOR INDIVIDUAL STUDENT'S NEEDS

TG/TS students who are about to undertake a gender transition while in school are under a great deal of pressure to "tell" certain people about their impending transition. They worry about updating their many different university records, but don't know for sure who really needs to know, i.e., "who to tell". They may worry about the need to tell their advisors, their student employers, and their many others UM contacts. Each student comes up with his or her own way of doing this. Some do it quietly, person by person. Others more openly, sometimes by using an explanatory website or by sending an e-mail to a list "whom it may concern".

The issue of "announcing a transition" to those who need to know, while at the same time minimizing "outing" and gossip, is a major quandary for any student who transitions. Universities are such decentralized places that transitioning students face the nightmare of having to potentially "tell" dozens of people, any one of which could do them harm in some way. When a student does "tell" various people in the bureaucracy that they are transitioning (to get their record's changed, or to tell an advisor or employer, etc.) they now have to do it ON THEIR OWN, and often face ridicule and/or rejection, and lots of questions about the validity, morality and legality of what they are doing.

Recommendations:

12.1. An ombudsman or other special point of contact should be positioned to advise TG/TS students about who to notify and how to do this as discreetly as possible - i.e., help them notify only those who really do need to know - with the minimum of "outings" due to gossip.

12.2. This point of contact can also help the student by informing the relevant staff members that the university recognizes the validity of what the student is doing - and requesting that the student's privacy be protected to the extent possible.

12.3. A list of "contact people" for trans students should be maintained, each dealing with different concern (health care, records, housing, LGBT affairs, etc.), so that trans students have options for where to go when making first contact with "the system".

12.4. The list of POC's in various offices for trans students should be made very visible and available, via the internet and via handouts.

12.5. Individual trans students have unique needs for services and academic support systems based upon their state of transition, their class status and the type of academic and co-curricular experiences they pursue at the University. There is often a need to tailor services to address the particular needs of an individual student. For example, University Health Services, University Housing, and Counseling services may have different approaches to addressing the needs of different individual students.

A "case management" advocate model may best suit the needs of individual trans students as they work to utilize university services and programs. A small network of identified staff within selected offices across the University could serve as primary facilitators for assisting students as they work to address their unique service and programmatic needs within the University. Ideally, students moving through the system would be assisted by an advocate or mentor who would be responsible for moving their student through the system, and connecting the student with the individual facilitators within the individual offices. New students in particular would benefit from this type of approach. As they enter into the University, they would be able to have assigned to them an advocate, who would assist them in working through the myriad services and offices within the University.

This model could handle the relatively small numbers of students involved each year, and could ensure that individual student's needs are being addressed, that gaps are not occurring in terms of service provision and sensitivity, and that each student's unique needs are being fully addressed.

 

 


 

Update of April 26, 2004:

 

On April 26, 2004, the University of Michigan published the "Report of the Task Force on the Campus Climate for TBLG Faculty, and Staff and Students at the University".   The TBLG Report builds upon the concerns and recommendations originally published on this page back in 2002, and includes many of those recommendations. That Report is highly recommended as a model for discussion and planning regarding transgender issues by other universities.  You can download the full 64 page TBLG Report as a PDF file (380KB) by clicking this link..

 

Update of September 21, 2007:

 

On this date, the Michigan Daily reported:  "Regents approve addition to clause - After four years, change comes with split vote". At long last, the University of Michigan adopted protections for gender identity and expression.

 


LynnConway.com > TS Information > College Transition Issues