Tag Archive: transitioning

This really is the beginning of a bad joke. For those of us privileged enough to have been born with a body that matches our internal gender identity, it’s hard to comprehend the difficulties that many trans and transitioning people must go through in order to align their physical and mental genders.  For those who choose to transition, there are hormones, surgeries, and legal battles to fight, visits to psychologists and extensive, rigorous hurdles to simply being given the medical o-k to have any sex-reassignment operations.

For those who choose not to transition (0r not to do so fully with the actual reassignment surgery), there are intense more intense legal issues, social misunderstanding, and terrible discrimination in the healthcare system.  Because of the deep-seated prejudice and lack of understanding that most Americans have for the needs and complications associated with translife, many doctors simply have no idea how to care for transpeople.  Not only do they lack a personal familiarity with the issue of transgenderism, but their training in medical school was largely centered around a binary understanding of gender and before many of the latest medical breakthroughs in sex-reassignment were made.  On top of that, many people are simply repulsed by anything non-normative and deny transpeople care because of their prejudice.  A really good article about that here.

As the article explains, there are two types of transgender specialties in the medical field: transitioning health care(hormones, surgeries, counceling, etc. aimed at helping a person change their bi0logical sex) and care of non-normative bodies (people with either ambigious genetalia/ intersex persons, people who are using hormones but don’t intend to fully transition, and so on).

On of the greatest misconceptions about transpeople is the understanding that you cannot be trans unless you have or intend to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.  As I have said before, this is clearly not true.  There are many people out there who identify as trans who are very comfortable simply cross-dressing, or only undergoing chest surgery, without the genetalia to match.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

This article, “The Operative Word” does a good job unpacking some of the assumptions about transpeople and surgery.  I highly suggest you read it.

And to wrap up, this is a lovely interview with a transman from Boston, where he explores the way perspective and emotions change as one transitions from female to male.

Stay queer, cool kids.


As the daughter of a nurse midwife and a pharmacist, you could say I live in a “medically privileged household.” My parents can treat burns, diagnose tonsillitis, prescribe antibiotics, and generally serve all medical needs short of major surgery.  But even in my modern, medically-knowledgeable family, there were giant holes in the information I received about sex, sexuality, and identity.  And despite my mother’s 25 years as a nurse-midwife, working tirelessly to help women understand their bodies and how to care for themselves, she was frustrated by her inability to help when I told her that sex was painful and unpleasant for me.  She referred me to a sex therapist, scheduled me an appointment at her old practice, the Midwife Center (which is one of the last accredited outposts of holistic health in the US), and did everything she could to help me.  Considering how progressive and proactive a stance my mother took still without result, you can only imagine how such a story unfolds elsewhere.

The problem for me, it turns out, wasn’t just physical- retroverted cervix aside…- it was also mental.  My pain derived both from internal mental pressure (to orgasm, to enjoy sex, to NOT BE SUPER AWKWARD- which failed **I will note that my mother DID address this!) and from a lack of sexual attraction to my partners.  Medical doctors and therapists had both asked me “Well, are you aroused?  Is entry painful? et. al., but they were unable to tease apart the psychological constructs of romantic attraction from sexual attraction.  Because, hell, I wanted to have sex- just…not with men, it seems.  Anyway, point being that the people I asked weren’t able to help me because they didn’t have the background in the mental and emotional aspects of sexuality and identity- they only have the medical.

One word I’ll toss around a lot in this article (and blog in general) is sex positivity.  Carnal Nation’s Carol Queen wrote a wonderful article, “Elements of Sex-Positivity,” on what exactly this means, but in essence, sex positivity is a lot like how it sounds: positive enforcement of safe, consensual exploration of sex.  Sex positivity is about open-mindedness.

Sex positivity means you acknowledge that sex is, or could be under the right circumstances, a positive, healthy force in anyone’s life… even if it isn’t right now. Those circumstances may not be the same for everyone (though some may be universal, like consent), but they include things like access to information, support, condoms (if relevant), a loving (or at least friendly) partner, healing from past negative sexual experiences like rape or abuse, privacy, enhanced self-esteem, etc.

Unfortunately, most doctors don’t get this lecture in med school.  They can tell us about STDs and how conception occurs; they can detail fetal development and diagram our anatomical anomalies, but they can’t explain the way our bodies react to things our minds find arousing.  Doctors are completely in the dark when it comes to our body-mind interaction and the complexities of gender and attraction.

Another fantastic Carnal Nation article gives A Sex Prescription for Doctors, because as it stands now, the medical profession is ill-equipped to handle the multitude of ways we think and feel about sex.

..There are about a jillion physicians who don’t know the first thing about sexual products, masturbation, the clitoris, what the foreskin would do for a man’s sexual pleasure if it weren’t removed by circumcision, what sexual effects hormone replacement therapy is likely to create in a menopausal woman (or the effects of hormones in a transgendered man), and all the other tens of thousands of sex or gender questions people might have for their physicians.

In terms of sexual behavior, teens and even adults have become their own teachers.  They have jumped into uncharted waters to explore because society has refused to give them real, comprehensive, sex-positive guidelines.  Can you imagine how a story like mine might have differed if our gynecologists, instead of asking if we were using birth control, started by asking if we were ENJOYING sex?  And god forbid, if we actually had the relationship with our medical care providers that a conversation as such would seem normal!

When I hit puberty, my PCP recommended an inane book akin to those used for middle school health classes- I was nearly in tears.  I couldn’t verbalize how insulting, how demeaning her suggestion felt to me.  It seemed as if she was telling me that I didn’t know my own body.  I’d had the lectures on hormones and secondary-sex characteristics.  I understood my body, but I had NO IDEA what to do with it.  And frankly, I don’t think my doctor knew either- if she did, she certainly wouldn’t tell me.

This going-in-blind model, created by a lack of health care provider knowledge and patient-doctor dialogue, instills constant guilt in teenagers- guilt they often carry into adulthood.  Now that’s hardly the model we want for a well-adjusted, sex-positive society!

And the story only gets worse as we begin to touch the tougher questions, those that approach before we become teens, before we begin to think for ourselves.  Issues of gender identity often arise as early as 3-4 yrs. old.  If a preschool boy insists on wearing dresses and playing with dolls, what will a doctor tell the parents to do?  Most, even in today’s relatively progressive society, will tell them to put him in overalls and take the dolls away.  They don’t have comprehensive training in these issues.  They simply know what seems normal or abnormal to their sociological paradigm, and that’s no basis for a medical or psychological decision at all.

The Edge DC wrote a piece recently called “When is Too Early to Change Genders?” which puts this struggle into perspective, especially considering the harassment, disrespect, and often familial disapproval that transgendered teens are subjected to.  On top of that, most health care providers have little, if any experience dealing with transgendered and/or transitioning kids, much less with gender non-conforming kids (outside of the gender binary completely) who may be feeling (but unable to express) states of being which English hasn’t even termed yet.  How can responsible caregivers diagnose and help kids and teens who understand their gender in a way science and medicine haven’t caught up with yet?

The only effort I’ve seen so far made towards rectifying these problems has been through the National Sex Forum and the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality’s SAR series.  SARs, or Sexual Attitude Restructuring program, is described by one of its leaders Amy Marsh as “an immersion course designed for sexologists and other helping professionals. The idea is to leave your comfort zone, discover your buttons, process all kinds of things you’d never thought you’d see or even hear about, and come out the other side with a better understanding of the really enormous range of human sexual behavior”

SARs run through the gamut of sex-related materials, from porn to erotic fiction to Good Morning America investigative specials.  Though amazing for their focus, the extent to which SARs cover issues of gender identity and expression however, is limited (probably because they’re two separate things, duh), and I don’t know of any professional organizations or workshops which do.  Of course, my knowledge in this area is, again, sorely lacking. I apologize to any trans readers out there- I suck at finding gender identity information.  Boo.

My mother, in talking to me about my blog, said “It’s crazy how your generation knows more about these issues than people who’ve been having sex for way longer.”  And that is both true and unfortunate.  Overall, despite the success and growing scale of SARs, the medical world (and society in general) still has a lot to learn if they want to help a new, younger, more open generation deal with their sexual and developmental health.


I’ve pretty much been waiting to write this article ever since I borrowed the book “The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life” from the library in the spring of senior year (ohhh, it’s Princeton Review- spiffy, right?). http://www.amazon.com/Lesbian-Guide-College-Admissions-Guides/dp/0375766235 Seriously, the link is here- you can get it used for $4.  Just do it.  Do keep in mind though that since it was published in 2007, some of the info is a little outdated.

Let’s start with the most obvious decision- which school do I want to go to?

If you are looking to find a school with a LGBT-friendly atmosphere, consider what kind of school you are looking for: religious, private, secular, and/or public school?

Not to generalize, but private, secular schools are often have the most LGBT-friendly populations.  There are many exceptions to this rule however.

  • American University- my school; full of awesome; private and considered secular, although it was founded by Methodists whose community is still very active on the campus (they are also incredibly LGBT friendly).  American is the prime example of a super gay-friendly private school.  We have an active, loud community, a well-staffed LGBT resource center, a bunch of queer programming from our student group Queers and Allies, and so on…
  • St. Vincent’s Academy- private, religious university (Catholic); St. Vincent’s is an example of a religious school that has embraced tolerance.  They have a loud and active LGBT and ally population (my friend once told me that when a speaker began spouting homophobic remarks at a St. Vincent’s event, ¼ of the audience actually stood up and left.  The monks at the school are very supportive of LGBT students, and I believe there is a GSA or similar group
  • Penn State- a huge, public, secular university.  Penn State is big enough that any minority is bound to find a niche for themselves.  Penn State has a huge resource center, lots of queer programming, and a generally accepting population.

So yes, there are some of every kind, but you have to look closely.  A good research tool is campusclimateindex.org, which has a “Gay checklist” for LGBT-related policies and resources of many major universities.   The Advocate published a similar guide a few years back, but I take issue with their nomination process and research methods.    Nonetheless, I can confirm a few of the schools on their “20 Best-of-the-Best” as having legitimately good LGBT climates.  My approval noted with an asterisk.

  • American University******  (YAY!!)
  • Duke University
  • Indiana University***** (ALSO YAY!)
  • New York University*****
  • Oberlin College
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University******
  • Princeton University * (with some hesitation- their resource center is fabulous, but upon my visit, info about the student population was ambiguous)
  • Stanford University
  • Tufts University
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • University of California-Santa Cruz
  • University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Pennsylvania******  (Bisexual communities have noted some discrimination, however)
  • University of Puget Sound
  • University of Southern California

Whether or not your potential school is LGBT friendly, consider the implications of the surrounding city. Bigger cities are more likely to have a resources and pro-LGBT populations, but they are also bigger hubs for hate crimes and extremism.  THERE ARE 2 SIDES TO EVERY COIN.  While Washington, DC is considered one of the most gay-friendly places in the country (next to NY and San Francisco), there was a violent LGBT student beating on the Georgetown campus only 10 minutes from where I live.  Keep this in mind.

On the positive side, big cities like LA, DC, New Orleans, Miami, San Fran, NY, etc. almost always have HUGE, beautiful PFLAG chapters (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays-http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194&srcid=-2), Gay and Lesbian Community Centers, and counseling, health, and aid organizations designed specifically for your needs.

So once you’ve decided on a school, the real research begins.   One of the best things you can do is find out what program and resources are available for you at your school.

Like high school GSA’s, colleges have support programs too.  At American, we have the Rainbow Speakers Bureau, which allows LGBT students to give presentations in classrooms at dorm floor meetings about LGBT identity and issues.  We also have a group called Queers and Allies, although many schools have a similar student groups known as Spectrum or Pride. This site, http://www.glbtstudentpride.com/United%20States%20Colleges/unitedstates.htm has a GREAT database of student associates for most US colleges.  If you are going to a college that is known to be less LGBT friendly, I would highly recommend checking if there is a safe-space program, which trains students and faculty to be mediators and host “safe spaces” for students who are being bullied or harassed on campus.  http://www.equal.org/safespace.html This website explains the program in more detail.

The next big decision is How Out Do You Want To Be?

Are you telling your roommate, your friends, your teachers, your academic advisors?  Are you comfortable with getting into a relationship, with having a random hookup, with casually dating, with walking down the street holding hands and BEING GAY?  Are you ok going to LGBT events, and if so, will you need to pose as an ally, or will you be comfortable with the tacit assumption by attendees that you “might be gay?”  These are questions you DEFINITELY need to answer before heading off.

Part and parcel with this question is Where Do You Want To Live?

Some colleges offer gender neutral housing or queer-themed learning community floors. These can be especially useful for transgender or transitioning college kids, who need the privacy of an independent bathroom or appreciate the lack of pressure in gender-neutral showers and rooms.  Keep in mind that in religious institutions, this may not be an option.  A special note****- if you attend a school that segregates dorm floors or buildings by gender, find out if you will be allowed to house in a dorm that matches your gender identity- this will definitely require a special call (probably several) to the school.

Also, make sure that the gender on your ID does not cause problems.  Because most colleges (even progressive ones like Indiana and American U.) still identity students using a gender binary, it is important that the school knows if you are currently transitioning and what that means for your life on campus, including housing, advisor placement, and health center plans.  I wish I had resources for this and I HATE that I don’t, but I will keep you posted.  The Guide I recommended at the beginning of this post has a few fabulous chapters on trans issues and several websites- so CHECK IT OUT.

If you are living in a double or triple (as most 1st year students will), think about how you will negotiate questions of guest policies and girlfriends/boyfriends.  Hopefully, the issue of sexuality will not affect these, but its better to come in with EYES OPEN and make allowances for what makes your new roommate comfortable.

Like other students, you must consider What Will I Do About Medical Care?

For LGB students, this is less of an issue.  In addition to a student health center that will usually meet all your needs (including requests for a same or opposite-gender physician or nurse), there are lots of city clinics that offer sliding-scale payment options for LGB people and specific health issues.  For transgender and especially transitioning transsexuals, health questions are a lot more complex and tricky.  If you are getting hormone therapy, you absolutely need to figure out how those treatments will continue in your new city.  I highly recommend extending your college visits and looking for a primary care provider before committing to any university.  Even if you aren’t getting therapy, but are living transgendered, make sure to find a provider who understands your medical and psychological needs, because the last thing you want during the stress of finals week is a doctor telling you that “if you just dressed like a normal girl, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

And once you’re finally settled into your life, got your stuff unpacked, and start LIVING, you have to figure this one out: What Do I Want To Learn?

Well, obviously, if you’re reading this, you’re either a really good friend of mine, or you are already curious about sexuality studies.  If you play your cards right at university, you can often find classes that mesh with that interest.  A few select universities (but growing numbers!) offer a Queer Studies or Women and Gender Studies Major, which

focuses on the intersections of gender identity, sexuality, sexual development, and attraction across history and cultures.  It’s pretty cool.  But even if you don’t want to commit to this major, there are usually classes (mostly in anthropology and psychology disciplines) which have queer focuses.  And if you get lucky enough to have a gay

teacher, they’ll often slip some queer material into their lesson plans as applicable.  ((I had an amazing Lit. teacher,

Prof. Brideoake, who did a fantastic unit on Nella Larsen’s Passing while focusing some discussions on the sexual tension between the main characters Irene and Claire.  These references are very subtle and nuanced, and I would highly recommend the book!))

Finally, you have to ask yourself, How Politically-Active Do I Want To Be?

College campuses are often intensely political affairs.  There are organizations for every political agenda in the world, and you, as a student, have the opportunity to play a large part in them.  So do you want to be visibly involved in politics?  Want to march in the National Equality March?  Want to volunteer for phone banks to help fight anti-gay legislation?  These opportunities will probably be available to you, and if they aren’t, you have the opportunity (and often, if you look in the right places, the college funding) to create them!


  • Find a college environment that fits you: city/rural, religious/secular
  • Check campusclimateindex.org to see the policies and resources available to you
  • Make medical and housing arrangements that suit your needs as an LGBT student
  • Take advantage of queer course offerings and political involvement opportunities
  • Get in on student groups and activities
    • American University recently hosted an S&M 101 workshop, which is great for LGBT teens and their straight friends alike!  Also, dialogue groups like the SpeakOUT program are amazing for discussing problems and ideas related to the LGBT community
    • Go out into the city!  Take advantage of the health clinics, clubs, social organizations, etc. that your new city offers
    • GET A NEW START.  New city, new friends, new staff, new life.  If you want it, you can try it here.

Good luck, queer kids!

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