Out Like a Lamb: Day 7: Academic Trans Girl Blues

by tigermanifesto

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I had a rather trying day today. One of my classmates, an older fellow who attends the same environmental history seminar, misgendered me in front of the rest of the class. This is not only embarrassing, since I had to interrupt him to correct his mistake, but deeply tiring. Whether the problem arose from ignorance, carelessness, or malice, the event dragged my mood down and cast a pall over the rest of the day.

My relationship to my classmates is uneven and somewhat odd. Only one person has come up to me and asked if I’m trans. Though I think many of the students in my seminars understand, I’m not sure that everyone does, and there are odd moments where someone I rather like refers to me as if I’m a guy. This is despite presenting in an overtly feminine way, having visible breasts, wearing makeup pretty well, etc. etc. Again, I am left unsure of the source of these instances of misgendering. They’ve only known me by my actual name, and I’ve repeatedly and obviously used she and her to refer to myself in jest. Though I make little effort to shift my voice, I would think that the message would still sink in.

Rather oddly, in fact, I have had a much better time interacting with my professors and supervisors. Actually, the university itself recognizes me by my actual gender and name and not my dead one––though for legal purposes they keep my legal dead name on file for now––making it, on average, better at understanding who I am than my classmates are. Not everyone is able to experience even this limited form of autonomy and security, of course, but in my case it’s greatly appreciated.

Academia as a whole is something of a fool’s game at the moment, but for a young trans woman it has its pleasures and rewards. I have been able to spend a great deal of my time researching gender and queer theory, getting a broad view of what people like me in various contexts have said about our individual and collective lives. In that respect, my career in academia has been personally enriching. I’m also excited to be pushing boundaries within the historical profession, both as a trans woman hoping to achieve some notoriety and for my specific theoretical interventions. After all, even though my experience as a trans person shapes all of my experiences and interests, I’m not primarily interested in gender or transness as my scholarly topic (I actually specifically avoided it). Trans and nonbinary people should be able to make contributions to any of their chosen subjects, and I’m looking forward to living in a world where more of my colleagues and compatriots are trans. Despite knowing that that kind of identity politics is not ultimately productive, there is still a sense within me that my life would be better if more people who better understood me sat next to me in classes and lectures.

Academia as we know it is already slipping away under corporatization measures and the pressures of the institutions and communities it’s meant to serve. I will certainly contribute, in the future, to seeing how we can produce a new set of educational institutions that can serve students, local contexts, and workers much better than the current one. For the meantime, however, I’m content to avoid the windowless department common room and ensure I’m not just hanging out with other academics all the time.

The next three days of posts shall be:

March 18: My relationship with the state and the law. I break it all down.

March 19: How I take pride in being trans and attempt to build positive affiliations with people around our identities or lack thereof.

March 20: The big 2-0 will be a sad day, talking about my chronic struggles with depression, anxiety, and thinking in ways that are not recognizable to some people.