By Andrew Unger
Every semester, two weeks before the start of classes, I send out an email to each of my professors. They all say the same thing: the name of mine they have on their roster, and the name that I actually use. I am a transgender student. When I moved in, I had to put up my own door decorations, because the old ones had my birth name on them. To my friends, my name is Andy.
To my family and for administrative purposes, it’s something entirely different. This is just the starting point of what it is like to be transgender. “UMW is a pretty good school to be transgender at,” said freshman Brenden Bowman, who lives in Madison, the gender neutral dorm on campus.
This actually rings very true for many of the transgender people on campus. There is a gender neutral dorm which allows transgender students to live in a place where they are comfortable. Everyone has their preferred pronouns and their chosen names on their doors. The faculty also tend to be very good about using the correct names and pronouns, according to freshman Elliot Tucker.
However, there are still several issues that need to be sorted out. “Generally, using the bathroom is kind of hard,” said Bowman. While there are gender neutral bathrooms on campus, the system used to install them makes them gendered despite their label. In each building, there is at least one gender neutral bathroom.
But this bathroom is usually just a formerly gendered bathroom in which the sign has been changed. Because of this, there will be a floor in each building where there’s a men’s room and a gender neutral bathroom, or a women’s room and a gender neutral bathroom. Having nowhere else to go, the gender without a bathroom use the gender neutral bathroom, thus making it back into the exact same thing with a slightly different label.
Transgender people being able to use the correct bathroom is actually a huge problem nation- wide. In Tennessee, lawmakers have proposed a bill that would force transgender individuals to use the bathroom that matches the gender they were assigned at birth. Thankfully, while bills like this have been introduced in other states, such as South Dakota, they have always been shot down. In New York, in fact, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order mandating that every transgender person would be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.
Another major issue on campus is how the administration deals with birth and chosen names.“On an administrative basis, it’s pretty decent. It’s hard that everything is registered under my birth name, though,” said freshman Cap Richardson. Under the current regulations, rosters automatically have students’ birth names on them, and Eagle One cards must have birth names on them, instead of transgender students’ preferred names.
This fairly accurately mirrors the situation many transgender people in America face when it comes to changing their names. I just began the process to officially change my name. Luckily, in Virginia, it is much less pricey than in other states.
In Florida, I would have to pay over $400 just for the legal process, along with the fees associated with changing your driver’s license, getting new copies of your birth certificate, and the other sundry tasks involved in fully changing your name. In Virginia, the total only comes to around $50. However, the process is long, taking months and involving hundreds of dollars and quite a bit of paperwork.
Overall, according to Richardson, “The struggles that come with being a trans student at Mary Washington are the same ones that I would experience anywhere else.” There are some problems, but the administration appears to be actively working to improve the college experience for transgender students. The gender neutral bathrooms are definitely a step in the right direction, and hopefully there are more changes coming in the future. I’m proud of the way our school is changing to accommodate transgender students, and I can only hope that it continues to progress in the future.