Photo of a trans person with eyeshadow that is the color of the transgender pride flag

Transitioning in College: A Guide to Being an Out and Proud Trans Student

No matter where you're at on your gender journey, these five tips will help you navigate university life as a transgender individual.
February 11, 2020
8 mins read

College is a time to discover yourself. Finding new friends, trying out new hobbies, learning in a different environment: These are just a few of the things that you may do there. So, it’s no surprise that many trans folks end up coming out while in college. However, transitioning can be a scary thing, and it’s important to stay safe and know the rights and resources you have at your institution.

With that in mind, here’s a guide for being out as a trans student. (An important thing to note is that these resources are all for students in the U.S., and unfortunately, I can’t guarantee that the same tips will be helpful for international students, so keep that in mind.)

1. Know Your Rights

For starters, in the United States, it is illegal for any school that gets federal money to discriminate based on sex or gender, a rule put in place by Title IX. According to the website for the National Center for Transgender Equality (or NCTE): “Title IX is a federal law banning sex discrimination in schools. Courts have made it clear that that includes discrimination against someone because they are transgender or don’t meet gender stereotypes or expectations. Title IX applies to all schools (including both K–12 schools and colleges) that get federal money, including nearly all public schools.”

While transitioning, it’s possible that students will face harassment from other students, teachers or even administrators, and step one in those situations is talking to a Title IX coordinator, which all federally-funded schools have. They can usually be found through the staff directory on most school websites.

Another action that can be taken against discrimination in the school is coordinating with the local ACLU chapter about getting more resources and potentially media attention on the situation. Knowing what rights transgender students have is vital to making sure one’s school is compliant with the law.

2. Update Your Documents

Documentation is another important item for trans students. Some who are transitioning will need to change their name and gender markers on school documentation (such as online course tools like Canvas or Blackboard, student portals, diplomas and student IDs) to better fit their identities.

Many schools are now instituting name change policies that allow trans students to change their name without requiring legal documentation, but for those that don’t, the NCTE has an ID documents center that explains what each state requires for a legal name/gender marker change on driver’s licenses and birth certificates, as well as how to change the name/gender marker on a Social Security card and passport. Note that there are some fees associated with getting one’s name changed legally, so be prepared to pay the court and/or any lawyers or notaries you might need.

Make sure you get it changed everywhere: with the IRS, your student loan company if applicable, the Social Security Administration, the DMV and your school’s business office. You’ll have to change your name wherever it appears.

3. Communicate

Another important step is communication. Especially if one doesn’t have documentation set up yet, a good idea is to send out emails to professors with any name or pronoun changes, just so they don’t end up accidentally outing you as trans. This is a good set of guidelines and an example email, provided by Kent State University’s LGBTQ+ center. Making sure that important people around you are in the know will help tremendously, as it broadens your circle of allies.

4. Make Allies

Speaking of allies, make them. It’s vital to connect with your local LGBTQIA+ organization and see what resources they have to offer. In my area, I have the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, which can provide everything from scholarships for name changes, to adaptive clothing (binders, for example), to toiletries and food. They helped me figure out which places I could go to for help, as well as allowing me to establish a place in the community.

Different organizations will have different purposes: some are more politically inclined and engage in activism, some provide more social functions, some give resources to those who need it and some do a little bit of everything. If you’re not satisfied with the help you’re receiving from the organizations in your area, consider getting a group together to make your own. Most schools at this point already have some form of group, whether it’s a trans-focused one or one with a broader focus on LGBTQIA+ people as a whole.

Know that the Equal Access Act forbids any school with federal funding from discriminating against giving organizations funds and resources due to what that organization does. For example, a local Gender and Sexualities Alliance needs to get the same ability to fundraise and hold events as the local Collegiate Republicans Society does. All in all, transitioning is difficult alone, so making allies and friends for support and company is a great thing to do.

5. Be Yourself

In the end, the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. Don’t compromise your transition and your health for others. There will be questions about when/if you’re getting surgery, getting on hormones or changing your name, and it’s important to remember that your transition is your own. There’s no one specific way to do it. If you want to keep your name, get top surgery and not use hormones, that’s up to you. If you want to do nothing except change your pronouns, that’s valid too.

There is no “right” way to transition. So be yourself, as authentic and unique as you are, because that’s what transitioning is all about: becoming your true self, whoever that is, whatever that looks like.

So go out there, and have fun. Be a part of the community, be safe and be 100% true to you. That’s really the best advice I could give to anyone who’s transitioning.

Emerson Holmes, Lindenwood University

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Emerson Holmes

Lindenwood University
English Studies

Emerson Holmes has been previously published in the Eunoia Review, the Neon Mariposa Magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. To send him turtle-related paraphernalia, or for inquiries, contact him through his website.

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