fluidity at an institution whose mission is to empower members of a
single sex, in this case female, can only be an end to said institution
whose beginning came from an era when gender was binary – male or
female.We no longer live in such a world. When
Facebook decided last year to be gender friendly they came up with over 50 genders.
get that today women’s colleges such as Wellesley are safe places for women
to explore their sexuality. For me, by second semester of my first-year in the late 1990s, it seemed that a visible number of my fellow first-years were
identifying as lesbian or bisexual. Terms such as BUG
(bisexual until graduation) and LUG (lesbian until graduation) entered my vocabulary. Not only was it acceptable, it was in some ways cool. That is not tradition though. When Nora Ephron, Class of 1962, gave the commencement speech to the
Class of 1996, she recalled several women being thrown out of the college during her time for
lesbianism. I suppose these women’s colleges have also been safe havens for those with non-traditional gender identities. I guess it is to be expected when you tell a woman she can be whatever she wants to be. However, I wouldn’t say that that was by design either and I don’t think that the debate for safe spaces and inclusivity for
transgendered students should be borne solely women’s
colleges who are in the minority when it comes to institutions of tertiary education.
was not pleased when I read the New York Times article last autumn regarding
trans-men at Wellelsey. I couldn’t understand why if one didn’t feel
female or didn’t want to be female one would choose to attend a women’s college when so many co-ed options existed. I was troubled that Wellesley students identifying as male who were doing all things possible to be male and look male were imposing upon the female majority of their women’s college to cater to their maleness. Did they end up at Wellesley by mistake or by force? Were they not able to transfer out of a women’s college if they no longer were women?
The trans-male students in the article seemed to have an issue being subjected to the rules that apply to
male students. Furthermore, they objected to the default use of female pronouns in their presence or to the use of the term “sisterhood”, or to the focus on women’s experiences in their various classes. Yet,
even before gender fluidity became a point of discussion, male students
had a presence at Wellesley, albeit a tiny one, either as day students from neighbouring colleges or as live-in exchange students for a semester or a year from a consortium of colleges during my time there. Thus there were rules that pertained to them. Rules such as which bathroom they could use. Rules that empowered us to ask unescorted males to identify themselves.
I found it ironic that some of the trans-men profiled in the article who chose to stay at Wellesley after their decision and/or transition despite the acknowledged awkwardness because it felt safer could not acknowledge how their vocal demands for inclusion created a threatening environment for the women who thought they were attending a women’s college to voice their opposition to their presence. More ironic was a quote from an anonymous trans-man who didn’t think trans-women (men who identify as women) should be allowed into Wellesley. If anything, shouldn’t those be the trans-gendered people that Wellesley does accept and nurture and support?
“Trans men are a different case; we were raised female, we know what it’s
like to be treated as females and we have been discriminated against as
females. We get what life has been like for women.”
“Sisterhood” is not the same as “siblinghood” and definitely not the same as “brotherhood”. If we are now to use them inter-changeably, the question then is in 2015, what is the point of a women’s college? Wellesley’s mission reads “to provide an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world”. So why are we pretending that that includes everyone? I
don’t know what the answer is for Wellesley College. It seems they don’t know
what is right for them either**. But if we are going to call ourselves a women’s
college then we need to put women first. If we can learn that Pluto is no longer a planet, we can also learn that gender is not binary. However, we cannot allow men, even if
they come in a woman’s body, or have previously led female lives, to dictate
to women how we must live in our “Wellesley bubble”, one created to
support, nurture, and empower women. What is the point? No longer are up-and-coming women leaders graduating from women’s colleges. Co-ed colleges seem to be doing a fine job preparing women as well. It is not realistic to say that women’s colleges should include all genders except the obvious cis-male gender. What difference does that make? Maybe, the outcome of gender fluidity discussions is to let women’s colleges go the way of the dinasour and become co-ed and call for a broader acceptance of trans-gender rights and women’s rights across society at large. I know though that I would be very disappointed if Wellesley College became co-ed or no longer cared preferentially for women.
**I originally wrote this post on 2/15/2015. It had taken me that long (since reading the NYT article in October 2014) to try and put into words my non-linear thoughts on this complicated but important matter. As you see it took up two blog posts, the first seemingly having nothing to do with the topic at hand. It has sat in draft form, waiting for me to hit “publish” for over a month now. What a topic! As it turns out, Wellesley College released an official statement on the matter on 3/5/2015, short of which is they will remain a women’s college. The admissions policy now gender-based rather than sex-based will include transgender women and people who were assigned female at birth and are gender non-conforming.