Queeriosity: Being Transgender in the Five Colleges

As my first year at Amherst was coming to its end, I began to reflect on my first-year experience in the Amherst community. More specifically, I thought about how much Amherst’s queer community had influenced me to grow and accept my identity. As I packed my things, preparing to go back “home,” to a place where my identity was neither accepted nor embraced, I realized how lucky I was, and am, to be at Amherst. It is here where I am given a safe environment to explore new realms of my queer identity. Here, it is acceptable for me to fluctuate between femininity and masculinity without anyone doubting my gender. For me, that is very important.

Growing up, I was expected to present and act a certain way because of my assigned gender identity. Dressing “as a boy” was never appropriate and often came with repercussions. I was a confused child, who naturally seemed to transcend the gender binaries. Elementary school consisted of wrestling with the boys at recess and fitting in with the boys overall. At that point it was acceptable for me to express my masculinity. However, when middle school came around and the concept of gender was more prominent, my self-image took a hit. I was no longer accepted as one of the guys. Puberty hit. I began to play on the girl’s soccer team and swim on the girl’s team. I was inherently forced to change my ways. However, I never questioned this drastic change or my gender, because I never knew I had the agency. I never knew it was possible.

I identify as transgender. If you are not familiar with the word, it is an umbrella term used by individuals who do not conform to binary gender identities and expressions. For example, I was assigned female at birth but do not identify as a woman. The word is foreign to me. Yet in order for me to have come to terms with this newfound identity, I needed the exposure to a positive trans space. It took physically meeting a trans individual, at the age of 15, for me to realize that it is OK to defy the gender binary. I began to go against the norm and what was expected of me merely because I was assigned female at birth. It took 15 years to realize that there was a word for the way I was feeling. Until then, I felt alienated. I was never exposed to the transgender community because it was never publicized, shown in the media or talked about. All it took was hearing the term to realize that it perfectly described me.

While I am now able to embrace my trans identity, many of my loved ones are not. I find that this is a result of the misconceptions that people have of the transgender community. One very apparent misconception is that trans individuals are not present on college campuses. Admittedly, it is very true that we are less visible on Amherst’s campus, which consists of predominantly cisgender individuals. However, we are here. Our identities are real and should not be undermined. I believe that it is important to counteract the assumptions made regarding the trans community by increasing its visibility and showing its truth.

The visibility of trans individuals on campuses remains limited. This is predominantly because trans individuals face tremendous obstacles during childhood and teenage years. These challenges are often overlooked. It is awfully hard for many trans individuals to go through their transitions while attending to their studies and other life commitments. Being trans often puts one at an incredibly high risk of family rejection, poverty and homelessness. I acknowledge the privilege that I have in being able to attend such a wonderful school with people who complement my identity. However, it does become isolating being one of the few open trans individuals on campus. In order to change this seclusion, I have started a trans support and social group for the five colleges, called TransActive. The goal of the group was to provide a support network that had not yet been created within the five-college community. The group consists of individuals who represent the many different trans identities. Genderqueer, non-binary, transman, transwoman and gender variant are some of the many trans identities. The presence of these identities within this space allows for a diverse and inclusive environment where we as trans individuals can appreciate our bodies, and ourselves. The group meets in Amherst’s Queer Resource Center every Sunday from 1 to 2:30 p.m. My hopes are that this group will allow for the formation of a trans community within the Five College network, giving us a space to safely tell our stories, connect with one another and grow together.