The following piece is a collaborative effort by a group of parents whose offspring began “gender transition” at university. They will be responding in the comments section under the username “POSTS”: Parents Of Sudden Transgender Students.
What if you sent your kid off to the Ivory Tower and you never saw her or him again–at least, you never saw a recognizable facsimile of the person you knew and loved for 18 years?
College is a time to “find oneself,” to try on different hats. How about transgender, genderqueer, non-binary? Some teens start to explore a transgender identity in high school, often via the Internet. Others may not have previously considered or even imagined a transgender identity before stepping onto a college campus.
If it were all just identity exploration, it would be one thing; but many college students are quickly advancing into medical treatments–often with the financial support of the university. Diagnostic testing or even basic counseling are no longer necessary, and college-bound teens have quickly figured this out. “Coming out” as transgender is now treated pretty much the same as a gay or lesbian coming out, not as the gender identity disorder it was considered to be only a short time ago.
And colleges compete to show how inclusive they can be of a myriad of transgender identities. The college end game is to be and stay highly ranked.
For a high school student questioning their identity, there is much advice available to help them select a trans-friendly campus. Your soon-to-be-away-from-home child may click away on the new wealth of information that could feed into their choice of college, as in campus pride, more pride, a pride guide to transforming your body.
There are even scholarship opportunities available for those considering a transgender identity. If one can commit to a new identity (and possibly a new body), the money is waiting. The Internet is full of transgender opportunities that institutions of higher learning offer before and during those formative college years. If we provided an inclusive list, it would all run together into a confusing (to parents) alphabet soup of acronyms. These acronyms and micro-identities are an easy sell to today’s gender-questioning students.
Some students never question their gender identity until after being immersed in college life. Perhaps they take an elective course in Queer Theory in the Gender Studies Department, opening their eyes to viewpoints they didn’t know existed. Ok, isn’t that what an education is all about? But the medicalization of a newfound queer or trans identity can happen astonishingly quickly now.
Many young-adults-in-formation who suddenly announce a trans identity have a history of anxiety; are brilliant misfits with few friends; are gay or lesbian (and thus in no need of medical intervention); are a tad nerdy with possible autism spectrum traits–or perhaps all the above. Your daughter or son may lack a strong identity–in fact, the list gets so long that we could shorten it to “your child, any child.” Any kid who feels a great need to belong somewhere.
Once a transgender identity decision is made, instructions for what to do next are only a click away, such as at Carleton College in Minnesota:
In the National Geographic special, Gender Revolution, Katie Couric interviewed Tamar Szabo Gendler, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Yale. Dean Gendler is pleased that Yale is at the forefront of the gender revolution:
Universities are places that thrive on new discovery and I think that universities find it thrilling to feel like in the face of new knowledge we are able to figure out how to transform society as a consequence.
Some colleges cover trans medical treatments under the student health insurance plan. According to Campus Pride, a whopping 86 US institutions cover hormones and surgeries, while another 22 will pay for hormones only. In a story in the New York Times on February 12, 2013, the author notes that no university covered such treatment as recently as 2007, but now exclusive universities like Stanford are onboard.
“No one knows how many” indeed–though we know that number has grown since the article was written four years ago. Where once universities provided birth control and routine care on their health plans, now many (like the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) offer the full gamut of major, irreversible sex-reassignment procedures–including phalloplasty and vaginoplasty.
And while it may be hard to imagine how a student could take time out of their busy schedule to have sex reassignment surgery, the coverage of cross-sex hormones on so many student health plans might catch the eye of a gender-defying high school student; especially now that they’re away from the prying eyes of their parents.
Washington State University, in rural Pullman, scores a solid five stars from the CampusPride Index. Why? Trans health care, including (starting fall semester 2017) cross-sex hormones, is available via the student clinic. And as WSU explains, they are continually making changes to meet the needs demanded by their students:
At the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Queer Center provides a page chock-full of resources, including lists of sex reassignment surgeons, affirmative therapists, and how to get legal name changes on campus and state ID documents.
Many colleges embrace the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) guidelines:
A mental health screening and/or assessment as outlined above is needed for referral to hormonal and surgical treatments for gender dysphoria. In contrast, psychotherapy – although highly recommended – is not a requirement.
But informed consent gender clinics do not require mental health screenings by licensed therapists, and access to these clinics has been growing in recent years. Under this model, cross-sex hormones can be available even for a “non-binary” presentation; it is the individual’s choice what their goal and treatment protocol is.
Yale has provided gender surgeries on the student health plan since 2013; more recently, gender fluid and nonbinary Yale students have begun agitating for their right to treatment on demand.
“The medical establishment is prejudiced against nonbinary people, ignoring the fact that gender fluidity exists,” Amend said. “Doctors can propagate a notion of ‘not being trans enough,’ which is toxic to the mental health of patients.”
Amend added that there is a community of nonbinary or gender fluid students at Yale, and that he knows of students who have had to tell psychiatrists that they are “more trans” than they feel, out of a fear that the doctors will withhold treatment if they appear more gender fluid.
Affirmative Care in the Student Counseling and Health Centers
How does this all happen so fast….a teen learning about transgender in high school, and starting cross-sex hormone injections in college?
Every day, young fresh faces, some not looking so fresh anymore, crowd the waiting rooms of student counseling centers all over Campus Country. Being a counselor in a college setting makes for job security: the 18-25-year-old cohort has the highest rate of mental health issues and the waiting list can be long.
Students have many stressors: a new environment, roommates, academic pressures, sexual shenanigans/hook-up culture, social pressures of every kind. Some of these students arrive burned-out by an intense college prep course in high school. Some have pre-existing mental health woes. They are strongly encouraged to use their student mental health center if any issues arise. That’s generally a good thing; we all want our kids to thrive and be healthy. But it can also be a less-positive thing, when the clinic is known as Affirmative Care.
What is Affirmative Care? In the mental health world pertaining to LGBTQetc it means that whatever narrative you bring to the table, you will receive an amen, a yes, a suspension of disbelief from the therapist. A student can make a transgender proclamation, whether this is sudden, whether it makes any sense in the ongoing narrative of his or her life, and it will be accepted without question by the affirmative therapist. If one brings a tangible mental health diagnosis to the affirming counselor, whether it is mild depression, anxiety, bipolar, psychosis, no problem. Because if you have a mental health concern, it must be because you have not been affirmed and celebrated for identifying differently from your “assigned birth sex”. A life out of line with your gender identity explains all other mental health issues….or so the argument goes.
Concerned about what your student is doing on campus, suddenly transitioning socially and via hormone use? If over 18 (as most are), they are considered to be adults now, and they can be safe on campus, even from parents, in “Safe Places.” Recently, the proliferation of “Safe Places” on college campuses have received a lot of attention, mirth, and critiques. Some argue that Safe Places magnify victimhood narratives and curtail freedom of speech and thought on college campuses. But the organized Safe Place coalitions do serve a valuable function. There are many people who need shelter and protection: domestic abuse victims, sexual assault/sex trafficked victims, run-away teens, individuals in groups that are marginalized, including LGBTQ people. None of us should tolerate violence or bullying.
If your child claims to be transgender, on most campuses they will be treated as a protected class against anyone who might question this new identity. A young adult caught up in the transgender warp will often say or do anything to have their way, to claim victimhood status. Doubting parents could even be hit by a Do-not–Contact Order if they express dismay that their child is using cross-sex hormones via the student (or off-campus) health clinic—after all, the benign and kindly college administrators serve as in loci parentis. So the college clinic that injects students with cross-sex hormones, which cause permanent harm and morphed bodies, is just another “safe place.”
The subject of gender identity and safe spaces is a moving target, with the defining happening on college campuses. From the Los Angeles Times:
The meaning of a “safe space” has shifted dramatically on college campuses. Until about two years ago, a safe space referred to a room where people — often gay and transgender students — could discuss problems they shared in a forum where they were sheltered from epithets and other attacks.
Then temporary meeting spaces morphed into permanent ones. More recently, some advocates have turned their attention to student housing, which they want to turn into safe spaces by segregating student living quarters. Who would have imagined that the original safe space motive — to explore issues in an inclusive environment — would so quickly give way to the impulse to quarantine oneself and create de facto cultural segregation?
Safe space activism stems primarily from the separatist impulses associated with the politics of identity, already rampant on campus. For some individuals, the attraction of a safe space is that it insulates them from not just hostility, but the views of people who are not like them. Students’ frequent demand for protection from uncomfortable ideas on campus — such as so-called trigger warnings — is now paralleled by calls to be physically separated too. Groups contend that their well-being depends on living with their own kind.
In preparing this piece, we talked to several parents whose young adult offspring transitioned while at university. Here are a few of their comments:
She did have some troubles in high school with anxiety, cutting and anorexia
From three mothers of sons who suddenly decided at university they were trans: all are very bright, nerdy and on the ASD spectrum
She asked us not to come to the Family Weekend at the end of October, she told us she was invited elsewhere for Thanksgiving
He had a romantic rejection, he attended a talk about trans at his university, he spent a lot of time online and developed dissociative disorder, then said he believed if he transitioned he would be more present in his body
We were met at the airport by a stranger: her skin was coarsened with acne, she had noticeable facial hair, her hair was chopped into a severe cut
The trans woman announcement came when my son was depressed and struggling with the complexity of social and romantic life at the university
She said she was lesbian in high school, but next spring in her first year in college there was a shock: a health insurance claim for testosterone
Several months later, it became apparent by both her appearance and mysterious medical bills, that our daughter was receiving testosterone in the college health clinic
His personality changed and he appeared terrified by everything; he told me that his friends thought the university failed to recognize mental illness
It was all hidden from us.
It was all hidden from us. Until the body morphing started.