Last week, Caleb LoSchiavo, who graduated with Barnard's class of 2015 this May, wrote about the experience of being trans at a women's college for R29.
This article was originally published on May 29, 2015.
On a cool summer night in New York City, just after my first year of college, I told my best friend Tim something that I had been too afraid to say out loud, even to myself, for months. We sat down in a park with our coffees and I said, “I think I’m a boy. Like, I think I'm trans."
Tim was patient and supportive, curious but not invasive, as we talked through all of the steps and changes — what name and pronouns I wanted to use, what medical and legal changes I wanted, how I would tell people. Tim didn’t ask about the unpredictable future on both of our minds.
Coming out and starting to transition is a difficult journey for anyone, but I had a unique set of challenges: I had three years left as a student at Barnard, a women’s college — and I no longer identified as a woman.
For the past few years, women’s colleges themselves have had to rethink their identities. In the 1960s, there were more than 200 women’s colleges in the country; today, only around 40 are left. The vast majority of colleges are co-ed, and women students are no longer the minority. In that new landscape, colleges are forced to ask: What’s the value of a women-only education? And even: How do we define womanhood? Will that word be extended to include trans students?
"I had three years left as a student at a women’s college — and I no longer identified as a woman."
In June, Barnard’s Board of Trustees will vote on whether or not to include specific language around transgender applicants in their admissions policy. If they did, they’d join women’s colleges such as Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley, which have recently made varying efforts towards trans inclusiveness. For now, at Barnard, any student who checks the “female” box on the common application can apply, and no student is asked to leave once they have matriculated. So far, the school does not admit anyone who checks the “male” box, which includes trans women not yet able to change their legal gender marker.
When I returned to school for my sophomore year, I jumped right into queer and trans life on campus. I started going to meetings and events, becoming part of what was not only a community of dozens of queer and trans people at Barnard but also a close family. The new friends I made didn’t know who used to be, so I had the chance to reinvent myself. As I got more comfortable with this version of myself, I started to tell friends from back home, and eventually family. After a while, I was no longer coming out —I just was out. My social transition began that fall, and so did my medical transition, when I started on hormone-replacement therapy in the winter.
Transitioning hasn’t been all about fun and exciting changes, though. Barnard didn’t really know what to do with trans students, so I forged my own path in a lot of ways. I sought out therapists and doctors who weren’t affiliated with the school, and spent too much time dealing with insurance companies and pharmacies. Barnard’s insurance does not cover trans-related care, and I was wary of seeing the school's doctors, so I found a community healthcare clinic downtown, which meant hour-long subway rides each way for regular blood tests and appointments.
Sometimes, uncomfortable moments popped up where I hadn’t expected them. On the first day of my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies class, the professor read the roster and called out my birth name. I just sat there in silence. I didn’t want to be outed in front of the entire class. That afternoon, I sent her what was maybe the most nervous email of my life, asking her to call me Caleb, and making sure she knew I hadn’t skipped class. After that, I drafted a form letter, explaining. I sent it to every professor a few days before every class, until the fall of senior year, when I was able to legally change my name.
"On the first day of class, the professor read my birth name off the roster. I sat there in silence."
The name change finally happened while I was on campus last summer, planning fall orientation, and also working with a lawyer pro-bono through the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Name Change Project. I had meetings and court dates in the midst of long days of work, which all eventually culminated in a small newspaper publication of my name change, plus official court paperwork. That October, I ran around campus with paperwork and dealt with both Barnard's and Columbia’s registrars, public safety offices, IT departments, and everyone else imaginable until I was known by every person and every online portal as Caleb.
In the past three years, I have done things that I’ve been told were impossible — that have never been done before at Barnard. The school didn’t have gender-inclusive bathrooms before I got here, and I helped to create them on both Barnard's and Columbia’s campuses. I’ve organised social and educational events, met with administrators to increase trans-inclusivity in university resources, and led Trans 101 trainings for students and administrative departments. While there is a lot that I had to do on my own, there’s even more work that I could not have done without the help of my friends. It has been emotionally and physically exhausting at times, but it’s worth every second if it means I’ve made the process easier for even just one student in the future.
The person who walked across the stage at Barnard Commencement this year is vastly different from the one who moved into college during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene four years ago. Four years ago, I never would have imagined that I would hug my college’s president, Debora Spar, hoping she noticed my graduation cap with “ADMIT TRANS WOMEN” written in black, glittery text. I have become prouder, braver, and more outspoken.
"We need women’s colleges because we still live in a world filled with sexism and misogyny."
I’ve also come, in my own way, to an answer for why we still need women’s colleges: We need women’s colleges because we still live in a world filled with sexism and misogyny. We need women’s colleges because, while enrollment rates are at equal levels, most everything else is still uneven. And, although those forces negatively impact all people, they might hit trans people — especially trans women — the hardest. That’s why trans people deserve the support, resources, and inclusion that I’ve fought to get the school to offer these past four years.
Last week, I graduated, and I will soon leave campus and start the next chapter. Just like me, Barnard has big choices to make about the future. We are standing on the edge of possibility, with the chance to do incredible things. I hope that we don’t waste this opportunity to be great.