Challenging transgender rules for college acceptance


Should transgender individuals be allowed entry into women’s colleges? This question was posed in a weekend Wall Street Journal opinion piece. As it stands, some women’s colleges across the country are accepting transgender students- notably those who were born one gender and identify with another. Single-sex colleges, almost all being those for females, have long traditions of being beacons for liberal arts, free thought, common cause and were built as an alternative to the male-heavy East Coast schools. According to The Wall Street Journal article, 230 women’s colleges existed fifty years ago and today, there are only 46. As progressive policies finally took shape over the past fifty years, there was either no need for single-sex colleges or single-sex college became co-ed. Now that there are more women in college than men, near universal equality and few barriers to hiring women, the single-sex college model is no longer in great demand. The question is, can transgender students fit-in with the larger single-sex college communities and should transgender students be allowed entry into such schools?

While it is fitting for the times to blindly accept one’s identity, there are real questions and issues that exist. If a transgender student, one who was previously male and now is female, is accepted into a single-sex college, can a female student refuse to live with a recently transitioned individual? If you say yes, you would be incorrect, as federal anti-discrimination laws protect transgender students and their privacy regarding how they identify. Can schools, such as Smith and Barnard, who claim to be women’s colleges still be seen women’s colleges if someone identifies as genderqueer or androgynous? What about issues of religious freedom, notably orthodox Jews and observers of the Islamic faith? Are their religious rights protected that prohibit them from being with someone they see as male?

It seems that single-sex colleges are being reactionary and are quickly adhering to the sweeping movement of questioning little, sometimes alienating other students. In the Journal article, one Barnard student thinks the school compromised its identity as a women’s college. Initially, schools like Barnard are acting with the best intentions. However, hindsight appears to show a greater divide about how to proceed with transgender students.

Is it enough to accept someone simply because he or she identifies a certain way? I also bring this up in the context of Rachel Dolezal, the Washington state woman who says she is black (and was president of a local NAACP chapter), but does not look black and has lied about her parents’ identity. Is it fair or OK for her to say she is black and align herself with social, cultural and historical issues that are common in the African-American community? The answer is no, just as transgender students at single-sex colleges cannot identify with job discrimination based on perceived sex and the women’s suffrage movement. I am not saying transgender students cannot identify with discrimination, because they are frequent, if not the most frequent recipients of discrimination across the globe. But, I wonder if female students feel slighted during class when discussing issues that pertain to women.

It is important to be fair in the college acceptance process. But fair is not ubiquitous for  an open-door policy. In the long run, single-sex schools will lose students who feel uncomfortable around transgender students. These feelings should not be dismissed as prejudice. Rather they should highlight the real discomfort some students have with the gender issues.


Hold off on transgender surgery

At a time when our society attempts to push for individual freedom and personal choice , let me give some push back to a growing trend in the United States: transgender surgery. A major ruling from the Obama administration came down at the end of May. For the first time, Medicare can pay for reassignment surgery (as it’s called). This was welcome news to the transgender community and symbolically, it was and is a victory for those individuals who do not identify with their biological sex. Despite the symbolic victory, reassignment surgery is not as advantageous as it is made out to be.

Paul McHugh, the former chief psychiatrist  at Johns Hopkins Hospital is one voice who is not in agreement with this decision. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Dr. McHugh writes, “Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than  as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention.” I agree with Dr. McHugh’s first two assessments: understanding and treatment. However, I do not necessarily agree with the prevention piece. Let me explain.

Although it might sound like 19th century dogma, I do believe that there are natural gender feelings for men and women. Simply because somebody thinks he or she is of the opposite sex does not mean they are. The “fix” for issues surrounding feelings and thoughts of identifying with the opposite sex should not be surgery. As Dr. McHugh accurately points out, “Disorders of consciousness, after all,  represent psychiatry’s domain; declaring them off-limits would eliminate the field.” This underscores the larger problem with treatment today.

Too often, we want a quick fix to our problems, uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Americans are prescribed pills at alarming rates. Soon, the couch industry will become obsolete. I am not saying that those who truly identify as transgender are taking the easy way out with surgery. Quite the opposite. Many individuals have been shunned by their families and communities for their thoughts and feelings. But the science does not support reassignment surgery as the answer. A 2011 study conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed the suicide rate for transgendered individuals who received reconstructive surgery rose “almost 20-fold above the comparable non transgender population.”  Furthermore, a Vanderbilt University study showed that 70-80% of children who had thoughts of identifying with  the opposite sex lost their feelings over time.

What seems clear to me is that larger psycho-social problems exist and should be explored. Issues surrounding gender and sexuality are complex and delicate and should not be dealt with surgically.  Once an individual has reconstructive surgery, there is no going back.

While I support many causes in the LGBTQ community, this is not one I am on board with.

Please share your thoughts.