The Necessity of Transition in College and Gender Essentialism

By Katharine

Last week, the New York Times posted article about more universities’ healthcare plans beginning to cover transition for transgender students, at least to some extent.  As someone who has long thought such measures needed to be implemented, I was pleased.

Unfortunately, a number of the universities involved, which is only a handful to begin with, only help to cover hormone replacement therapy, which is just one part of the equation necessary for health for many transgender individuals.  As the article notes:

“…since 2008, the American Medical Association has advocated the same thing, for treatment of gender identity disorder. Other medical groups, like the American Psychiatric Association, have taken the same position. Several major insurers have taken the stance that the treatment, including surgery, can be considered medically necessary. The Internal Revenue Service considers the expenses tax-deductible.”

Even though “gender identity disorder” has been removed from the DSM in an effort to stop “pathologiz[ing] all expressions of gender variance just because they were not common or made someone uncomfortable,” for transgender individuals, transition remains the only viable option for treatment of their gender dysphoria.  It is absolutely a medical necessity; the attempted suicide rates for transgender individuals are nearly 41% according to a survey by the Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Medical transition, usually including sexual reassignment surgery, an often prohibitively expensive procedure that is difficult to access even with sufficient funds, is also quite often required for transgender individuals to be legally recognized as being the gender with which they identify.  While universities are, on the whole, becoming more inclusive and accepting of transgender individuals, the lack of means to access proper identification that matches their identity and expression not only keeps the avenue open for uncomfortable situations and unnecessary hurdles that transgender students would have to face – not only on campus but after they graduate and enter the workforce.

At a time in their lives when most people are realizing their own identities, transgender individuals must come to terms with theirs in a social arena which has conditioned them to repress theirs, or feel shame because of it, or simply to deny it altogether.  The gains in equality at universities have been largely due to transgender visibility and transgender students asserting their rights to live fulfilling and healthy lives and to be safe in their environments.  The coverage of transition is thus not only a necessarily medical component of transgender health, but a necessary component of transgender inclusion in the university.

“It is often more a knowledge and will gap than a mechanics and cost issue,” said Deena Fidas, deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign’s workplace project. “You have to start with Transgender 101, if you will, and demystify.”

”Demystification” of the transgender experience, muddled by a social narrative in which gender variance is viciously stigmatized, ridiculed, and even made into a justification for violence, requires visibility, and for transgender individuals to be able to be healthy, comfortable, and visible as they are, they must have access to the healthcare that they need.  We have to close this knowledge and will gap, and part of that involves targeting the destructive narrative that stigmatizes gender variance in society at large.

We have to recognize the sexist gender essentialism in our discourse which stigmatizes the feminine, the rejection of a prescriptive, dominant form of masculinity, and forces women into narrowly defined patriarchal gender roles.  We have to stop the sexist objectification of women which reduces them to their sexual instrumentality, cis and trans women alike.  We have to combat the culture of sexual violence in which women, and to a greater extent transgender women, and to an even greater extent transgender women of color are likely to become victims. We have to value the gender expression and sexual orientation of all individuals, be they cis or trans, and work to end the gender policing which leads to bullying and hate crimes.  To “demystify” what we view as deviant we have to “demystify” what is familiar to us – which means understanding and analyzing it critically and in turn working to change the system.

The United Nations recognizes access to healthcare as a universal human right, and our universities of all places should aspire toward meeting that standard.  If we intend to better the world around us through promoting education, we have to make sure that we promote a safe and healthy environment for that education in the process.

NYTimes article: “College Health Plans Respond as Transgender Students Gain Visibility

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About etsuwomenstudies

This blog is a collaborative effort from the students, faculty, and feminist souls in the East Tennessee State University Women's Studies Department. We simply want to share daily thoughts with the world and encourage not only feminist thought, but awareness, tolerance, diversity, equality, justice, and social progress. Women's Studies is an exciting, interdisciplinary area of study that celebrates women's lives. It examines how diverse women have contributed to history, social processes, culture, politics and economics, as well as how all of these have shaped women's experiences. Our program provides new ways of looking at common assumptions about femininity and masculinity and teaches students how to connect what they study with how they live and work. We also explore how gender intersects with ability, age, class, culture, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, and sexuality. Our Leadership through Diversity focus promotes a creative struggle for justice and equality. We train graduates to be leaders in both civic engagement and the workforce. The Women's Studies Program at ETSU is comprised of dedicated faculty and staff and socially conscious students coming together from a wide range of disciplines.

Posted on February 18, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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