Roll call: transitioning in college

It always happens in at least one class. It doesn't matter that you emailed your teacher ahead of time explaining your situation; it comes to roll call and the teacher calls out the name you were assigned at birth. Also sometimes known as a "dead name," this is not the name you go by, and it's not the name you wanted your teacher to introduce you to your classmates with. But it's too late.

Now you have a choice. You can either correct the teacher right now in front of everybody, get it over with, and, of course, out yourself as a trans person to your class, or you can correct them later in private, and still have to deal with introducing yourself to your classmates on your own. Either way, the damage has already been done. It's not much of a choice, really, but it's one I faced with in at least one class a semester, until I legally changed my name.

Going to college is already a new experience. It's different and interesting and scary, and so unlike high school, where things were much more regulated. Now you're the one in control of your classes, your assignments, and sometimes even how you live. You're also in control of how you talk to your teachers because you're the adult here now.

I was one of the many trans students who start transitioning in college, and had to figure out my identity while also trying to figure out how to turn in assignments for class. It started with something as simple as a name. Your name is how people know you, how they recognize you, and, unfortunately, it's also how people gender you. I knew that in order for my classmates and teachers to understand who I was as a person, I would have to give them a name that also represented who I was at the time, not the gender I was assigned at birth. The process of choosing a name was something that was long and arduous for me, in part because I actually liked my birth name. I liked what it stood for and I liked what it meant. However, it was also a gendered name according to society, and I knew that if I kept it, my identity would be at stake. So eventually I chose something else.

But things weren't over once I chose my name. I then had to tell all of my teachers ahead of time who I was and my situation. It meant that I had to individually out myself to every single one of my teachers, explain what was going on, and hope they understood. And I did have some trouble. For instance, I had a language teacher who, due to the language and cultural barrier, did not quite understand when I explained my name and pronouns. It made what could have been an enjoyable class a little bit unbearable every time he referred to me with the wrong pronouns. Luckily my fellow classmates understood, so I only had problems with the teacher. However, that also required that I out myself to my classmates. Outing myself in order to get the correct name and pronouns used quickly became one of my least favorite college experiences. And it is something that most transiting college students will have to do.

However, there are also lots of bright sides to college. It is different, it is new, and it is exciting. Because you are on your own for what might be the first time, you really have the opportunity to explore who you are as a person, in a way you might not have been able to before. Even though I needed to explain myself a lot, most of my teachers and classmates were incredibly understanding and addressed me as who I truly was, not as who or what I may have originally been perceived as. I made a lot of friends who used the proper pronouns for me. I interacted with a lot of understanding teachers who were nothing if not helpful.

One of my best memories of college was when I was getting my diploma. I had my name officially changed by then, so my real name was going to be put on the diploma. However, I wasn't out to my grandparents at the time, and I wanted to be able to show them my diploma with pride. I contacted the records department of my college with this struggle and asked if it was possible to have just my initials put on my diploma instead of my full name. I wanted my full name, of course, but I wanted to show the diploma to my grandparents even more.

I was told that no, I was not able to get my initials on my diploma instead. So I took a deep breath and explained my situation. The person I talked to was very kind and incredibly understanding and did something above and beyond for me: She agreed to print two diplomas for no added cost. One diploma with my birth name, and one with my new name. I will never forget that.

Ultimately, my experience in college as a trans student was scary for the same reasons it is scary for any student. It was new and it was different. But I did not face any real prejudice, and I did not face any real hatred. There were some occasions when I felt unsafe, but those were not as common as they could have been. I was able to go to college as a human being with interesting ideas and was able to graduate with a degree and a lot of experiences under my belt.

My experiences were my own, but they helped to shape me and were an important part of not only my transition, but also my overall personal growth. The best advice I can give to a trans, nonbinary, or questioning college student is that you should not be afraid to reach out for help. Take a deep breath, write that first email about your name, and go on to grow into the person you want to be.

A. Wayne is a graduate of Wayne State University. They love to write and travel, and hope to be an additional voice for trans people everywhere.

Scroll to read more Culture articles

Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.