Transphobia at Smith College: Openly trans student barred from fulfilling his campus tour guide role because of gender identity

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Transphobia at Smith College: Openly trans student barred from fulfilling his campus tour guide role because of gender identity

Breaking news—an article was posted to the Smith College newspaper today by a student who was told by the Director of Admissions that he was barred from fulfilling various aspects of his position as a Gold Key guide (campus tour guide) due to his gender identity. To be perfectly clear, lovely readers, Smith College is a women’s college, and has had a famously queer-centered culture for well over two decades (you might remember me blogging about Rachel Maddow’s commencement speech there last year). This is a complex and unfolding issue with lots of history behind it, so let me try to start at the beginning and give you, bois n’ grrlz, the most comprehensive view possible of the situation.

Smith College, then & now

Maybe I should start with that little epithet I love to throw at y’all in my columns—bois n’ grrlz. I love writing it because it instantly invokes and includes all shades of genderqueers, transfolks, and anyone else who might want to be included in a women-identified space without committing to a normative gender identity. Of course, you don’t have to be a gender nonconformist to be included in this cute little nickname of mine—you’ve all seen my picture at the top of every column, you know I’m about as gender-normative as queer girls come. That’s why I like it, and why I’ve always preferred the word “queer” for my own sexual identity rather than lesbian (though I do identify as both)—because it is the ultimate umbrella term, the one that holds us all together, the one that no one person has the right to define completely. Just like feminism. 

So, as a gender normative queer lady, what is my stake in this transphobic incident at Smith College? For one, I’m an alum—class of ’03, baby. And in the thirteen years since I first arrived on campus (I took two years off in the middle), I have seen a lot of change in the campus attitudes, both explicit and implicit, towards the trans community. And even if I weren’t an alumna of Smith College, I still have a stake in the continually unfolding relationship between women’s spaces (both queer and general) and the trans and gender non-conforming community. We’ve had similar processing issues at my Burning Man camp— a queer women’s space called Camp Beaverton for Wayward Girls, and we