Smith College Q&A

Q: Trans women at Smith?
A: Trans women at Smith!

News flash: it’s totally possible for a womens’ college to admit women with male gender markers on their admissions materials

Mills College - a women’s college in California - has always had an unwritten admissions policy we’re very fond of: anyone who identifies as a woman is welcome, regardless of gender markers on admissions documents. But now they’ve officially clarified the policy:

"Students who self-identify as female are eligible to apply for undergraduate admission. This includes students who were not assigned to the female sex at birth but live and identify as women at the time of application….Where there is a conflict between the student’s self-identified gender and the gender that appears on legal documentation such as an academic transcript or documents provided as part of the financial aid process, the student is strongly encouraged to contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for a discussion around their desire to attend a women’s college and how they self-identify in terms of gender. This self-identification shall be the driving force behind the College’s eligibility decision." — Mills College Admissions 

Let’s push Smith to adopt the same discussion-based process! 

“If the purpose of a women’s college is to provide a place free of gender discrimination where women can flourish academically and socially, and to create lifelong networks that will help women overcome sexist roadblocks once they graduate, what argument can be made for excluding women in especially dire need of these advantages, on the basis of what makes them vulnerable in the first place?”

—   

"Smith’s Unsisterly Move" - Jaclyn Friedman for The American Prospect

A controversial admissions decision at the all-women’s college shows how far some feminist institutions have yet to go in recognizing the fight for transgender rights as their own.

Welcome class of 2018!

Hey firsties! Interested in queer activism at Smith? 

Smith Q&A is a campus organization dedicated to reforming Smith’s admissions policies so that trans women can go to Smith. Although we’ve made some progress with the administration, Smith is refusing to adopt a gender supplement we proposed that would allow young women who can’t get all female gender markers on their high school letters of recommendation and transcripts to still attend Smith. Read more on why this supplement is necessary at our FAQ! Our ultimate goal is to have a policy like the one at Mills College, a womens’ college in California, that takes women at their word and does not check gender markers on admissions documents. 

We need tons of help this year with making posters, planning events and demonstrations, meeting with the administration, updating our social media, talking to the press and more! We are a non-hierarchical group that makes decisions by consensus, so your voice will be heard. 

  • read press articles about us!
  • read a list of ways to help out even before you come to a meeting

We have weekly drop-in meetings (no organizing experience required) that will start in early September - you can like us on Facebook for updates and meeting times. We’ll also be tabling at the activity fair. 

Feel free to contact us with any questions. Moho students can check out our sister org Open Gates

Letter to the Administration

I am writing to urge you to reconsider Smith’s current policy on admitting transgender women. The policy seems to be based on a misguided notion that transgender women are not “real” women. This is a harmful and false belief. Transgender women are women; they are our sisters, and they have the right to be included in women’s spaces such as Smith.
My first year at Smith, I attended a panel discussion during which one of the speakers, a transgender woman, said something that has stayed with me ever since. She said that whenever we make a decision to exclude a group of people, we must think very seriously about what we gain by doing so, and what we lose. I am not convinced that Smith would lose anything of value by changing its admissions policy to include all self-identified women, but we would gain both valuable community members and a position of leadership and moral authority.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have attended Smith; they were four years of amazing personal growth and intellectual development. How could I deny that experience to my transgender sisters, who would benefit so much from a Smith education, and who struggle to be heard and to find safe spaces to live authentic lives? Smith needs to be a leader on this issue. Make me proud to be a Smithie.
Sincerely, 
——-
This is beautiful! We hope you emailed this to the admin. 

Language Tips for Cis Feminists Speaking on Trans Issues

unpitchable:

Over the past two years, I’ve shared a lot of space with cisgender feminists who are seeking to add a trans voice to their panel, event, or conference. I can often sense that these feminists’ hearts are in the right place with regards to trans issues. They’re trying and their effort is real but they’re still struggling to work past some conceptual issues that might affect their language.

So let’s start with the language and work backwards. Trans-inclusive cisgender feminists still have some pretty pernicious habits of language that stubbornly persist in their vocabulary.

Many friends and colleagues have written or tweeted about this problematic language but, much like I did in this frequently shared post on the sex/gender distinction, I wanted to compose a handy reference for cisgender feminists who know they want to be trans-inclusive and have learned some basic vocabulary, but want to learn “how to talk about it” without setting off any alarm bells.

1) Please remove the phrases “female-identified,” “male-identified,””female-bodied,” and “male-bodied” from your vocabulary.

These phrases are my number one pet peeve. Often the people using them think that they’re being really good by using these phrases instead of saying “women” and “men.” What they don’t know is that these phrases have a troubled, transphobic history and carry a lot of conceptual baggage. In their current instantiation, people who use these phrases are often just hypercorrecting, using language that is technically incorrect because it “sounds good.”

But why are they bad? “Female-identified” is a phrase that needlessly divides women with different body types from one another. When combined with language like “female-bodied,” “female-identified” carries with it the suggestion that women without vaginas are not really women, that they only identify as such in spite of their “male” bodies.

Bodies, furthermore, are not inherently male or female. Sex assignment is a social process governed largely by more-or-less arbitrary medical conventions surrounding ideal, normative genital appearance and heterosexual reproductive viability. The rigidity of our society’s two-sex system is by no means a natural outgrowth of our bodily characteristics: it’s our commitment to a two-gender system mapped in reverse onto our bodies.

“But chromsomes!” you might say. Nope. The things that you have learned and internalized about the sex of the human body are so affected by our social ideologies that they cannot be separated from them.

Even if distinctions like male/female-bodied vs. male/female identified were non-invasive or politically expedient (they’re neither), they also are semantically meaningless when we consider the full range of bodies that the category women includes. An intersex woman, for example, might not have a body that correlates with the full connotations of the phrase “female-bodied,” but may not have born with a penis, either.

Transgender women who have undergone genital reassignment surgery also frustrate the way in which “female-bodied” is used as a distinction between cisgender and transgender women: they have breasts, they have vaginas, and their bodies do not natively produce substantial quantities of testosterone. They don’t have a uterus, sure, but many cisgender women are born without a uterus as well.

By conventional and socially dominant methods of visible measurement, these bodies are female. But I’m pretty sure that people who use the phrase “female-bodied” are intending to exclude these bodies when they deploy that language.

What’s the solution to all this confusion? It’s easier than you might think. “Women” is a category that includes a variety of gender expressions and bodies. It will do just fine when you want to talk about women. “Men” is a category that includes a variety of gender expressions and bodies. It will do just fine when you want to talk about men.

You might not think it’s that simple, however. Feminism and other progressive political movements rightly engage with bodies in their political activism. Feminism, for example, focuses on reproductive justice and healthcare. How can we talk about sex, bodies, and reproduction without drawing lines between transgender women and cisgender women’s bodies?

Easy. When you want to talk about gender, talk about gender. When you want to talk about body politics, talk about bodies. If you want to talk about issues that affect people with vaginas, for example, you’re talking about both men and women.

And, as Katherine Cross observes on Feministing, feminism should fully integrate a focus on transgender women’s reproductive rights and healthcare with a focus on issues like abortion and birth control. Trans women’s bodies are women’s bodies and they deserve a place in the mainstream of feminist body politics and reproductive justice efforts.

To summarize, then, phrases like “female-identified” and “female-bodied” are biologically reductionist, needlessly divisive, and functionally meaningless. If you feel like they are necessary to engage in your form of feminist body politics, it’s time to shake up your body politics. EIther way, please quit using these phrases.

2) Please do not list “women” and “trans women” as different categories when listing marginalized groups or talking about oppression.

Separating out “trans women” from “women” carries with it the suggestion that a “trans woman” is not a woman unmodified, that she is a different kind of person entirely. “Women” is allowed to stand alone as an unquestioned and unmarked category while “trans women” are marked as the Other to a de facto group of cisgender women.

This linguistic habit also runs the risk of suggesting that trans women do not experience the same marginalization that women do. I most recently heard it used in the context of “I know what it’s like to be a woman but I don’t know what it’s like to be a trans woman.”

While there are forms of oppression that are unique to transgender people, transgender women share in cisgender women’s oppression. Sexual and domestic violence, street harassment, employment discrimination, body image issues, lack of access to reproductive health care, eating disorders, self-harm, the list goes on; if it affects cisgender women, it affects transgender women, too.

Furthermore, if you utter the word “women,” you are already including transgender women by definition. At that point, it’s up to you to be sure that your feminist politics also includes issues that acutely affect transgender women in particular such as police harassment, stop and frisk laws, gender identity inclusion in civil rights legislation, access to trans-inclusive healthcare, etc.

In some contexts where it’s necessary to highlight your own privilege, it might be worthwhile to note that you are unaware of the added layers of marginalization that transgender women experience. But do not do this at the expense of disavowing the common struggles of women, unmarked, unmodified, transgender and cisgender alike.

When you must speak to the specific issues that affect cisgender women and transgender women respectively, don’t leave your own womanhood unmarked while marking a transgender woman’s womanhood.

Transgender women’s particular struggles are yours too as a fellow woman; they’re not mythical, comprehension-defying.forms of oppression. If you’re a cisgender woman, you don’t get to speak from experience about transgender women’s specific oppression, true, nor do you have the authority to prescribe directions for transfeminist politics, but you also don’t get to mark transgender issues as a very important special interest compartment of feminism. They’re your issues, too.

3) Please do not self-label as “cisgender” unless you are directly commenting on your own privilege.

There are moments when one’s cisgender status needs to be acknowledged. When making claims about transgender people or speaking about transfeminist politics, it’s probably useful to let your audience know the location from which you’re speaking.

But don’t drop your “cisgender” status so much that it becomes an empty disclaimer. You do need to consider issues of authority and perspective, but please be aware that constantly reminding everyone that you’re cisgender is a way of highlighting differences between women rather than building community among them.

This is why I generally advise other women not to disclose their cisgender status on Facebook now that gender options have expanded unless they primarily use their Facebook as a political platform and feel it necessary to disclose their position of privilege.

4) Don’t make distinctions between sex and gender or use phrases like “biological woman” or “biowoman.”

I have written about this before: here and here. The justification for removing these phrases from your vocabulary follows point #1 in this piece as well.

***

The general lesson across all these points is: don’t draw distinctions between cisgender and transgender women unless you have to. When you do need to draw these distinctions, don’t use language that ties specific genders to specific kinds of bodies.

While I generally give most cisgender feminists who use this language the benefit of a doubt, I do want to mark a troubling mindset that often lurks behind these phrases and linguistic habits. If you’ve read through this article, clearly see what’s been happening with your language, and you’re ready to change it, congratulations! My work here is done.

If you were still encountering some internal resistance as you scrolled through this piece, read on:

Some cisgender feminists want to practice trans-inclusive politics, they know how to repeat the mantra “trans women are women” like it’s their job, but somewhere in their heart of hearts, they still approach a transgender woman on an interpersonal level as a different kind of woman. Somewhere, it still matters to them what kind of genitals another woman has. Somewhere, they don’t feel a transgender woman as their sister, they see her as an asterisk.

If this is you, you’ve got some internal work to do that goes beyond your use of language. You have to ask yourself what womanhood means to you, you have to internalize what it means for you personally that the category of “woman” includes people without vaginas or people who did not have them since birth, you have to examine and challenge your own cisnormative feelings of entitlement to know the intimate details of other women’s bodies. You have to figure out a way not just to say that transgender women are women, but to embrace transgender women as such in a way that is not tokenistic, condescending, or hollow. If this describes your position, start with the language and let your heart follow.

(click for ways to support the inclusion of trans women at Smith

smith-q-and-a:

just a few of the signs we made today for our rally on april 24 starting at 8:30AM! thanks to everyone who came out. 

if you’re one of the 20,000+ people reblogging this please make sure to check out our page with ways to support the inclusion of trans women at Smith! 

“The school goes on to point out that it’s not just religious schools struggling with the question of how to deal with trans students, citing all-women’s school Smith College’s ongoing, controversial policy prohibiting transgender women.”

—   

Christian Univ. Adjusts, Stands By Discriminatory Trans Housing Policy 

George Fox University will now allow students who have undergone specific gender-confirming surgeries to be housed in accordance with their gender. Others will be housed according to their sex assigned at birth.

Smith, you’re making some interesting allies. 

Click here for ways to support admissions policy reform for trans women at Smith! 

George Fox University is citing Smith College in their justification for discriminating against trans students.

this-reading-by-lightning:

via Feministing

It’s like a “You know you’re acting discriminatorily towards trans students when…” cliche. I don’t even know. I have this feeling in my stomach, and I can’t tell if it’s just disgust and fury at this, or a vague excitement because this is such terrible PR that it could put further pressure on Smith to change their policies.

(via queerspawned)