Transgender people on campus struggle, find good at MU

Students take issue with cost of single rooms.

Something just isn't right. Thirteen-year-old boys should not dress in women's clothing, and Jeffrey Colvin knows this.

This isn't the first time he has done this. In fact, he has been cross-dressing for several years now. But this moment is different. This time his father catches him. And he is scared.

"Are you a faggot?" his father asks forcefully.

"No," Colvin responds.

"Are you sure you aren't a faggot?"

"Yes."

"If you're a fag, tell me now."

Colvin doesn't know what to say; he isn't gay. Dressing as a woman just feels more appropriate.

He only cries.

That event began a dark period in Colvin's life involving a lot of repression and withdrawal from which he would not recover for a long time.

Nearly a decade later, Jeffrey is now Emily Colvin, and her life is a different, more positive story. She is a sophomore and in transition. This is her first semester at MU, and this is also her first semester living full-time as a woman.

Colvin's morning routine, she admits, is still a work in progress. At first, getting ready in the morning was an hour-and-a-half-long process, but she has since gotten better at it.

"I'll spend 30 minutes on hair and makeup, but I suck at putting it on," Colvin said, laughing. "I also have to shave every day, and paying for razors gets expensive."

It's all worth it, though, Colvin said.

The year leading up to coming out was a dark one for Colvin. She lost about 40 pounds, and she failed her photography class, which was part of her major.

"But then I realized this is what I have to deal with," Colvin said. "This is who I am, who I am going to be."

After that, Colvin was able to pull out better grades, and she said she is doing well so far this semester. She plans to begin hormone treatment in 2009.

Chris Young, the Mark Twain and McDavid halls area administrative supervisor, has a different morning routine. He is a transgender male in transition, and he said he is excited to get the facial fuzz of a 13-year-old at age 28.

Young came out two-and-a-half years ago, and he is six months into his hormone treatment.

"A lot of my friends were guys, and when I got into girl stuff, I was railroaded into it," he said. "I realized it wasn't just something that happened on talk shows. That's the whole answer I've been trying to sort out."

Coming out at work, he said, was easier than he anticipated.

"The first thing my boss said was 'How can we help you?'" Young said.

Colvin has still not come out to her parents, but she intends to do it over winter break. The worst part, she said, will be getting the words to come out.

"I want to say it but I don't," Colvin said. "My mouth doesn't move when I try."

Both Colvin and Young said they haven't faced problems on campus as a result of being transgender. However, at this semester's Four Front meetings, Triangle Coalition, a student-run lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning organization, has shed light on issues transgender students face in relation to living on campus.

At the Oct. 7 Four Front meeting, Triangle Coalition President Joshua Barton proposed a scenario in which a transgender student in transition would have to live in a single suite. He asked if the Department of Residential Life could charge that student the cost of a double suite, as that student had no choice but to live in a single.

According to the Residential Life Web site, the cost of a single suite ranges from $4,875-$6,570, expensive compared to doubles, with rates that range from $3,670-$5,400.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said MU has no set policy when it comes to students in transition. She said it is something Residential Life Director Frankie Minor has been working with for several years.

Minor said he is surprised Triangle Coalition has never approached him about that issue. About four or five years ago, he said, he consulted with colleagues in the Women's Center and the LGBTQ Resource Center about it.

"We attended professional workshops, and we began to develop the outline of a policy, an approach that we've had in place for a couple of years now," Minor said. "If a transgender individual is coming to MU and they are concerned about housing, they have the opportunity to self-identify."

Minor said in the past two years, one student has self-identified as in transition, and Residential Life worked to accommodate that student's needs.

"The person was already in an accommodation that met that's person's need, but as they began the transition process, those needs might change," Minor said. "We talked about how we might be able to accommodate them as that person went through the transition."

Colvin lives off-campus, but she said if she lived on campus, she would either want to room with another female or in a single. However, the single rates, she said, are too expensive.

Two other significant on-campus problems facing transgender students are changing the names on their transcripts and amending MU's non-discrimination policy, which protects sexual orientation but not gender identity.

"If I change my name legally, they've got to change it," Colvin said. "Especially because on your degree, it will be oh, old name here."

Colvin also said MU should change the names of transgender students in the directory.

"I am Emily now," Colvin, whose name is still Jeffrey Colvin in the MU directory, said. "If my name is changed they'd better change it in the directory, because that ain't me."

At the Four Front meeting, Chief Diversity Officer Roger Worthington told Barton if he feels transgender students are discriminated against, someone can submit a claim to the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative office for investigation.

"If there seems to be some discrimination against someone who is transitioning, then we want to know about it," Worthington said.

Worthington also said students could submit a bias incident report online, either anonymously or not, at the MU Equity Office Web site.

Outside campus, Colvin has dealt with stares and difficulties finding a job. Colvin, however, has never been physically harassed.

"It's been hard to find a job," Colvin said. "All of my references don't know me as a female."

Colvin said discrimination comes from a lack of education.

"When some people see trans people, they think this person is messed up in the head," Colvin said. "It's really a fear of the unknown."

But transgender issues do no end there. Many people who are transgender feel they face discrimination within the LGBTQ community.

Young said the ways other members of that community view transgender people are varied.

"Some are trans-positive," he said. "But there are still people who are still like 'Why are you here? Why are we in the same group?' "

At a discussion called  "The 'T' in LGBT," Barton said some people in the LGB community don't see transgender as their issue.

"You can be trans but you're not necessarily going to be gay or a lesbian," Barton said. "Sexual orientation isn't tied to gender identity. But I think we're all facing the same oppression."

Despite adversity, Colvin holds a positive outlook for the future. As society grows, she said, transgender people will become more understood.

"Trans people are very strong, and I think we will stay strong," she said. "I just want people to realize that we are human. We are just like you and we need your help and support."

Young said even on his worst days, the knowledge that he's so much better is "just immense."

"I'm in a much better place now," he said. "It's never going to be easy, but it's going to be better."

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