Admitting that I didn’t belong at Wellesley was perhaps the hardest part of my transition from female to male. After all, Wellesley was my home. I practically grew up on campus: being walked through the greenhouses as an infant, exploring the Science Center’s maze of stairs and labs, sledding on Severance Green, reading under the trees in the arboretum. And then it became where I lived, where I studied, where I fell in love, where I made my best friends. And suddenly it wasn’t.
Being thrust into life as a man was liberating yet confusing, validating yet alienating. But there I was – a man in a women’s space. And as a male ally and feminist, I could not in good conscience remain in one of the few spaces that are carved out specifically for women. I was an invader, and while it was difficult – emotionally, physically, and socially – to distance myself from the very place I had once considered home, it was what I had to do. I, as a man, did not belong at a women’s college.
There has been much talk lately about women’s colleges and trans* individuals. Committees are being formed, policies are being written, articles are being published. We’re being asked what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a women’s college. I’m slightly confused by the questions. What it means to be a woman is as much an issue as what it means to be a man (which no one is asking). A woman might be Black, Asian, or Latina, she might be short or tall, skinny or fat, she might have long hair or a buzz cut, she might wear a dress one day and pants the next, she might be rich or poor, she might have been assigned male or female at birth, she might be a Democrat or a Republican, she might love to read or solve math problems or both – but she’s a woman, and as such, she belongs at a women’s college. I want women’s colleges to be defined in the positive – who they are for (women) rather than who they are not for. I’ve seen many people propose an “all but cis men” admissions policy for Wellesley. Such a policy allows men to attend a women’s college, which undermines it as a women’s space. If a prospective student cannot check a box identifying themselves as a woman, they don’t belong at a women’s college. There are approximately 4,000 other colleges and universities in the United States that men can attend. There’s no need to invade a women’s space.
Many people are also calling for explicit policies regarding trans* women. As Wellesley is a women’s college, it admits women, and therefore trans* women are – theoretically – invited to apply and attend. However, we would be naïve to assume there would be no issues with a trans* woman’s application. If her recommendation letters use a different pronoun or her FAFSA is rejected because her record with the Social Security Administration does not match, she may be flagged. To open Wellesley’s doors to all women, such issues must be explicitly dealt with. While most applicants will simply be able to say “I am a woman”, there are those who need to qualify the statement with a “but”. I am a woman, but my teachers don’t recognize me as one. I am a woman, but I don’t have the financial means to change my documentation. And the message needs to be loud and clear – Wellesley recognizes you as a woman, and we will help you sort out the “buts”.
There are, of course, things Wellesley could do to support the men who end up there for whatever reason. As a man, my experience at Wellesley could have been improved with access to medical care specific to trans* people, more alternative housing, and a program to help men transfer and finish on time at a coed college. But supporting men is not Wellesley’s mission, and the male students and alumni of Wellesley need to recognize our place. It’s fundamentally a conflicted place. But learning to be a good man means being an ally to our sisters, letting them have their women’s spaces, not interrupting their conversations, and listening to their words. Being a man is easy – but being a good man means bowing out when it’s not about you. And Wellesley is not about me.
Caleb W., ‘08