By Jay Marks HMC '19
Starting your first year in college is challenging enough without identifying as a transgender individual. You’re being submersed in a completely new experience with people you’ve never met before. My first day of orientation at Harvey Mudd College was overwhelming: I had fewer than four hours to unpack before I was whisked off to the first of several events scheduled back-to-back for almost a week. I was introduced to hundreds of new people whose names would linger at the tip of my tongue for at least the next few weeks to come. The last thing on my mind at the time was coming out.
I’ve identified as nonbinary for two years and as agender for one. Nonbinary refers to identifying outside of the gender binary, i.e. not identifying as a man or woman. Agender refers to not associating with a gender at all. I stopped using my birth name and started using they/them pronouns when I first came out as agender. It was difficult for my friends and family to make the transition, but I couldn’t wait for college; I hoped secondary education would bring afresh new start where I could introduce myself as Jay, using they/them pronouns, and no one would know me any differently. I thought I was ready to come out to every single person I would meet in the first few weeks of school.
Yet, there I found myself on the first day of orientation letting people misgender me and saying nothing.
It’s not that the Claremont Consortium isn’t a good place to be queer – the schools overall are liberal and there are easily accessible resources for queer students, including a mentor program (Queer, Questioning, and Allied Mentor Program, aka QQAMP) and the Queer Resource Center (aka the QRC). It’s not even that I couldn’t find people to connect with, because I certainly found other queer people who I had no problem coming out to.
It’s difficult to be the only one using they/them pronouns when people go around in a circle saying he/his and she/her pronouns. It’s difficult to get into an argument over whether or not my pronouns are grammatically correct, what my gender means, and why I feel the need to label myself.
Not identifying as cisgender, or the gender that lines up with your biological sex, opens you up to all sorts of questions that range from slightly annoying to downright inappropriate. It’s nice to know that people are opening up spaces for gender nonconforming people; actions include asking for people’s pronouns with introductions and Scripps’ recent policy change of including “ all applicants who indicate their legal sex as female submitted through the Common Application, in addition to applicants who self-identity as women.”
However, the 5Cs still have a ways to go. Harvey Mudd College has gender neutral bathrooms in only four of its 24 buildings on campus, and there is no information on any of the other schools in regards to gender neutral bathrooms. Any student who wishes to be referred to by their pronouns and name publicly have to not only introduce themselves as such, but email every professor in advance of every class.
In high school, I was new to being agender and so was everybody around me. Coming out was difficult, because people had to get used to a new version of me. Coming out in college was a different sort of difficult - people didn’t know me before, so it was easier to adjust, but it was harder for me to come out in the first place because I didn’t know what sort of support I would have. That didn’t matter, though, because I chose my friends well.
Although not being cisgender is tough, the transition I made from high school to college allowed me to gain perspective on what it means to come out and how to get people to understand who you are. Sometimes being agender is frustrating, but it’s who I am. The 5Cs have a long way to go in supporting their trans and gender nonconforming students, but there is most certainly a start.