Wellesley’s First World Problem
Wellesley, the elite women’s college, has a problem. As ever, The New York Times reports from the cutting edge of Progress and its discontents. Excerpt:
For the most part, everyone respected his request. After all, he wasn’t the only trans student on campus. Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don’t identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine. Though his gender identity differed from that of most of his classmates, he generally felt comfortable at his new school.
Last spring, as a sophomore, Timothy decided to run for a seat on the student-government cabinet, the highest position that an openly trans student had ever sought at Wellesley. The post he sought was multicultural affairs coordinator, or “MAC,” responsible for promoting “a culture of diversity” among students and staff and faculty members. Along with Timothy, three women of color indicated their intent to run for the seat. But when they dropped out for various unrelated reasons before the race really began, he was alone on the ballot. An anonymous lobbying effort began on Facebook, pushing students to vote “abstain.” Enough “abstains” would deny Timothy the minimum number of votes Wellesley required, forcing a new election for the seat and providing an opportunity for other candidates to come forward. The “Campaign to Abstain” argument was simple: Of all the people at a multiethnic women’s college who could hold the school’s “diversity” seat, the least fitting one was a white man.
“It wasn’t about Timothy,” the student behind the Abstain campaign told me. “I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there. It’s not just about that position either. Having men in elected leadership positions undermines the idea of this being a place where women are the leaders.”
I asked Timothy what he thought about that argument, as we sat on a bench overlooking the tranquil lake on campus during orientation. He pointed out that he has important contributions to make to the MAC position. After all, at Wellesley, masculine-of-center students arecultural minorities; by numbers alone, they’re about as minor as a minority can be. And yet Timothy said he felt conflicted about taking a leadership spot. “The patriarchy is alive and well,” he said. “I don’t want to perpetuate it.”
A Mr. Kaden Mohamed, née Miss Mohamed, laments the female gaze — and grope:
Trans bodies are seen as an in-between option, Timothy said. “So no matter your sexuality, a trans person becomes safe to flirt with, to explore with. But it’s not really the person you’re interested in, it’s the novelty. For lesbians, there’s the safety of ‘I may be attracted to this person, but they’re “really” a woman, so I’m not actually bi or straight.’ And for straight people, it’s ‘I may be attracted to a woman’s body, but he’s a male, so I’m not really lesbian or bi.’ ”
Kaden Mohamed said he felt downright objectified when he returned from summer break last year, after five months of testosterone had lowered his voice, defined his arm muscles and reshaped his torso. It was attention that he had never experienced before he transitioned. But as his body changed, students he didn’t even know would run their hands over his biceps. Once at the school pub, an intoxicated Wellesley woman even grabbed his crotch and that of another trans man.
“It’s this very bizarre reversal of what happens in the real world,” Kaden said. “In the real world, it’s women who get fetishized, catcalled, sexually harassed, grabbed. At Wellesley, it’s trans men who do. If I were to go up to someone I just met and touch her body, I’d get grief from the entire Wellesley community, because they’d say it’s assault — and it is. But for some reason, when it’s done to trans men here, it doesn’t get read the same way. It’s like a free pass, that suddenly it’s O.K. to talk about or touch someone’s body as long as they’re not a woman.”
I agree with Mr. Mohamed that this is “very bizarre,” but I don’t think we’re talking about quite the same thing. Read the whole account of Wellesley’s cutting-edge agony. Sign of the times. I think Hollins has it right:
A few schools have formulated responses to this dilemma, albeit very different ones. Hollins University, a small women’s college in Virginia, established a policy several years ago stating it would confer diplomas to only women. It also said that students who have surgery or begin hormone therapy to become men — or who legally take male names — will be “helped to transfer to another institution.”
A minor but significant nonetheless sign of the Times: the newspaper of record has solved the challenge by referring without note to these biological women, persons who have not undergone gender reassignment surgery, as men. As far as the Times is concerned, you are a man, or a woman, if you say you are. I doubt, however, that this is a universally applied journalistic principle. I would love to know how the newspaper of record decides to accept a subject’s claim of gender dysphoria, and how it would reckon that the subject is trying to play them. If Biff, a prankish sophomore at Slippery Rock State, announces with a straight face that he is a member of the Genderqueer/Transqueer/Masco-Feminine-American community, and demands access to the girls locker room or he’s going to denounce the administration as a pack of bigots, which pronoun will the Times use to describe him?
First world problems!
Serious point, though: this kind of confusion is the fruit of an ideology that believes reality is plastic, is malleable, and that to deny that assertion amounts to irrational animus. Moral and philosophical disorder as a sign of virtue.