A New York Times Magazine article brought into the limelight the topic of gender identity and gendered definitions, a topic that we tackle on a regular basis as Wellesley students. In the article, titled “When Women Become Men at Wellesley,” Ruth Padawer briefly glazes over just about a hundred issues, and while some of the students may have felt empowered, some alumnae and community members felt discontent with the perceived threat against the all-women legacy that defines Wellesley. I will discuss only one that particularly intrigued me — the desperate need to make sense of, by way of objectifying, alternate types of sexuality and the disturbing utilization of the trans body to do so.
I was surprised by the way in which the article blatantly marginalized human sexuality as a part of our lives, as if it were some sort of social experiment for us as young adults. While gender identity and sexuality are of course not mutually exclusive, they are two entirely different elements of the student experience as many struggle to understand their sexuality and not their gender, and vice versa. But more critically, I was surprised to learn of the way in which trans bodies had been objectified right here on this campus in conjunction with assumed sexualities. It is one thing to grapple with how to cohabitate with trans men; it is another to take full advantage of their presence in the community.
Although on one hand, I was vigorously shaking my head as I read the article, thinking, “These people have no idea what they’re talking about,” on the other hand, I was downright disappointed in Wellesley students for treating the issue of trans men in the way that we advocate against regarding women’s rights, as depicted by the article. When Padawer mentioned that students would grope the biceps of a trans student, or that others would feel threatened by their presence in terms of dating competition, I couldn’t help but wonder: Isn’t this precisely what we’ve been begging society not to do to women? Namely, treat the trans body as a body and not a person? Wellesley is the place where we are granted the rare opportunity to learn how to talk about complex issues appropriately, to break down gender norms and reevaluate the roles of any labels and limitations in society. In this same place, we are allowing ourselves to disguise the objectification of trans bodies as acceptance.
On Wellesley’s campus, women have the advantage of being the overwhelming majority. But as soon as that opportunity arises, we reverse gender roles instead of abolishing them as we claim we want to do. Jesse contributed an experience for the article, saying that this was the first time in his life that people had ever clamored over him in order to date him. This was a striking recollection of how we are too quick to make assumptions that trans men will take away women for other women on campus to date, and that those dating trans men are excusing themselves out of committing to one label of sexuality over another. But more importantly, it is a reflection of how we are using only what is visible to label people and define their experiences. Think about if the situation were reversed. What if there existed a men’s college, with a strong and active homosexual or bisexual population, that were attempting to unpack the issue of trans women on campus? What if the male students were objectifying the self-identified female body in the same way? Would we not be enraged? I am disappointed that Wellesley women are not enforcing a responsibility among themselves to walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk.