What It's Like to Transition from Female to Male at an All-Women's College

A Bryn Mawr student explains why he couldn't imagine going anywhere else.

Trans(form) is a month-long series on MarieClaire.com that explores the challenges, surprises, and victories of transitioning today. See the full collection here.

When you attend a women's college, there are a couple of questions you get used to hearing. "How do you possibly date?" and "Do all of your periods sync up?" and "There are tons of lesbians, right?" and "Are you allowed to have men on campus?" It's difficult to answer most of these inquiries without an eye roll, particularly the last one.

Yep, we can have men on campus. In fact, I am one. I started my transition during the summer between freshman and sophomore years, so I'll spend the majority of my time at Bryn Mawr College as a man.

Most women's colleges around the country have, one by one over the last year, changed their admissions policies to admit transgender women (so, a woman who was assigned male at birth). Barnard became the last of the traditional Seven Sisters schools to do so in June. The announcements were received with fanfare by the LGBT community, and by me, even though I have transitioned away from female.

I grew up in western Massachusetts, and the only thing I knew going into the college search was that I wanted to stay in or near New England. The more I researched Bryn Mawr, located in southeastern Pennsylvania, the more perfect it sounded. A visit to the beautiful campus sealed the deal, and I applied early decision. It was the only place I wanted to be. 

I didn't know I was trans in high school, but I did know that I wasn't straight.

One of the things I liked about the school was its reputation for having a tight-knit, supportive community, especially for LGBT students. I didn't know I was trans in high school, but I did know that I wasn't straight. Bryn Mawr seemed like a safe space to learn more about myself and my identity. 

It took me nineteen years to figure it out, but once I did, I told my college friends before anyone else in my life. I was pretty sure the response would be positive, and it was: All I had to do was say I wanted to be called Emmett and use male pronouns, and everyone was like, "Sure!" The whole student body seems to be aware of transgender identities, so I didn't need to give some long explanation. I said, "I'm trans," and they just got it, which was a relief. 

The logistics were a bit more awkward and tricky. I had to make sure my professors and managers at the dining hall where I work knew that I had changed my name and pronouns. For the most part it was just a matter of contacting the right people to get things like my email address changed. I still sometimes have professors call me the wrong name, because my birth name shows up on the course registration. I haven't been able to change it legally yet. But most of them are extremely helpful and remember that my name is different from the list as long as I explain at the beginning of the semester.

All I had to do was say I wanted to be called Emmett and use male pronouns, and everyone was like, "Sure!"

Despite these lovely friends and understanding professors, I did consider transferring. I felt guilty for being there, like I shouldn't be at a place that celebrates women when I don't identify as one. Women's colleges theoretically exist to combat male privilege—they were founded to give women an opportunity for an education when other, co-ed colleges wouldn't accept them—and now I was signing on for male privilege, in a way.

But I couldn't bear to transfer, even if it is frustrating when someone misgenders me by addressing a crowd of Bryn Mawr students as women. There are enough other trans or inter-sex or gender-queer classmates on campus that it's annoying when someone begins a talk with "Good morning, ladies." Also, that just sounds condescending to the ear in this day and age, doesn't it?

It's annoying when someone begins a talk with "Good morning, ladies."

My transition has changed so much about how I see and experience the world. Now that I typically "pass" as male, everyday interactions—everything from buying coffee to going through airport security—are radically different. And my romantic life has improved. Is it because I'm now an upperclassman with a greater social circle, or because I have more confidence? Maybe it's because I stand out more in a group of Bryn Mawr students.

I definitely worry about returning to the world outside this warm, tiny bubble. Sometimes LGBT students talk about the bubble in negative terms, but honestly I love it; it's a safe and nurturing space, and I don't think there's anything wrong with preferring that over a hostile environment. For the time being, I couldn't be happier to be a man at Bryn Mawr College. I would choose it again and again and again. 

This story is a part of Marie Claire 's features series on what it means to transition today. Check back throughout the summer to read more, or find collected articles here.

Kaitlin Menza