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Where is my Education? A Transman’s Story

The everyday struggles of a trans man attending university.

This story was originally published on the Transmen Collective's website.  I was in my first year of college when I realized that I was trans. I had found this term which fit the thoughts in my head about my gender identity. All the signs were there, but I was still afraid of actually identifying with that term and coming out to people. I was afraid of the impact of my trans identity on my future. After a year of going back and forth in my head, I finally came to terms with my identity. No one can predict the future and everyone whether cisgender or transgender has to deal with their own struggles in life, so why not just go ahead and live your authentic life anyway. Still, I packed away the eventualities of getting a haircut and transitioning in the far off future and was content by just accepting myself and getting accepted by my friends.
The next two years of college were absolutely fun-filled. I was in my own bubble of ignorance, being in a relationship for the first time, having a great group of friends and also being among the teachers’ favorites. I was not even trying to pass as a guy till the very end of the third year, so being misgendered was not even a thing to consider. But in those two years, I had also decided upon my preferred name and finally ended up getting a haircut as well.
So as a trans man who chose to go on to get a master’s degree in Philosophy rather than quitting studies to get a job and start my transition, ‘Where is my education?’ might not be a question that I am supposed to raise. However, that doesn’t negate my discomfort that I experience on a daily basis.
The tasks to which a cisgender person doesn’t even have to give a thought about cause intense inner turmoil to me. Starting from dressing up for the day- wearing oversized, baggy clothes just so I am able to pass as a dude, going through metro’s security -pausing a moment, wondering whether to go through the men’s line or the women’s line depending on how confident or scared I feel on that particular day. The turmoil doesn’t end once I reach my classroom, then the struggle for standing up for yourself starts. Thankfully, I haven’t yet experienced any bullying or jokes about my demeanor from my fellow students or faculty. So I like to believe that the students in a university setting are respectful of their fellows. Nonetheless, the human mind doesn’t need outside criticism, it is very capable of making you feel bad about yourself by comparing you with others. When I look around myself, and all the other guys in the class are taller than me and sport a beard, I get envious and my confidence goes down. The key here is to remind yourself that although you are never getting any taller but one day maybe in just 2-3 years, you too would have that beard and muscles.
Right now, I am in the second and final year of my course, I feel much more confident and assured of myself. I have 7-8 people whom I can call friends, who know the truth about my identity and accept me for who I am. Back in the first year, I had only a couple of friends with whom I had done my graduation, and I used to have no confidence and felt very miserable coupled with the fact that I was also going through my break up at that time. So I just drowned myself in music and one favorite subject and helped my classmates who were struggling in that subject. I used to be intimidated by the very thought of talking to anyone in my class as the first question people usually ask is your name, and that was the very question I wanted to avoid. Whether to tell them my legal name or my preferred name? Do they see me as a girl or a guy? It so happened that I ended up telling half the people my legal name and the other half my preferred name, and just hope with fingers crossed that in a class of 200 students, no two people at the same time called me by two different names.
The most difficult aspect in the classroom, however, is the professor asking your name in front of the whole class because then you have no other option except to tell them your legal name. So in the first year, I stopped attending the lectures of the professors who had a habit of asking names. And in other lectures, I wouldn’t even raise my hand to answer a question for the fear that the professor might ask my name. However, in the present semester, I don’t even have these options as the internal subject I have chosen has only a handful of students and the professor knows us all by name. So getting deadnamed or legal-named is pretty common. But now it doesn’t bother me as much as when I was under-confident and didn’t feel as accepted by my friends and family. Oh, and when I give my exams under my legal name, sometimes I pause and wonder who is that girl whose exams I keep giving and getting her a decent score, impersonating her just like that scene from Munnabhai MBBS where someone else gives the exam and the real person is actually paying carrom somewhere else. My confidence helps me find the humor in potentially triggering situations now and that just makes every single day all the more interesting.
If you too are looking for your education, go ahead, find a bunch of friends who act as your support system, be confident and genuine and tackle everyday issues with a sense of humor.
Chitraksh Ashray, 25, a member of Transmen Collective, is an introverted trans guy who is mostly found bent over books, both during his day job as well as in his free time.
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