Queering the Student Body

by Missingdaughter

Missingdaughter is the mother of a young woman who went missing in college. The author is available to interact in the comments section of her article.


How many college students identify as genderqueer, as transgender, as something other than male or female? Short answer: we don’t know.

The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law tracks transgender demographics. In 2011, the Williams Institute found that 0.3% of adults identified as transgender. Another analysis from 2016, which utilized data from the CDC’s 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), showed the number of adults identifying as transgender had risen to 0.6% of the population. What about teenagers? Yet another Williams Institute estimate in January of 2017 suggests that 0.7 percent of youth ages 13 to 17 identify as transgender. Teenagers are a difficult population to survey. Dr. Emily A. Greytek, director of research at G.L.S.E.N. thinks the numbers for teens identifying as transgender could range from 0.5% to 1.5%. Transgender is an umbrella term—this could also account for the fuzzy numbers.

For many reasons, the aforementioned data requires closer examination. For one thing, any statistic based on a generalization across a large population does not capture local variances. There is anecdotal evidence of localized clusters of transgender-identifying young people in much higher proportions than these US-wide statistics would indicate. Escalating evidence suggests an expanding social epidemic, a phenomenon being described as Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD).

Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book, The Tipping Point, that social epidemics germinate, emerge, and grow by specific mechanisms and for specific reasons, ultimately reaching a tipping point, the pivotal threshold at which ideas and behaviors spread uncontrollably throughout larger society. The surveys we have do not record the germination of alternative gender identities on college campuses.

The colleges themselves report only a vague sense of the numbers. In the Spring 2017 Association of American Colleges and Universities journal, a report titled “The Experiences of Incoming Transgender College Students: New Data on Gender Identity” uses data gathered from the 2015 CIRP Freshman Survey. The report follows 678 transgender students from 209 colleges and universities.

On financial matters, the report states, “transgender students receive financial aid at a higher rate than the national sample. More transgender students reported receiving Pell grants (32.8 percent versus 26.6 percent), need-based grants or scholarships (47.8 percent versus 36.6 percent), and work-study funding (35.4 percent versus 20.9 percent). More transgender students also received merit-based aid (60.7 percent versus 51.6 percent), which is especially encouraging given that the average high school academic performance of transgender students was slightly outpaced by the national average.…”

The trans-identified students have self-reported emotional health concerns: “52.1 percent of incoming transgender college students reported their emotional health as either below average or in the lowest 10 percent relative to their peers.” However, “nearly three-quarters of transgender students reported a good chance they would seek counseling (74.6 percent). One reason for this difference is that evaluation and referral by a mental health professional is typically recommended to those seeking or undergoing hormone therapy or gender confirmation procedures.”

campus queer college guide.jpgTransgender students are a politically and socially engaged group: “Nearly half of the transgender student sample reported having engaged in some type of activism within the year prior to college entry (47.4 percent), which is more than double the percentage of students in the national sample who reported having done so (20.8 percent). Other authors have noted the tendency of transgender students to view their identity through an activist lens, describing the intersection between their gender and activist identities, and the role other identities play at the intersection.” Further, more than two-thirds of incoming transgender college students indicated they were likely to participate in protests on campus (68.7 percent), as compared to about one-third of the national sample (33.1 percent).

Nowhere in this report did it state how many students pursue a medical transition while in college. It is understandable that colleges may not be able to track shifting gender and sexual micro-identities on their campuses. Some of these identities may be a passing whim. But we don’t know anything about how many students arrive at college with a transgender identity, or who adopt a transgender identity while in college, and—more importantly—how many of these students access campus health services for cross-sex hormones or are referred to a nearby off-campus provider for life-changing hormone treatments and/or surgery referrals. Because the students are over 18, FERPA restrictions may prevent a parent from ever learning that his or her young adult child has undergone life-changing medical interventions—even if the child is still covered under the parent’s insurance plan. (True: the student is legally an adult, though not fully in brain function.) Considering the heady atmosphere of trans cheerleading on a college campus and the easy access to medical clinics, a young adult could be more likely to pursue medical transition while away at college.

As noted in the article “Are you sending or losing your teen to college?” published last year on 4thWaveNow, “if it were all just identity exploration, it would be one thing; but many college students are quickly advancing into medical treatments—often with the financial support of the university. Diagnostic testing or even basic counseling are no longer necessary, and college-bound teens have quickly figured this out. ‘Coming out’ as transgender is now treated pretty much the same as a gay or lesbian coming out, not as the gender identity disorder it was considered to be only a short time ago.”

Some students arriving at college without a previous transgender identity will adopt this label in college. How does a coming-of-age journey turn into a coming-of-transgender journey? Why would a young person without previous gender dysphoria adopt this identity? Some would term these new identities as “late harvest apples,” a term used by Diane Ehrensaft to explain unlikely transgender proclamations from older teens and young adults. There are several reasons this identity might bloom in college. One is that gender ideology on most college campuses is an entrenched dogma that manages to unite marginalized and protected identities, tribalism, theory masquerading as science, the queering of curriculum—all these ideas combined form a nebulous all-encompassing groupthink. No one dare question this gender ideology, as this theory involves a protected class of people who are highly triggered by reality.

This new identity could form during O week, which is the week for welcoming new students to a college campus. There are also welcoming queer weeks and Q week. Further, it has become the norm to announce a preferred pronoun to other students and professors, and to be instructed on pronoun etiquette so one does not make a blunder.

From O week introduction icebreakers to the classroom, it is increasingly common to make a preferred pronoun declaration and to be asked to use assorted preferred pronouns for others. The following excerpts on preferred pronoun usage are from a guide created for faculty at Central Connecticut State University:

There are also lots of gender neutral pronouns in use. Here are a few you might hear:

They, them, theirs (Xena ate their food because they were hungry.) This is is a pretty common gender-neutral pronoun…. And yes, it can in fact be used in the singular.

Ze, hir (Xena ate hir food because ze was hungry.) Ze is pronounced like “zee” can also be spelled zie or xe, and replaces she/he/they. Hir is pronounced like “here” and replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.

Just my name please! (Xena ate Xena’s food because Xena was hungry) Some people prefer not to use pronouns at all, using their name as a pronoun instead.

Never, ever refer to a person as “it” or “he-she” (unless they specifically ask you to.) These are offensive slurs used against trans and gender non-conforming individuals.

Why is it important to respect people’s PGPs? You can’t always know what someone’s PGP is by looking at them.

Asking and correctly using someone’s preferred pronoun is one of the most basic ways to show your respect for their gender identity.

When someone is referred to with the wrong pronoun, it can make them feel disrespected, invalidated, dismissed, alienated, or dysphoric (or, often, all of the above.)

It is a privilege to not have to worry about which pronoun someone is going to use for you based on how they perceive your gender. If you have this privilege, yet fail to respect someone else’s gender identity, it is not only disrespectful and hurtful, but also oppressive.

You will be setting an example for your class. If you are consistent about using someone’s preferred pronouns, they will follow your example.

Many of your students will be learning about PGPs for the first time, so this will be a learning opportunity for them that they will keep forever.

Discussing and correctly using PGPs sets a tone of respect and allyship that trans and gender nonconforming students do not take for granted. It can truly make all of the difference, especially for incoming first-year students that may feel particularly vulnerable, friendless, and scared.


Do take care, faculty. It is oppressive to oppressed classes to screw up their pronouns. But it is not oppressive to you to have to learn and use preferred pronouns. Can professors be dismissive of this silliness? No, not if they wish to not be dismissed from their positions. To take one example, a recent article stated that at the University of Minnesota a new draft proposal discloses that not correctly recognizing preferred pronouns could result in “disciplinary action up to and including termination from employment and academic sanctions up to and including academic expulsion.”

pronoun-buttons.jpgProfessors at many colleges are compelled to use the student’s “chosen” names, the preferred pronouns–and of course, since we are talking about legal adults, the families may have no idea this is happening with their student: “If you are made aware of a student’s LGBTQ or transgender status do not assume other professors, friends, or family are also aware of the student’s status.” CCSU recommends that faculty read Author Dean Spade’s journal article on working with transgender students. Dean Spade is a professor at the University of Seattle School of Law.

The idea that someone is defined by a gender identity will be promoted, the idea enforced, as soon as the student arrives on campus. If a student has not given gender identity much thought, she or he will now be fully immersed in declaring a gender. What is the effect on one’s identity when forced to declare a gender identity in a classroom or with the weekly RA meeting? Champlain College decided that it would be a good idea to have everyone wear a preferred pronoun button. Imagine declaring other identities on introductions, name tags, etc.: My political party is X, my sexual identity is X, though occasionally Y, my religion is X, my mixed-ethnicity includes V,W,X,Y,Z.

Sexual identities are whirred together with gender identities. It is no wonder that with so many options available that identities often do shift. Resident Advisors often receive LGBTQ training. RAs at UC San Diego are provided with a 74 page training manual on LGBTQ identities. This publication dates from 2007. If there is a more recent update, one would assume it focuses heavily on gender identities and creative sexuality labels.

Here is one item from this 2007 guide under ‘B’:

BDSM: (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Submission/Sadism, and Masochism ) The terms ‘submission/sadism’ and ‘masochism’ refer to deriving pleasure from inflicting or receiving pain, often in a sexual context. The terms ‘bondage’ and ‘domination’ refer to playing with various power roles, in both sexual and social context. These practices are often misunderstood as abusive, but when practiced in a safe, sane, and consensual manner can be a part of healthy sex life. (Sometimes referred to as ‘leather.’)

Professors are expected to not only practice compelled pronoun speech, but also to queer the curriculum. From Vanderbilt University, we have a comprehensive guide, “Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom”:

In this guide we learn the reasons some students may question the non-binary, “Clark, Rand,and Vogt (2003) observe that students may sometimes hold onto their current understanding of gender roles ‘like lifelines in class discussion’ when confronted with information that challenges their existing views.”

Instructors are encouraged to: “integrate non-conforming gender topics into courses that are seemingly unrelated to gender…Instructors might also “discuss medical diagnoses that have emerged in light of intersex patients.” Another recommendation is to “incorporate a class debate about the impact of gender labeling on the development of criteria for diagnosis, drug development and medical treatment.” Lastly, the authors suggest that “instructors might incorporate debates around the research on gender non-conforming brain structures, such as that of the female limbic nucleus neuron counts for male-to-female transsexuals. For some, the latter recommendation may seem problematic given the history of biological sexism and racism in the United States…In engineering classrooms, encouraging students to think about how existing technologies might require modification if one were to consider the needs of gender non-conforming individuals…In biology classrooms, incorporating readings about the variation of gender identity and expression when presenting about sex chromosomes.”

campus flag.jpgSo we can see that gender-related ideologies and pedagogy are no longer confined to the departments of Queer Studies, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and the Humanities.  The college experience is queered in likely and unlikely places by professors and students alike. Some other examples include:

A professor at Northern Illinois State is concerned that masculine lesbians are viewed as women and not transgender. ‘Zir’ says that “compulsory heterogenderism, participants’ gender identities often went unrecognized, rendering their trans* identities invisible.”

“Queer Ecologies” is a course taught at Eugene Lang College. A partial course description: “Drawing from traditions as diverse as evolutionary biology, LGBTQ+ movements, feminist science studies, and environmental justice…”

If one is stumped for ideas on queering the curriculum, QuERI is a site for courses such as, “Goodgirls, Sluts and Dykes: Heteronormative Policing in Adolescent Girlhood.”

To a young ideological student, it makes sense to insert queer into the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. This honors thesis is from the department of Gender & Sexuality at Davidson College:

The Gender and Sexuality Studies Department provides you with a solid grounding in the interconnected, interdisciplinary fields of gender, sexuality, and queer studies, and engage these fields from a variety of perspectives – religious, economic, political, social, biological, psychological, historical, anthropological, artistic, and literary.

New Mexico Tech promotes non-binary awareness in STEM fields.

It is no surprise that a full immersion into gender ideology on a college campus (that is consistently reinforced) could lead a young person to embrace this identity. Yes, some students arrive to college with a genderqueer or transgender identity. Some do not. If a student adopts this identity, there is no barrier to this identity going medical. A transgender identity, a non-binary identity–both of these stated identities can receive hormones and surgeries. There is a social contagion to this identity; if many other peers are headed to the student clinic for a testosterone shot, why not?

campus injectionIn last year’s college piece, we documented that medical transition services were easily available on college campuses, often with just a single visit to a counselor. The 2017 Campus Pride guide listed 86 colleges that cover medical transition surgeries. Students are often covered under their parent’s insurer, and these young adults can gain access to transgender medical services. We can only assume that insurer coverage will continue to increase. If the campus student health clinic does not provide these services, the student will be sent to a nearby off-campus “informed consent” clinic. Planned Parenthood now plays a large role in transgender health services. As in, young women come to Planned Parenthood for testosterone shots. Ironic, isn’t it? Most people think of Planned Parenthood as a place to obtain birth control–not as a place to obtain an off-label drug that may render these young women sterile, not to mention the many serious and permanent side effects of this drug.

Brown University has a generous student health care plan that provides a full range of sex reassignment surgery (SRS). As stated on Brown’s counseling website: “We partner with Brown Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and University Health Services to collectively provide access, without undue barriers, to medical resources on and off-campus. Brown University health insurance provides trans-inclusive coverage for therapy, hormones, and gender affirmation surgeries for students, staff, and faculty.”

campus student healthRecently, Brown University has been in the news–no, not for the reason of ranking 14 in U.S. News Best National Universities. Professor Lisa Littman of Brown University recently published a study on ROGD, or Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Her study was posted on the university’s news feed and then quickly taken down when students and other activists protested. A petition was created to support academic freedom and scientific inquiry. Dr. Littman’s study created a wake beyond the research community.

Does this university have conflicts of interest between supporting faculty research, scientific integrity, appeasing activist students and outside political groups–possibly conflicts with competing interests of faculty? Dr. Michelle Forcier is a professor at The Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Dr. Forcier is passionate about transgender medical care: “Should we let them die when we have medicine for diabetes?” she said. “And we’re really talking about the same level of intervention. When gender non-conforming, transgender kids and adults are not supported (and) are stigmatized, then they can’t be healthy.”

Many colleges provide cross-sex hormones for their students. Here is some budgeting advice from Tufts University Health Care:

We recommend that Testosterone be obtained from pharmacies that have special expertise—Health Service commonly works with New Era Pharmacy in Portland Oregon which ships directly to you. At New Era, a 10 ml bottle of Testosterone lasts for 9 months or more depending on your dose, and costs $65 out of pocket, which is much cheaper than using your insurance. Prescriptions for needles and syringes will also be needed. Our nurses will work with you to help you learn to administer your injections. We will also provide you with a small sharps container for safe needle disposal.

Whether through the student health plan, the parent’s medical insurance (unbeknownst to the parents), or with some creative patch funding (as in one of the thousands of accounts on Go Fund Me by young women seeking “top surgery”), college students are a vulnerable population to the social contagion and permanent medical harm of a phenomenon being termed, ROGD or Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria.

campus u of iowa clinic.jpgIn fall 2018, “The number of students projected to attend American colleges and universities is 19.9 million...Females are expected to account for the majority of college and university students in fall 2018: about 11.2 million females will attend in fall 2018. We don’t know the exact number of college students who are identifying as genderqueer or transgender. Colleges aren’t tracking these students. Let’s choose 1% as a number in the middle, approximating from various surveys.

What could this mean for these young women? This could translate into potentially 100K young women put on a pathway to receiving a mastectomy. No one is tracking these numbers.

Colleges must reveal how many students they refer to transgender medical health services on-campus or off-campus. Colleges and universities have an ethical responsibility to state how many students are receiving cross-sex hormones and even mastectomies due to the colleges affirming and encouraging these interventions, and sending these students to providers that are more than willing to chop off their breasts.

What will become of these young students, their futures? Many, with encouragement from peers and counselors, will estrange themselves from their families.

We will hear from some families, like this one, in a future article:

“the phone call from my daughter in the deepening voice, the phone call to the college dean of students who told me ‘sometimes children do not have the same moral compass as their parents,’ the visit to the same office where they threatened to call security on me, the generic text my husband and I received from our daughter cutting us out of her life”…

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