Last year, the M Center implemented the change of gender form, designed to be usable by any Mills student— former or current, graduate or undergraduate. Upon completion, the gender previously on record for the student will be changed to reflect the student’s “new” gender retroactively on existing documents as well as in any future paperwork. To be eligible to complete the form, the student must provide a court certified order reflecting their “new” gender — a document which requires a costly medical and legal process some current trans students have neither the resources nor the desire to undergo.
To obtain a court certified order under current California law, a person must present to the court several documents, including a “Declaration of Physician.” Acquiring such a declaration requires spending a great deal of time and money on doctor’s visits. In their affidavit, the doctor must confirm that the person requiring the court order has gender identity disorder, a classification which many trans people and their allies feel reinforces the idea that there is something wrong with trans people or that they are somehow not normal. According to the Transgender at Work project, costs associated with transition usually cost well over $20,000. The project estimates costs of $3,000 for therapy, hormone, and doctor’s visits costs alone. Additionally, the person petitioning to change their gender must incur court fees and pay for an announcement in the local newspaper reporting their legal gender change. The Transgender Law Center, a civil rights organization advocating for transgender rights since 2002, provides fee waiver forms for individuals with low income. For example, a single person is eligible for the waiver if their annual income is less than $1,128.13 a year.
Sophomore Myles Luber will not be using the new change of gender form. “I have absolutely no interest in going through the expensive and demeaning process of getting diagnosed with “Gender Identity Disorder” in order to apply to have my gender legally changed,” he says. “This change of gender form is a gesture that benefits only a segment of the trans population at Mills and only in certain ways.”
As records of students who have completed the form are kept confidential, information about the actual use of the change of gender form is limited. The form has generated some feedback according to Mills Registrar, Kristen Smith. “I do not know if it has yet been used by current or former students. I do know that we have received positive feedback from alums about the clarity and transparency of the form,” she said.
The form was introduced as a response to student needs. “The M Center Records team decided to create the form when we received questions from a student who was transitioning and who had questions about how the process at Mills works,” says Smith. “We strive to be transparent with our practices and the form helps us to achieve that.”
Mills is one of a handful of colleges and universities in the nation to provide such a form for students. Other schools that offer the form include the University of Maryland and The Ohio State University. The form demonstrates an awareness and acknowledgement on the part of the college — but, as the official recognition it potentially provides is hinged upon the presentation of the court certified order, it does not necessarily benefit trans students at Mills.
Senior Jules Shendelman suggests a possible remedy to the problem of limited accessibility. “I think having an unofficial change of gender form in addition or even as a replacement would be great,” he says. “Just so that I could have my paperwork listed with some kind of indication that I have a preferred pronoun at all. Because when it comes to just making my way through a school day, one issue I encounter as a trans student is definitely pronouns.”
Shendelman will not be using the form during his time at Mills either. Among other issues with the form, he points out the inclusion of only two boxes: male to female or female to male, options which do not include more diverse gender expression for those students who wish to avoid binary terminology, such as genderqueer-identified students.
The form’s distance from everyday classroom experience is an issue for Luber as well. “Trans students are here, have been here, and will continue to be here. Mills cannot ignore us anymore,” he says. “I should be able to enter a classroom and know that my professor is my ally, will know what ‘trans’ and ‘genderqueer’ mean, will respect my preference for male pronouns, and will not perpetuate transphobia and transphobic curriculum. As of right now this is not the case.”
Currently, the only part of admissions policy that could refer to admittance of undergraduate trans students is open-ended. Page 234 of the undergraduate catalogue reads, “As a women’s college, Mills only considers female applicants for undergraduate admission. Once admitted, any student who completes the College’s graduation requirements will be awarded a degree.”
“Women’s colleges are generally a safe space to explore your gender just because it’s a feminist-based education,” says Shendelman. “A lot of trans folks come in here identifying as women. When I signed up I wasn’t coming here as a trans student, I was coming here as someone who was woman-identified and the fact that changed while I was here shouldn’t mean that I leave. It means that I choose to continue my education here because this is where I started and this is where my roots are regardless of how I identify now.”
Luber thinks that while the form may be an acknowledgement on the part of the administration, it is not necessarily the kind of acknowledgement most needed right now. “I really appreciate the work of the people who pushed for the form,” says Luber, “but Mills desperately needs to allocate more funds to addressing the needs of both trans students and other marginalized students on campus. A change of gender form that depends on access to legal gender change outside the institution is not going to fix any of that.”
Several students, including Shendelman, are currently pushing for the creation of a resource center to address the needs of trans and queer students. The project has been in the works for two years, sparked by a ‘zine Shendelman wrote called Queerriot. The center, Queer/Trans Headquarters (QTHC) is currently awaiting approval for allocation of a physical space. In the meantime, it resides within the virtual world of Facebook. QTHC’s page defines its mission as to “determine student needs, garner support from the student body and faculty, and establish an official space for the queer and trans-spectrum student body at Mills College.”
Those students collaborating on the project hold out hope for being granted a space soon, but the lack of significant backing by faculty affects QTHC’s success. Although many faculty have expressed support, none have taken the kind of initiative required to move the proposal forward though the long, bureaucratic path it must travel. “We’re incredibly grateful for the assistance we’ve received thus far, and completely understand that each staff/faculty member has a lot on their plate already,” says Shendelman. “At some point in the near future it’d be lovely to have someone on board who is specifically assigned to our project and dedicated to seeing it through,” he adds.
Yet the change of gender form has survived the complex canals of Mills bureaucracy, representing awareness of trans students, and providing the possibility of official recognition for some former or current trans students with access to the time and money it takes to obtain a court certified order. For those students without these resources or who will not be filling out the form for other reasons, the administration might consider thinking outside the form’s two boxes, and making changes visible outside the M Center’s filing cabinets.