It’s been over a year now since I started my campaign for trans woman inclusion at Smith College, and I’ve kept silent. I’ve not made any dorky Sherlock jokes or started any conversations about trans equality here, although—in case you’re wondering—I’ve been busy with other activism as part of the SPARKsummit intergenerational, intersectional (international as well) feminist organization. I’m a college sophomore now. The administration at Smith has paid some lip-service to trans inclusion since the campaign and petition, although their current policies are still ridiculous and unrealistic for the majority of trans women. You can read about the recent protest on campus here.
More than a year’s passed since that first letter to you. And life has moved on for me, in a lot of ways.
Me, at the beginning of the Smith Campaign.
Me, 12:40am, 7/21/2014.
I’m a premed-track English major at the UConn Honors program, and I’m both scared and excited about organic chemistry with four English classes next semester. I’ve since realized my gaming snobbery and am finally getting into League of Legends. My hair was, indeed, dark green for a while—now it’s fading into gold-brown, a weird color that somehow feels exactly right to me. The biggest change so far isn’t something that visible, though—having a year to figure out and come to terms and grow into myself has been kind to me.
I’m learning to feel my fear, but not to let it stop me or haunt me or turn me back from what I must do. I’m learning to look after myself, too. For once in my life I am aware that the proverbial Stamina Bar™ above my head isn’t infinite, and that it’s alright to ask for help rather than burning out alone. The past year has shown me that I am a person deserving of my own care, my own shield raised high.
The truth is, it’s exactly my neglecting these lessons that’s prompted me to write this letter. I told myself when I started the first draft of this letter (about half a year ago) that I’d not draw this out more than necessary. It’s difficult, and I’ve been scared to ask for the past year, and I’m scared right now, but I’ve got to ask.
I need your help, everyone, in raising money for bottom surgery—also known as SRS (a somewhat outdated but still-popular term, “sex-reassignment surgery”) or GCS (gender confirmation surgery). I would like to raise $20,000 by August 29th to repay at least the monetary debt I owe to my parents, who have already pledged to fully fund the cost of my bottom surgery. I can only hope that I’ll be able to honor the support and love my parents have given me over many more years.
Of course I’ve been thinking about all the responses I could get for a long time now.
I understand there are many worthy causes you could donate to, and I’m sure that what I ask seems outlandish. The sheer enormity of the amount I am asking for does not escape me—but the simple truth is that I want to repay in at least monetary terms, what my parents have freely given me.
I am wordlessly lucky to be my parents’ daughter. If not for them, there would be no activist Calliope Wong—there would be no campaign for trans equality in admissions at Smith, or any of it. I understand this is a great deal of money I am asking to raise. The timeframe I am looking at—about one month and a week—is also extremely short. But our power, in numbers, is so strong.
I know that not everyone is able to donate, and that is perfectly fine. Share on social media, if you’re able. I only ask that you remember—over 5,000 people signed the petition for my campaign, asking for trans women at Smith. With 5,000 supporters, repaying my monetary debt is also possible.
I write too much, now.
Just to say:
I would like to pay back the two people behind all of my efforts, my parents, so that I can finally put the question of “should I ask” and “did I try hard enough to honor them” to rest. Please, help me to repay this debt of love.
A few dollars from many, many friends will win this. I’m counting on you!
I apologize for not keeping strictly to my word—I know I said the last-last post, “Thank You,” was going to be the last post from me. But this is important, and I need your help spreading this. You are my pressure for change, folks—keep up with me here!
A friend of mine, Alex Sennello, just received a letter from Simmons College—another women’s college in Massachusetts.
Alex happens to be a transwoman, like me.
That letter happens to be her acceptance letter to Simmons, with a $20,000 scholarship for her photography work and her student activism in the trans* community.
Attached you’ll find a picture of her acceptance letter, which she gave me permission to share.
Note that it speaks specifically to her accomplishments as a trans* activist, and correctly identifies her as “Ms. Alex Sennello.”
I thought I was finished speaking when I wrote the last sentence to my supposedly-last post, “Thank You.” Apparently I’m not done. There’s something you all should be aware of. This comes to you in rough-story form, with all relevant folks addressed using the gender-neutral honorific Mx (instead of Mr, Ms, or Mrs).
I was going to wait until the weekend to write, but the information is the same regardless of how polished I write—and I feel this is necessary.
A few days ago, I heard back from some friends from Smith Q&A (a group in support of transwoman acceptance at Smith), who contacted others on my behalf about the legality of using the FAFSA as a bar against my admission.
Jon O’Bergh, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of the US Department of Education, gave some clarification on the matter. Mx. O’Bergh commented on the fact that, according to both the Dep of Ed and FAFSA, the self-reported sex indicator on the FAFSA is used for Selective Service only. Then Mx. O’Bergh referred me to Cameron Washington, Web Usability Specialist at FAFSA, for further clarification.
I won’t keep flitting about with a play-by-play of each specific person’s contribution to the (quite-substantial) email chain that built up. However, according to Mx. O’Bergh and Mx. Washington:
The FAFSA sex reported is only used for Selective Service purposes. Neither FAFSA nor the Department of Education cross-checks sex information with Social Security. The federal government is irrelevant in this conversation. All concerns about my hypothetical admission endangering Smith’s status as a historical women’s college receiving federal funding?
Irrelevant, and wrong. The government does not care about my sex marker.
Thus, Smith College’s decision not to process my application based on my FAFSA sex marker is at Smith’s sole discretion. Their hand was not forced; they chose this.
Smith College is fully capable of reviewing my application and making an admissions decision for me based on my credentials. Just—it’s so simple, really.
This is obvious discrimination on Smith’s part.
In case I didn’t mention earlier:
Dean Shaver’s words to me over the summer, when I was still trying to figure out Smith’s transgender-acceptance policies, were that: “It seems to me that if your teachers provide the language you suggest, all your pronouns would be female and therefore consistent with what Smith is expecting.” She spoke of school papers and transcripts consistently reflecting “female” for my application. Nowhere was there mention of FAFSA, a federal financial aid form.
I am quite convinced that Smith’s supposed transgender-acceptance policies have been evolving with every letter of this Tumblr posted, with every obstacle I manage to clear.
So, Smith chose this path.
Make it a hard walk, folks.
For the transwomen before me, who dealt with these kinds of policies in their time. For the transwomen to come, who should inherit a better and more just system.
In recent online discussions, several people have raised the claim that federal law requires women’s colleges to admit trans men and to bar trans women from admission on the basis of their legal gender. The argument is that if women’s colleges admit trans women who are…
I wrote a post and shared this link a while back, but Freedom explains really well here the fallacy of institutions using Title IX as a bar against transwoman admission.
As many of you know, my dear, dear friend Calliope recently received her second rejection letter from Smith College. It is not my place to change Smith’s policies; I will leave that up to its students, as I’m sure many of them are as angry as I am about what has happened in the past 6 months or…
militant-x said: Hi Calliope, I am so sorry to hear about the admin's response. I'm Mallory & I'm in a group called Q&A that meets weekly to talk about including trans women at smith (our tumblr is smith-q-and-a) & one of my goals is to compile an archive of stories from trans women who have been rejected to use as a record and a tool. If you would be comfortable emailing me (whenever yr ready) with yr account of what happened so I could add it to an archive, it would be really amazing/helpful for our activism.
Well, I have all the primary source documents of what happened. As in, the two letters from Dean Shaver and the emails we sent one another. Are those useful to you?
So. It’s been a while since I’ve written you all, folks. As far as I know, this will be the last update letter I will write you.
I guess this is it, for now. There’s no chance I can go to Smith College, as the administration has returned my application without reading it not once—but two times now.
The first time, the Office of Admission at Smith found fault with my transcript, which read “male.” Smith would not process my application, despite the fact that I had spoken to Dean of Admission extensively over the summer about who I was and my specific case. Still, I corrected the “male” clerical error with my school guidance staff and promptly sent back my application for review.
The second time was on March 5, five days ago. My FAFSA information reading “male” was targeted this time as the reason why I was not a woman in Smith’s eyes. I won’t give you an analysis of what was written; I’ll just leave you with a photograph of the letter at the end. You all can decide what it means for yourselves.
I don’t think there is or ever was any way to “win.” There was never any fair shot for me. But I tried my best to do things right. At least I can say that.
Yes, I cried the day my papers came back. I still feel like crying.
But right now I’m listening to “Zankoku na tenshi no te-ze,” also known as “Cruel Angel’s Thesis,”—probably best known as “the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime theme song”—on repeat, as I write this letter. And it strikes me, how appropriate.
For those of you who aren’t (yet) in the know, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese animation made in the 90s. Among other things, the show deals with existentialist and absurdist themes through a pathetic main character named Shinji. He’s utterly useless in the beginning and runs away from what he fears—accepting his life as his own. So, even as Shinji pilots the so-called “EVA 01,” humanity’s last hope against alien invaders called “Angels”—he is afraid. Of the ridiculous mess that is his reality, and of his potential to rise up and claim his life as his own. So he hates himself and does nothing.
I won’t give you all too long a summary of my favorite show. Just—Shinji learns to climb into his plugsuit, into the EVA 01, and learns not to run away. He claims his reality, and learns he is no more and no less than himself.
I love that show. It helps me to deal with this beautiful, terrible, confusing world.
The only thing I can do is accept responsibility for what I do, and what I believe, like Shinji Ikari from Evangelion. It’s the only pure, good, right option. And a person cannot sit down and do nothing, and still live.
I did something.
You helped me to believe I could do something.
Congratulations. You are all beautiful people. And I thank you, for being here with me.
My sincerest apologies for not updating everyone sooner on the Smith developments.
<Time passes by really quickly, especially with other college apps to do and all the schoolwork in senior year: these are my excuses for not updating everyone on all that’s happened. If it’s any defense, I had planned to update at every step. Just that, yaknow, my homepage is set to CommonApp and I’m just suckered into drafting and writing those essays. Uf…a hard life. I hope you all can somewhat relate.>
So. Onto business. Firstly:
Thank you all for your support, wisdom, questions, criticisms, and words to me. The kind words were (and are eternally) wonderful; the criticisms and advice-comments helped me to get thinking—not just on how to approach Smith, but also on how to realistically approach gender issues in general. For this, I think you all deserve hugs. (You each get Internet-voucher for one *hug*. If ever I cross paths with one of you, remind me: I owe real, physical hugs).
In all seriousness, now. Onto the other business of updates:
It appears I can apply to Smith. I talked with Dean of Admission Shaver over emails, and I received a clear answer of:
“The bottom line is this, you can:
1) submit all your applications online as female, 2) submit all your online applications as male and then file paper applications as female to women’s colleges, 3) submit your online applications to coed colleges as male - and then with Common App’s help, change your gender identification to female on your online application and submit it to women’s colleges. I think you would want to provide more detail in the Additional Information section.
It seems to me that if your teachers provide the language you suggest, all your pronouns would be female and therefore consistent with what Smith is expecting.”—Dean Shaver.
So, that’s that.
It leaves me thinking, all of it. I still don’t know what to say.
So instead of making a fool of myself with still half-formed thoughts buzzing in my head, as I reread Shaver’s words and think over implications, I leave you with a link to my friend Sarah Giovanniello’s Broad Recognition (Yale’s feminist magazine) article about Transwomen @ Smith.
THIS IS ACTUALLY AN IMPORTANT UPDATE. [Please read this and spread this to all people who read the original post.]
As the title suggests, this post I’m bringing you all up to date on the legal front.
Many folks here have left me messages about Title IX and its potential to be a major roadblock in my quest for everlasting righteousness (er, the fair chance to apply to Smith College). Through some digging around and helpful legal pointers from professionals, I’ve found an article written by a Harvard law student named Katherine Kraschel that sheds some light on the confusion surrounding “the Transwoman Roadblock Title.”
Title IX cannot actually be used as a bar against admitting transwomen applicants to women’s colleges because the title is intended to ensure fair treatment for those of “disadvantaged genders.” Title IX has been interpreted in the past to include and help trans* people.
Ms. Kraschel puts forth quite an eloquent and logical legal argument here, for those of you interested/skeptical: