Working your way through the academic career takes a lot of time commitments, and often we are pressured away from any time-consuming activities that would take us away from our work. Having children is a huge one, which has been discussed and continues to be discussed as academia works on better policies for women to maintain a work/life balance without losing their careers. As I’ve gone through my academic journey as a trans woman, I’ve had to navigate another tricky balance: transitioning in academia.
Not all transgender people transition, and for those of us who do we each have our own paths. If there are other trans women reading this, I would love to know what experiences and choices you made, and how they affected where you are today. For me, transition started while I was finishing up my undergraduate years. I had just come to accept that I’m trans and was ready to do something about it. My senior year I spent socially transitioning and figuring out what was in my future. I met with my adviser regularly about grad school, job prospects, and how my being trans could affect it. For a time, I considered leaving the field for a few years to transition and then come back a new woman — the classic narrative.
That ended up being very different from my actions, though. I applied to grad school my senior year and got into a school that I was excited about, and so I took the plunge. Meeting with the administrative staff was essential for making sure my preferred name and gender showed up for all of my classes, since I hadn’t had any documents legally changed yet. To do so required my legal and preferred names to be published in my hometown’s local newspaper, since my address was still with at my parents’ house, and at that point they agreed to not entirely cut me off from their support as long as there was no local evidence of my transition. This was my moment of starting anew, and I spent the next few months as “accidentally stealth” — I didn’t particularly hide that I was trans, but I also didn’t tell anyone about it and I met and developed friendships with people who only knew the authentic me.
It didn’t last terribly long. In part, things with my family were still working themselves out and I needed friends I could talk to about it. Our department also started an intramural sports team that I joined, but given the gender requirements of teams I had to have a conversation with our team captain, one of my fellow students.
It was around this time that I was able to find a doctor and start taking hormone treatments. The next few years were rough. Remember middle school, and how going through puberty was awful and stressful? Imagine that, but with all the extra pressure and work that comes with grad school. If you can avoid going through puberty during grad school, I *highly* recommend it. But I persevered, and eventually finished up my classwork and later obtained my PhD.
Which leaves me where I am currently, as a post-doc looking for a tenure-track position. At some point, I would very much like to have gender confirming surgery. Unfortunately, neither grad students nor post docs make terribly much and the little I’ve saved away is but a fraction of the cost. Things get more complicated when the vast majority of health insurance policies exclude trans health care, and with that fact that I’m at such a crucial stage in my career where the thought of taking off a month or two for recovery is terrifying.
I find myself faced with a lot of similar questions I hear when women in academia talk about having children. Is this the right time? Should I put it off until I have a faculty position? Until I have tenure? As my body ages, will it be able to recover as well if I put it off? Will I ever even be able to afford it? Is there ever going to be a good time, or just less terrible times?
I don’t have an answer to any of these yet, as I’m still figuring out and stumbling along my own path of what it means to be a trans woman in academia. If there are any others out there, I would love to hear your thoughts.