My Journey: Transitioning in College

Robin Gow embraces his gender identity during college and navigates the road of transitioning.

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The first time I told someone I wanted to be a boy, I was seventeen and in a department store dressing room. I had just tried on a pair of cargo shorts and a baseball tee. I tugged the teal shirt away from my chest to hide my breasts and asked my boyfriend, “What do you think?”

He said, “You’d make a cute boy,” and then laughed at the absurd prospect. His laugh wasn’t intended to be rude– the idea of being able to change one’s gender still isn’t something people think about as an open possibility.

At the time, I had been out as bisexual since seventh grade and was part of my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) since it formed my sophomore year. I hadn’t realized how many times I had thought to myself that I wanted to be a boy. Even in college, I kept coming back to this as kind of a joke.

I now know that I joked about wanting to be a boy as a defense mechanism. I played Dungeons and Dragons with my friends during my junior year and every time I made a character, they were effeminate men. Musing one afternoon I said, “You know that’s just how I see myself– a really effeminate man.”

My friend group and college GSA has always been incredibly supportive and because of their continued acceptance, I was able to come out my senior year of college as a trans-man. I had come out my sophomore year as non-binary because I knew FOR SURE that I wasn’t a girl and had never really felt like one.

My GSA group has been especially accepting of changing identities and the journey involved in coming to understand yourself. In my opinion, when people talk about LGBT+ people, they often focus so much on the struggle that they don’t get to see how beautiful it is to live in a community that offers a space to grow and learn more about yourself.

Sometimes it feel like I’m divided into two worlds because on campus I’m loved, supported, and accepted as a trans person and off campus I don’t always have the same kind of environment.

My story sometimes surprises people because I don’t have the cookie-cutter “trans” narrative. I was never very butch — I wore dresses and did intricate make-up looks all first three years of college. To me, this wasn’t bad, but it always felt like a mask or a performance rather than how I actually wanted to present.

I’m incredibly privileged to have had so many astounding and accepting professors– they openly support my transition and even sometimes correct other students if they mess up my pronouns. I have never had a problem with a professor refusing to use my pronouns and all of my professors have been accepting enough to change my name on their class rosters.

It’s not like this for all trans students– even on my campus. It’s even more difficult for those who do not identify within the binary and who use alternative pronouns, like ve/ver or ze/zir.

In terms of LGBT+ resources, I think that many colleges are beginning to take steps in the right direction to creating an accepting environment. In fact, many colleges, like mine, are adding gender neutral restrooms.

At the same time, I think colleges need to improve how they handle name changes for trans students. I have not had the resources to pursue a legal name change. Still, the college has the ability to allow me to change my email and name on class rosters, although I understand that certain documents need to remain in my birth name.

Fortunately, I was able to change my email address, but I have heard from other trans students who have been challenged by this process.

Similarly, diplomas should provide an option to list a chosen name versus a birth name. Some universities offer this option, but not many. Imagine working on a four-year degree only to receive a diploma that mistypes or forgets your name?

I am also extremely lucky to live near one of the largest LGBT+ health networks on the East Coast– renowned for astounding trans-care. Medical transition in college can be extremely difficult to navigate if you’re a student whose primary doctor is at home, or if there’s no LGBT+ health network close by.

Many families won’t support their child’s need for medical transition and therefore students might not be able to use insurance to get the care they need. For me, that process was easy. LGBTQ-focused health centers, like the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia or METRO Wellness & Community Centers in St Petersburg, offer a co-pay option based on income. I used that to pay for counseling appointments and doctor check-ups before starting testosterone.

For me, hormone therapy has changed my life. I feel more comfortable in my body and a lot of my struggles about body-image have been alleviated. I feel like I can be myself. I’ve only been on testosterone (T) for about two months, but I can already tell that my voice is getting deeper and I “pass” as a guy in a lot of public situations. Each subtle change I notice reaffirms my transition and brings me much joy.

One of the changes I’ve noticed is increased emotional stability. I don’t cry as much or get as emotional about things now. It’s not that I’m emotion-less, it’s just different. In fact, the emotional stability has helped me with my campus jobs and school work.

I’ve also noticed an increase in my sex-drive since starting T.

As for my breasts, I currently bind my chest, which means I wear special kind of shirt that suppresses my breasts and makes my chest look more like the chest of an assigned male person. While it’s not the most comfortable option, it affirms my gender identity.

While I bind now, I hope to someday pursue top surgery (essentially removing breast tissue) when I have more resources or can get on an insurance that will help finance the procedure. This is especially difficult for trans people in college because it’s hard to find time to take off for a surgery that requires a few weeks of recovery time. Again, LGBTQ health centers can help connect patients with surgeons who can provide options based on body-type.

I like to describe my manhood as gender euphoria– a complete feeling of comfort and joy surrounding how I understand my gender. I think it’s important to understand that being trans is a personal experience and no one’s transition is the same.

My friend Duncan, who is gender queer, says that they best way to support trans people is to “listen and validate trans people when they want to talk about changes.” Duncan says, “being trans doesn’t change who you are” and I agree. I am Robin. I am a trans man. I am me.

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july, 2024

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