I came out at 25 in 1974, have identified as a lesbian feminist since that time, got a doctorate in women’s studies in 1979 and an MFA in playwriting at Smith in 2008.
I am appalled at some of the identity politics maneuvering (and guilt-tripping) that I have read in the Alumnae Quarterly. One of the major priorities of the women’s movement was for women to have non-male space within which to learn, play, work and live. The agitation to enroll trans men on the basis of creating a “safe space” completely ignores the fact that appearing as male confers male privilege, whether consciously or unconsciously and whether pursued intentionally or not.
I have often been addressed as “sir,” or treated differently (usually better) because of my appearance and low voice. So I have often benefited from what’s referred to as male privilege. Whether we like to admit it or not, masculinity is privileged by society. But if I were to embrace the identity of a trans man and demand that a women’s college cater to my identity’s needs when that college has been expressly created to provide a female-centered environment would be the height of presumption — not to mention egotism, self-centeredness and anti-feminism.
Sure, it is hard to be excluded. I would not want to be unable to take advantage of everything Smith has to offer. I empathize with trans people in transition – I expect it is a terrifically vulnerable way to live. However, women are still marginalized in our culture, regardless of our numbers, and (as study after study reveals) benefit from single-sex environments.
I sincerely hope Smith neither changes its admission policy to admit trans men nor changes its public documents addressing women as its student body. Those women who decide to explore their gender identities during their attendance at Smith are quite a different issue and one I am not expressing an opinion on in this writing.
Lynne S. Brandon
MFA in playwriting, 2008