26 March 2013

When The Paperwork Is Done

Variations of this cartoon hung in many an office during the 1970's.  However, they all had the same message: No job is finished until the paperwork is done.

Who knew how pertinent that pearl of wisdom would be for transgender people today?  And, at this moment, how many people can better understand its verisimilitude than Calliope Wong can?

She has just been rejected by Smith College.  That happens to lots of applicants, as Smith is one of the most selective all-female colleges in the United States.  

But it wasn't Ms. Wong's grades or SAT scores, or a lack of extracurricular activities or letters of recommendation that doomed her application.  Rather, it had to do with her Financial Aid forms.

Now, it's been rumored that some schools will take an applicant that doesn't request financial aid over one who does but has similar credentials.  However, I am willing to believe Smith officials when they say that it isn't her family's lack of wealth that's keeping her out of their school.

Instead, it has to do with some information her parents provided on that form.  You see, they checked off the "M" box because it's the one marked on her birth certificate and Social Security records.  Although Calliope has been living as female for two years and has identified herself as one for as long as she can remember, her official records do not yet indicate that.  

So, Smith returned her application materials without an official admissions review.  College officials said she is free to re-apply.

To its credit, Smith was one of the first colleges to openly support lesbian students, and it allows students to remain in the college if they transition from female to male.  However, with such policies, "Smith seems to be saying that they welcome trans men, but not trans women", according to Mara Keisling.  "At first blush, it appears to be counter to Smith's anti-discrimination policy," added Ms. Keisling, who is the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.  

While I support Smith's willingness to allow female-to-male transitions, I agree with Keisling that it's strange that the same school wouldn't allow transitions in the other direction.  Perhaps Smith could use letters from doctors and therapists certifying that the applicant has made some significant step, such as taking hormones or living full-time as female, toward her gender transition.  Or, if the college wants candidates who are "officially" female, it should specify which documents have to indicate that gender in order for an applicant to be considered.

Ms. Wong says she plans to commence her studies elsewhere.  I get the feeling that Smith will be poorer for it.

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