How to Navigate Transitioning in College: A Guide for Trans Students

There is no “one way” of being transgender or transitioning. Each person’s journey is unique and deeply personal. If you’re just starting your college journey, this transformative period gives you a chance to explore and learn more about yourself, but it can also be intimidating to navigate in many ways. As a transgender student, pursuing higher education may come with unique challenges and uncertainties as you explore moving through the world in new ways. In this article we’ll  go over some practical advice for navigating transitioning during college that will help you feel more safe, secure and supported.

Remember, This Is YOUR Unique Journey

Social media can be all-consuming and has a sneaky ability of influencing our opinions and world views in ways we might not notice. It can be easy to get caught up in comparing yourself or your journey to other people you see online or in the media, so it’s extra important to surround yourself with supportive friends, family, and allies who respect and affirm your identity. Remember that self-acceptance and self-care are essential during this transformative period and your path does not have to look like others’. You can and should  transition in whatever ways make you feel affirmed, safe, and comfortable! 

How to Come Out to Friends, Professors, and Peers

Coming out is a personal decision and should be approached in a way that feels comfortable for you. If you haven’t done so already, it can be helpful to start by confiding in trusted friends or supportive individuals you know. When it comes to disclosing your identity to professors or classmates, consider your safety and the potential impact it may have on your academic experience. Utilize resources available on campus, such as LGBTQ+ student organizations or LGBTQ+ Resource Center, to find support and guidance on coming out, and to help introduce you to others in the local queer community.

How to Update Your Documents

Transitioning often involves updating various official documents to reflect your identity. This includes legal name changes, gender markers on identification documents, and academic records. Research the specific requirements and procedures for updating documents at your college or university so you know exactly what you’ll need to do when transitioning. Many institutions have dedicated resources to assist with this process, such as LGBTQ+ campus centers or student health centers – those are great places to start!

Find Support and Educational Resources

Colleges and universities may provide resources specifically designed to support trans students. LGBTQ+ campus centers, community centers, and student organizations can offer a sense of belonging and valuable connections. Check your school’s website for trans-specific resources that can help you understand  available health and wellness services, legal assistance, and other relevant resources. Additionally, academic advisors, staff and faculty allies within your college community can also be strong advocates for you and provide you with valuable support. Check in with them to learn if they also have information regarding services, resources and relevant policies related to students in the queer community at your school. 

Be Aware of Trans Issues on College Campuses

Being aware of the broader issues affecting trans students on college campuses can help you understand the larger context of your experiences. Trans advocacy groups and LGBTQ+ organizations often address these issues and provide opportunities for involvement and activism. Getting involved in these initiatives can help create a more inclusive and accepting environment for all transgender students. You can also follow local trans advocacy groups on social media or subscribe to their newsletters to stay informed. 

Learn About Gender-Neutral Housing Options and FERPA

Some colleges offer gender-neutral housing options, which can provide a safe and inclusive living environment for trans students. Research housing policies at your school and explore the availability of these kinds of  accommodations. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which safeguards your educational records and ensures your privacy, including sensitive information related to your gender identity.

Know Your Rights

We are witnessing and living through very divided and challenging times. Many historically marginalized groups, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, have increasingly been on the receiving end of attacks, personal threats, and harmful legislative actions. More than ever, it is crucial to be aware of your rights and protections as a trans student. Familiarize yourself with the laws and policies that safeguard your identity and experiences. The federal Title IX law, for example, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in educational institutions. Understanding your rights can empower you to advocate for yourself and take action if you ever experience discrimination or harassment.

Addressing Harassment and Discrimination

Unfortunately, trans people may face harassment or discrimination on college campuses. There may be people who won’t accept you, treat you fairly, or understand you in ways you deserve, but don’t let them get you down. Take deep breaths (which will relax both your mind and your body) and channel your frustrations into something that brings you peace. Know that you are so strong and courageous, and the world is better with you in it. 

 If you experience any form of mistreatment, it is essential to take action. Report incidents to your college’s Title IX coordinator, who is responsible for ensuring a safe and inclusive environment. Additionally, seek support through campus resources, such as counseling services, LGBTQ+ centers, or student affairs offices. 

 Remember that you are not alone, and there are people who can help you navigate these challenges. You not only deserve to be in these spaces of higher learning, but we need you in these spaces. For more information on finding support among campus staff, check out our college campus advisor resources.

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By Sage Mauldin, PhD
Sage Mauldin, PhD