Skip to content

College Soft-launch of My Trans Identity

Last updated on 01/03/2024

For many people college is a time and a place to really figure yourself out. You’re on your own in a way maybe you haven’t been before. You’re separated from old ties by physical distance in many cases. The ‘market’ for you is radically different in college. You can experiment and reinvent yourself as a college student in a way that would be hard in your home town.

Or at least, that was my experience. I want to talk about some things I chose to change about myself in college, to three ends:

  • As a n=1 lens into how self discovery looked for a trans woman
  • As context for discussing how various groups reacted to my identitiy over the years
  • Talking about the dumb shit you did in college is fun

Reclaiming Seabass

I used to hate my nickname. Someone gave it to me in highschool, and despite my best efforts, it stuck. When I got to college though, I chose it for myself. In our freshman dorm ice breaker, I didn’t introduce myself as Jordan. I said “Everyone calls me Seabass. I’m a CS major, and I like video games and tabletop RPGs”. And then my soon to be good friend started bagging on me because I liked the wrong edition of dungeons and dragons.

It seems like such a small thing, but to me it wasn’t. I told people who I was. I wasn’t ashamed of it this time. That was my name, and I wanted the floor to know.

Changes in Presentation

Go to any gym or look at any magazine rack, and you’ll quickly find that people care about their appearance. People take pride in how they present themselves to the world. Pride, though, requires agency.

Before college, other people bought my clothes for me. They paid for my haircuts and made sure I got the right ones. Shampoo, deodorant, and so on were outside of my control as a child. When I was able to make those decisions for myself, I was suddenly proud of how I looked.

The necklaces glowed under UV!

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

In film, colored hair is often short hand for being counter culture and edgy. In cartoons, it’s often a simple visual cue to let you pick the character out of a scene at any scale. For me, it was another act of taking ownership of myself.

I’d wanted brightly colored hair for years. I thought it looked cool, and I didn’t like the length or color of my own hair very much. I was never allowed to do it though. Until now. And so I did. First blue, then purple. Emerald green. It didn’t always look great, but it was something I picked, for me, about my body.

Wardrobe Changes

A friends fiancé made this skirt for me when I was a senior.

To date myself a bit, I grew up dreaming of the day I’d own a pair of JNCOs. I loved the huge amounts of fabric and how they flowed and swirled. As a college kid on a tight budget, I did not have the money for JNCOs.

Then I saw something that had all of the things I loved about those pants without the huge price tag. Skirts. They flow and twist and sway, there’s as much (or as little) fabric as you could ever want. I still remember my first one, a beige corduroy ankle length skirt. It was slit up to the knee, and came with a belt so wide it felt like a cummerbund. I bought more after that, and wore them frequently.

Piercings were the next always-wanted-never-allowed thing to get. I knew from extensive research of teen movies that people do dumb, rash things on spring break. I lived up to that expectation with a tongue piercing. It hurt like hell and it was dumb to do at the start of the trip rather than the end. It was the first of several piercings, another big change to my body.


One day sophomore year, some girls (we had mixed housing) were in the hall complaining how onerous shaving their legs was. I was skeptical. I shaved my face two or three times a day. My face certainly wasn’t as big as a leg, but how bad could it be?

Here was a golden opportunity. I’d always wanted to shave my legs, but I worried about how others, i.e. my girlfriend, would react. The set up was really funny, and if she hated it? Well, I did it for the gag.

So, I did. They were still complaining when I stepped out. “It’s not that bad. I’ve never done this, and it took less than 10 minutes.” That got a five second stretch of silence, then the laughter, and shaved legs, I was hoping for.

Clothing and Grooming Don’t Make You Trans

And I don’t mean to suggest that they do. Drag kings and queens exist. Swimmers shave and no one bats an eye. Anyone can change a name, pierce themselves, or color their hair.

Look at the common thread though: my name, my body, my wardrobe. I was making decisions about my self. I was taking ownership of me. I was deciding what did and didn’t fit. Taking ownership of yourself isn’t exclusively a trans thing. however, you’ll find it’s a common theme in trans experiences.

I also didn’t know or want to admit what all this experimentation was. Naturally, as I took a hard left turn into feminine presentation, people they’d say “Hey, what’s going on?”.

Are you gay?

My romantic relationships had all been with women, and I’d had a handful. I thought it was pretty obvious I wasn’t. Sometimes I’d say I was a lesbian, to see how people, or more honestly I, would react to that.

Aren’t you a man?

Well, of course I am. I live in the in the men’s dorms. She calls me her boyfriend. I’m in a fraternity, and the president of it to boot.

The thing is, none of those things made me a man. Other people don’t get to dictate your identity to you. It turns out women can be into women. And as for the frat, well, Theta Xi was a a group of clever, loving misfits, and boy howdy did I not fit in anywhere else.

Do you think you might be transgender?

A friend was studying anthropology and currently learning how to sex remains. He talked about how different cultures handled the distinction between sex and gender. Then he asked me that question. Or something like it; it’s been nearly 20 years and things are hazy.

I wasn’t prepared for it. Other people asked questions to hurt me. I knew my friend wouldn’t try to hurt me. And I wasn’t hurt, I was upset. I felt scared and sick and didn’t know why. I got angry and defensive. We never spoke of it again.

Identity Functions

At the time, I didn’t put any deeper importance on my behaviors. I recognized I was different, but the word ‘individual’ implies difference. With the power of hindsight, I can tell you I was in denial. I knew if I poked at why these things made me happier, I would have some difficult questions to answer. I very deliberately cultivated a blind spot.

Being authentic, to the extent I was, had been enough. Deep down, I thought if I could have this, maybe I’ll never have to explore why these things make me happy. Maybe I’ll never have to own up to who I am.

I could not, as it turns out, have this. The professional world was far less accepting than college. We’ll talk about that next time.

Published inPersonal