Blurring the Gender Line

    The life of Marie Villalobos is not that different from any
    other UCSD student. She is studying biology and psychology, likes to cook,
    enjoys the outdoors and records folk music with a band when she finds the time.
    But life hasn’t always been easy. Villalobos’ identification cards, school
    records and trips home serve as testaments to her complicated past. Although
    she has always identified as Marie, she spent most of her life as Martin.

    Villalobos is part of UCSD’s small group of transgendered
    students. Although the term transgender refers to a broad spectrum of
    individuals whose internal gender identity deviates from the physical sex with
    which they were born, efforts to overcome being at odds with one’s biological
    sex can range from cross dressing to sexual reassignment surgery. However, in
    all cases, transgendered individuals are a little-understood minority whom the
    campus has recently taken initiatives to better address and accept.

    (Christina Aushana/Guardian)

    Beginning her physical transition years ago, Villalobos now
    lives her college life as a woman. But when she goes home for the weekend, she
    is forced back into men’s clothes, becoming Martin once again, to satisfy her
    family’s preferences.

    Villalobos said she receives looks on the train and hears
    the question, “Is that a boy or a girl?” — comments that sting deeply.

    “It just brings your whole world down when somebody [does
    not recognize your gender identity],” Villalobos said. “Because you’re thinking
    ‘I thought I looked good. I thought I was projecting a good image’ but somebody
    saw through it. In the end, you just want to be accepted in society.”

    The daily experience of a transgendered person is fraught
    with anxiety, said John Muir
    senior Ariel Smith. Not
    passing as one’s internal gender sometimes attracts stares, harassment or

    But, according to Smith, people’s judgments are based on
    unusual gender expression.

    “That could mean a straight guy dressing up as a girl on
    Halloween who faces discrimination for it,” she said. “For being ‘too butch,’
    ‘too fem’ or for ‘looking gay.’ It’s a kind of oppositional sexism where you
    have to fit into one of two camps, masculine or feminine, and any deviation
    from either camp will result in discrimination. The reason why [transgendered
    people] experience it so much is because we have a very compelling reason to
    break these rules.”

    Although Smith occasionally encounters problems in public,
    especially when presenting a male driver license when trying to enter a bar,
    the atmosphere at UCSD, in contrast, is pretty transgender-friendly, she said.

    Smith cited the sensitive treatment by campus
    administrators, progressive policies and the empowerment of the Lesbian
    Gay Bisexual Transgender
    Resource Center

    as examples of UCSD’s liberal nature. The new resource center is the largest on
    any public campus in the nation, she said.

    The opening of the center was a major turning point in getting
    things done for the LGBT community, said Francesco Carusi, former co-chair of
    the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
    Issues. Since a space was first allocated to the LGBT community in 1999, the
    campus has come a long way, Carusi said.

    One of the center’s most recent initiatives, pioneered by
    LGBT Resource Center Director Shaun Travers, has been to change Student Health
    Service’s policies to insure transgendered care.

    As of Fall 2007, up to $25,000 in any given year is covered
    by the Student Health Insurance Plan for hormone replacement therapy or sexual
    reassignment surgery — procedures that nearly all other student and employee
    insurance policies across the country exclude, according to, a
    transgender information Web site.

    UCSD is the only University
    of California
    campus and possibly
    the nation’s only university that offers such health care options, LGBT Resource Center Assistant Director of
    Education Jan Estrellado said.

    While UCSD does not currently have any affiliated surgeons
    at this time, students who meet the standards for care can receive a referral
    from Student Health for off-site surgery or treatment from endocrinologists in
    the campus network, according to Insurance Coordinator for Student Health
    Services Jessica Morris.

    Eligibility for sexual reassignment surgery is outlined by
    the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, which strictly defines the effective
    treatment for gender identity disorder, including counseling along with medical
    and surgical care.

    Some, however, question the medical necessity of sexual
    reassignment surgery, which has been labeled “experimental” and “cosmetic” by
    some insurance providers and media sources .

    “I understand that [being transgendered] is not a choice,” Revelle
    senior Hannah Basset said.
    “But I’m not sure [hormone treatment or sexual reassignment surgery] are
    medical needs either.”

    Villalobos said that while she understands how surgery can
    seem superficial, living comfortably as one’s identified gender is dependent
    upon the perception and treatment by society.

    “People around us are mirrors,” she said. “They call us ‘he’
    or ‘she’ and that tells us who we are. You may feel more like a female or male
    on the inside, but how you are treated by others is determined almost solely by
    your appearance on the outside. This is a cause of discomfort when how you feel
    doesn’t match up with how you look.”

    Other efforts of the LGBT
    Resource Center

    and the CACGISOI have focused on opening more single-stall gender-neutral
    restrooms, providing housing options for members of the LGBT community and
    spreading awareness about transgender-related issues.

    Unisex restrooms are significant because they provide
    harassment-free access for gender nonconformists along with families and people
    with disabilities, Estrellado said.

    The LGBT Resource
    is also working with Housing
    and Dining Services, resident deans, resident advisers and house advisers to
    provide safe and supportive housing options for the LGBT community, which
    Villalobos, who spent her freshman year in boys’ dorms acting like a male, said
    are important.

    Three years ago, Mesa Housing on Regents
    started opening up same-household
    married-student housing to LGBT couples who could not legally marry, Carusi

    John Muir
    also has co-ed apartments
    that are more conducive to the transgendered population.

    Additionally, the CACGISOI has recommended innovative
    housing options like that of other UC campuses that offer LGBT-themed floors or
    buildings aimed to promote understanding of gender-identity and
    sexual-orientation issues. The goal is to create LGBT communities in each of
    the six colleges, the 2006-07 CACGISOI annual report said.

    While UCSD is ahead of other campuses and the general public
    in many ways, there is still room for improvement in educating students on
    campus who tend to be less sensitive to transgender issues than administration,
    staff and faculty, Villalobos said.

    The LGBT Resource
    has a Speakers Bureau made
    up of an LGBT panel that reaches out to student organizations, campus
    departments, classes, residence halls and high school conferences to raise

    But much work still needs to be done to fight campus
    ignorance and give transgendered people a voice, according to Smith.

    “It’s just not an experience that anyone can fathom unless
    they’re going through it,” Smith said. “The trans community is very small and
    many of us don’t feel as free to be out as other communities do. That in part
    reduces our voice and our visibility, so we really need allies as much as any
    group to help achieve equality.”

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