Check out this recent column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by philosopher Rachel McKinnon, who writes about her decision to (and experience of) coming out as trans to her students. McKinnon writes that she came out, not only because her appearance would otherwise have been “the elephant in the room” but also because it’s important for students to see successful trans professionals. The column also has some important lessons about cultivating safe spaces for LGBTQ people, and other visible minorities.
I write this account because I think that it contains some broader lessons for the academic community. First, my experience highlights how important a culture of respect and support, especially from your department, is for a gender transition. The institutional support of my department chair has been exemplary. But that should be the case for all sorts of minorities, whether part of the LGBT spectrum or members of racial, political, or any other minority group who may experience resistance to their self-expression. It’s imperative for colleges and universities to construct robust and explicit antidiscrimination and equity policies. The presence of those policies influences how free people feel to express themselves: A university with good protections for trans people, for example, makes it more likely that someone will be comfortable transitioning. That certainly factored into my decision.