Being a Trans Person in Academia. Part III: Harvard Biostatistics Masters First Year

[This is part of a series.  Here is Part 0,  Part 1Part 2, and Part 4]

OK, let’s pickup where I left off with my last blog post.  I packed up my hatchback with all of my stuff and drove from Minneapolis to my new apartment in Jamaica Plain that I am sharing with 3 rando strangers and a very cute beagle named Jesse.  I know about 3 people in the entire Boston area.

I am enrolled in a Math Stats course that usually is taken by Epi PhD students, Longitudinal Data Analysis, Epidemiology of HIV, and a Women Gender and Health course. In addition to my coursework, I have agreed to TA intro Biostats.

Before I get any further, please allow me to emphasize a few things:

  1. I still cannot believe that Harvard let me in.  My academic insecurity feelings are through the roof but I am trying to play it cool.
  2. I have resolved to be out as trans to the max!
  3. I have no idea how I will actually handle being out as trans!

So I’m just rolling up to orientation where I will meet my masters cohort and the other new students.  I am incredibly nervous.  On top of my baseline anxiety about not feeling like I am good enough to be at Harvard, I have this interaction a few times before I realize that I am handling this poorly:

Other student striking up a conversation: So where did you go for undergrad?

Me in a single breath: Smith College It is a women’s college and I was a woman at the time I went there but that was the 90s and I am not any more because I am a totally normal smart chill person who is trans and has a lot to offer and absolutely deserves to be here *big smile*

I might have some room for improvement on the coming out front.  But with practice, and by realizing that most people really don’t care, coming out gets a whole lot easier.  I find that if I act relaxed about coming out, then people respond a lot better than if I am being a stressed-out weirdo. Now that I am not holding the trans part of myself back, it is SO EASY to make new friends. Is this what its like for people who aren’t constantly expending mental and emotional energy to hold back a significant part of themselves? Because it feels magical.  I am feeling so free.

Trans healthcare-wise I am able to keep getting my testosterone shots through student health services, so that is all good.  The doctors and nurses at Harvard Health services are tremendous and so helpful.  If I didn’t have my access to testosterone in place, then grad school would not be possible for me.

On the academic front, I am settling into a routine.  Many of my classes are with my masters cohort, and I am so lucky because they are all wonderful people.  We study together regularly and are bonded.  I love being a TA for Intro Biostats, and I have a fun time leading the lab sections.  TAing might actually be my favorite part of my week.  Being in front of the students and helping them work through problems and their STATA code forces me to be totally in the moment. I can’t be thinking about that messed up thing that another student said to me 30 minutes ago (it turns out that being out as trans sometimes means that non-trans people think they can give you advice on how you should change your gender presentation) or how much homework I have to do.  When I am in my TA session I am 100% present, and I never want that feeling to end.

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On top of classes and TAing, I start doing research with a professor on LGB youth and changes in sexual orientation identity over time, putting my longitudinal data class into practice.  I also am working to help put together a series of workshops and panels for the spring semester about trans health.  Through this process I get to work with some really awesome students in the international health program and the social behavioral program who are to this day some of my best friends.

To my knowledge, I’m the only trans student at HSPH out of a few hundred students.  Now that I am feeling a bit more comfortable about being out, I am finding that I need to make some decisions about what inappropriate comments I am going to let slide, and what comments that I want to address.  I think that for the most part my fellow classmates have good intentions, but some of them just don’t know how to be appropriate.  I get pretty skilled at telling people in a friendly that they are crossing a line.

Spring break in San Francisco

In my second semester I take clinical trials, public health surveillance, survival analysis, and I decide to start taking the classes needed to get the Women Gender and Health concentration.   The series on trans health that I helped organize goes better than I could have dared hoped for.  I don’t TA my second semester, and I really miss it.  Fortunately, my Longitudinal Data Analysis professor asks me if I could TA over the summer.  So I spend my summer doing research, TAing, and longing for air conditioning.  My first year is a success!

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