Since I started at the College of William and Mary, the store in the bottom floor of the Sadler Center has always been introduced as the Sexchange. During my freshman year, I regarded it as a slightly distasteful joke, but nothing more.
However, as I have advanced to my senior year, and realized that I was transgender, the nickname now strikes me as archaic and insensitive, and I believe it no longer has a place at the College.
The term “sex change” usually refers to Sex Reassignment Surgery, a complicated gender affirming surgery that alters a transgender person’s anatomy.
There is an assumption that a transgender person’s goal is always to get SRS, and that they are not truly their gender until they do. This myth is an expression of the societal desire to control our gender non-conforming bodies. In reality, SRS is an expensive surgery that is often not covered by insurance, let alone the fact that transgender people experience rates of poverty twice as high as the general population. Furthmore, transgender Americans are more likely to be uninsured according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
Many transgender people go their whole lives without getting SRS and some never desire to. It is a complex and invasive surgery with a long and painful recovery period — enough to rule SRS out for just about anybody, save for those whose dysphoria is all-encompassing.
Some transgender people do not feel dysphoria towards their anatomy at all; it does not necessarily make us uncomfortable to have sex characteristics that don’t match with what society expects of our genders.
Rather, it makes society uncomfortable. Aside from all the technicalities, the term “sex change” smooths over all the nuance of the issue of SRS and makes a joke out of the very idea that one’s sex can be changed. It dismisses the concept with a cold, nonchalant tone that we as trans people are all too accustomed to. Aspects of our lives and struggles are made into comedy every day.
An episode of “Futurama” comes to mind in which the main characters come upon a planet of beings without genders — which is treated as a joke in and of itself — who punish their foolish visitors by switching their sexes.
Oh, the humor! Hilarity ensues, all at the expense of actual people who have transitioned from one gender to another.
The social pressure to get SRS, the barriers to access, and the continuing crassness with which it is treated make SRS a very sensitive, very personal subject for trans people.
It is therefore not appropriate to jokingly refer to the Student Exchange with a colloquialism for SRS; it feels trivializing and disrespectful.
As an alternative nickname, I would like to fully endorse “Stu-Change,” or “Stooch.” Both are short and to-the-point, and “Stooch” is just plain funny.
Email Flora Valdes-Dapena at firstname.lastname@example.org