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Navigating NTU as a Transgender Student

To clarify, I am cisgender and am not an authority on the transgender experience. But what I want to do by writing this piece is to highlight the gaps in the system and share stories told by my friends (with permission) for more empathy in society. I apologise in advance for any potential hurtful language used; please reach out to us at @hcnanyangtech if any corrections should be made.

When I entered university in 2017, I was chatting with my friends about the stress or uncertainty about applying for halls, and how expensive it was. One of my friends (J) shared with us that she actually reached out to the NTU hall administration because she was trans, and was concerned about which rooms to apply for. J told us that she wouldn’t be able to apply for the usual halls, but that the NTU administration would be assisting her with getting an ensuite room. At that point, we understood it as a good thing, that the NTU administration had an option for her and was ensuring that she would get a room. But today, I understand that J was lucky, and there are many flaws in the system for transgender students like my friend, even in university.

This story was not scheduled for February, but particularly in light of recent events, the editorial team decided that it should be shared earlier. We reached out to Kaleidoscope, a group that gives voice and visibility to the LGBTQ+ community by championing inclusivity, education and discussion to share some experiences with navigating our campus as a transgender student. We were able to connect with Karla (alias), to hear more about her experience on campus.

With J’s experience lingering on my mind, I mainly asked Karla about her everyday life on campus.

We began with Karla sharing about her stay in hall. Staying in ensuite rooms like J is hard to do when they’re exorbitantly priced and are few in number. Luckily, Karla is able to offset some of the fees for her single room with her scholarship, though that in itself brings some challenges. I asked about what her neighbours’ reactions to her were, and fortunately, most of the students on her floor are her friends and do not report her. Still, she tries to dress in a more unisex manner, or be more ‘lapsup’ so she would not draw attention. While she is not happy with how things are on the boys’ floor and how the accessible toilet is too dirty to be used often, Karla acknowledges that this is the best-case scenario for her.

In class, it can be awkward when professors use the wrong pronouns, but it’s more daunting to have to correct them. Not just because it might be an uncomfortable conversation, but also because you’re outing yourself to a stranger who might not be so welcoming. Karla endures it, but it is more challenging especially when professors or tutors use student photos in the class list to take attendance. Privacy is not a big thing at NTU, and the student list is often passed around the class or sometimes shown over the visualiser. This not only results in students like Karla coming to face their dead name or how they looked before their transitions but also outing them to the class. 

In Karla’s everyday life on campus, going to the restroom is not too much of an issue as many people go to the accessible toilets due to the layout of NTU, with gendered toilets on alternative floors. Still, this can be challenging sometimes. For example, in the Hive, the accessible bathrooms are usually locked, which is really questionable even outside of this discourse. Why are students prevented from using school facilities?

The administrative system is one of the biggest challenges faced by Karla. While she wants to correct her pronouns and update her matriculation photo, it can’t be done in the current system. NTU currently has no way for students to choose their pronouns or gender. On this, why is gender even a necessary detail for the staff to know? Would it have an impact on teaching methods in any way? As for our student photo, the only way to change it (that we know of) is to report a loss of your student card and pay a fee for replacement. Even then, it’s unclear if your photo in the system would be updated accordingly. In facing administrative staff, you are also never sure if you’ll get lucky or come to meet an insensitive or rude individual. No systems are in place to protect our queer peers, who would be in an even more risky position if they happen to hold a scholarship. By trying to stay on the down-low, transgender students are also indirectly prevented from taking opportunities such as leadership positions as they would not want to stand out, affecting not just their school life but also their future. 

I also checked in with Karla if she had any advice for other transgender students. For this, she suggested to transition before university, so that you can pass better when no one knows you before you transitioned and have a matriculation photo that represents you the best way. She shared a lot of frustration with me over how the matriculation photo is used in exams and for taking attendance, which brings confusion and unwanted attention to Karla.

The takeaway was that there are many gaps and sometimes unnecessary red tape situations that result in an uncomfortable situation for our transgender peers. As Karla highlighted in our conversation, sex and gender are used interchangeably within NTU’s hall policy and makes for an unclear policy. We should also remove the onus on the students to inform administration or staff of their transition (their preferred name as well as gender) as they may not feel safe since there is no way to identify if they’ll be endangering themselves by doing so. Lastly, being able to update your matric photo seems like something simple enough to do, but will go a long way in creating a more inclusive learning environment. 

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Updated information as of 24/03/2021

Any student can email OAS their new photo regardless of whether they want to make a new matric card. The rest of the NTU systems will (after some inevitable delay) be updated with the new photo.

You may email [email protected] the new photo with these specifications:

  • 354 pixels wide by 472 pixels high (or 35 mm wide by 45 mm high) without border and taken within the last three months;
  • taken full face without headgear, unless the applicant habitually wears a headgear in accordance with religious or racial customs. The headgear must not hide the applicant’s facial features;
  • the facial image must be between 25 mm and 35 mm from chin to crown;
  • coloured photograph taken against plain white background with a matt or semi-matt finish; and
  • the image must not contain any shadow in the background.

If you would like the new photo to be printed for your matric card, you may apply for a replacement card with a fee. Click here for more details.

Zinc Tan

Nanyang Tech '21

Zinc (she/her) is a Sociology undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University and the Senior Editor for HC Nanyang Tech. During her free time, you can find her drinking tea, sewing, or watching films (and often commenting on them). A proud intersectional feminist, she has a passion for creating discourse on inclusivity.
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