Life as a Trans Man

The journey of Tyler Williams, a Bryn Mawr student who is a trans man

By Devanshi Vaid

Tyler Williams is a boy who remembers what it is like to be a girl – something that makes him question his place at a women’s college.

Williams, 21, a junior at Bryn Mawr College, is from Harrisburg Pa. He took a gap year between his freshman and sophomore year, during which he took courses at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He began to contend with his sexual transition during his time away – making his return to campus a decision he still struggles with.

“Coming back made me wonder if I was intruding on a space that is meant for women, to empower them,” said Williams, leaning back on his desk chair, twirling the ends of his dreadlocks with his right hand, and petting his cat Meredith with his left. “It’s not whether I doubt my ability to be respectful of women… I’m more worried about respecting this space that was created for them.”

Tyler Williams

Williams is a a trans boy, transitioning from female to male (FTM). What this means is that his gender identity, gender expression and behavior did not conform to those typically associated with the sex to which he was assigned at birth. The process of sexual transitioning may or may not involve surgery. As of now, Williams has started hormone therapy and chosen his preferred name, but has not undergone any surgery.

Like most students at Bryn Mawr, Williams is simultaneously discovering and defining himself, and like many students, Bryn Mawr has been a part of this process. In his time here, Williams says the administration and student body have always been supportive of his presence on campus. He looks at Bryn Mawr as a safe space where he can be “out and trans” and not have to worry about his safety.

As far as professors go, he said he usually goes up to them before the first class and tells them he prefers male pronouns and his chosen name. However, he does admit that the ease with which he has been able to do this could be because of the professors he chooses. He has not yet taken a class at Haverford unless it was taught or co-taught by a Bryn Mawr professor.

“Before, when I told them what I preferred, I got a few confused looks,” he pauses to grin, “but now they look at me and are like yeah of course, okay, not a problem.”

He has every reason to smile. Williams passes completely. He is read as male.

And being read as male has made him reflect on some of his behavior.

“There are certain behaviors I’ve had to tame,” said Williams. “I used to be a total bro – and the type of things you say as a bro are the type of heterosexist things that men say, but you can get away with because you’re female. That doesn’t work anymore.”

Williams has been injecting the hormone Testosterone for a year and a half now. He injects in his upper thigh once a week. As of now, he is only taking half his dose, a decision he made for his mother. “I mean, at this point, I could be on a regular dose. But I chose to go a little slower for my mom, so that the changes would come slower. Though I guess the biggest difference it would make now is that the facial hair would come faster. Which would be nice. I can stop looking like a prepubescent boy.”

Despite that claim, Williams does not look like a prepubescent boy.

He is draped in a grey t-shirt and grey trousers with dull stripes that fall effortlessly on him and a royal blue bandanna that just manages to reveal the fast growing dreadlocks under it. His septum piercing sits perfectly on his face, drawing your attention to it immediately. His clothes highlight the lack of fat and the abundance of muscle on him. The Testosterone is shaping his body well. And everyone can see the difference.

It is a difference that is showing him some of Bryn Mawr’s drawbacks.

“Being read as not only male but a black male on campus has had interesting effects on the way I am perceived. There are times when I know I’m being perceived as threatening when I’m saying the same things as I would have before. Except then my voice was three octaves higher”. He pauses and looks around the room.

Against the wall leading to his bedroom is an open trunk overflowing with textbooks, notebooks, calendars, novels and plays. Parallel to that is a gay pride flag hanging on the wall next to his television. There are play station remotes attached to the set and an image from Manson: My Name is Evil is frozen on the screen.

He continues, “I don’t want to make it all about race, but I have noticed that in contrast to the white males on campus, the way I am received is different.” He shrugs his shoulders before explaining further. “In a black community you are queer first and in a queer community you are black first. You get fucked all around.”

Trying to draw the fine line between being male and attending a women’s college, Williams chooses to live off campus.

He said his main motive was his conflict with keeping Bryn Mawr a space for women. Though, having his own space comes with advantages like not having to worry about ‘women-only’ bathrooms. Other than that, there’s binding.

Binding refers to the flattening of breast tissue, so as to create an appearance that resembles a male chest. It is a process used by trans men as well as biological men who have large chests due to excessive body weight. There are many kinds of binders: layered shirts, ace bandages, tight fitting sports bras and binding vests/compression shirts name only a few of the prominent ones.

“Anyone who knows binding… I mean I’m used to it and my mother spent the money to get me good binders… but before that it was hand-me-down binders… most guys start out with that,” he said. “They use ace bandages, sports bras on top of/under binding – this inevitably makes breathing harder. Or there’s the binders that are too tight. Then, you deal with the pain and with the scars on your ribs. I have permanent scars on the side of my ribs from binding.”

And so he chooses to live off campus.

“My apartment is a space where I don’t have to bind to study or relax. I don’t have to worry that someone’s going to walk in or ask me to dinner without me having time to get fully dressed,” he said.

When asked what he struggles most with at Bryn Mawr in terms of being trans, he said it’s the stereotype that all men are “violent and emotionally deficient.” He pauses for a second and continues, “I’m not any more violent or angry than I was. I was raised female and I know what it’s like to walk down the street and be whistled at… so do I classify as that even though my mindset and attitude is so different?”