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To Be a Harvard Man

Transcriptions

By E. Matteo Diaz, Crimson Opinion Writer
E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

When I tell someone I write a column for The Harvard Crimson, they always ask the same thing: “What’s it about?”

I’m always expecting this — it’s the natural, inevitable follow-up question. And still, I hesitate, my mouth drying up, the answer caught somewhere in my throat.

It shouldn’t be so difficult to say “I write about transgender issues at Harvard.” But as simple as they sound, these seven words make a whole world of difference.

You would never know that I’m trans just by looking at me. My chest is flat. I’m the height of an average man in the U.S. (as long as you round up). I boast a modest but unmistakable mustache. I don’t look much different from any other man on this campus.

In the trans community, I’m what we call “passing,” and I’m lucky. Many trans people don’t have access to the resources that make passing possible — namely, gender-affirming healthcare and legal transition — particularly at my age. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the support of my parents and the trans-inclusive laws of my home state of California.

To the passive observer, not only am I a man, I’m a white-skinned, Harvard-educated one. This affords me a great deal of personal safety and privilege, but this privilege is fickle — it relies on the false assumption that I am cisgender, an assumption that can shatter in an instant.

I used to dream of passing, expecting that it would solve all of my problems. What I did not realize is that once I passed, I would be confronted with the difficult task of deciding if and when to disclose my transness. And unfortunately, there is no convenient how-to manual for trans people like me.

For obvious reasons, I’m not inclined to introduce myself as “Matteo, the transgender man” to everyone I meet. But if not upon meeting, then when is the right moment to disclose? Do I simply wait until it comes up? Is it different depending on the person? When do I come out to my teachers, my randomly assigned freshman roommates, the potential employer I’m interviewing with, the kid who just sat down across from me in the dining hall?

Sometimes, people find out without me even telling them. Maybe they come across the trans advocacy work that I do on campus. Maybe they overhear me tell a story about my childhood, which I spent presenting as a girl. Maybe they Google my name. Maybe they read this column.

Deciding to be openly trans in some spaces — on campus and online — has made it nearly impossible to keep my identity private in others. But I was aware of this consequence, and it was a decision I took gladly, if not lightly. One of the things that makes college, especially freshman year, so special is that it offers the rare and enticing opportunity to reinvent oneself.

Being trans only amplifies this desire tenfold. For me, coming to Harvard represented more than just a chance to revamp my style or test drive a new personality — it was an opportunity to radically shift the way that others perceived me, to say goodbye to “Matteo, the transgender man” and become “Matteo,” just another Harvard man.

As appealing as the idea of reinvention was — and believe me, it was — I knew it would come with a cost. It would mean constantly, vigilantly hiding a vital piece of my identity from those around me, always wondering how they might react if they found out.

It was tempting, but it wasn’t a price I was willing to pay.

If asked, I’d name a few reasons I have decided to be open and vocal about my transness. A desire for authenticity. A sense of responsibility to my community. But mostly, really, it’s just because I couldn’t imagine going through life any other way.

When someone asks me what I write my column about, I eventually tell them: “Transgender issues at Harvard.”

People usually don’t know how to respond to that. Almost always, they get uncomfortable, tensing up at least a little bit. Sometimes they rush to move the conversation along. Sometimes they ask questions.

Every once in a while, they tell me, “I would have never known that you’re trans.”

They’re right — as I’ve said myself, I pass. But I dream of a future where they’re wrong, a future where I do not pass because we have no singular, cisnormative idea of what a man is to pass for.

Respect is not meaningful if it is conditional. Trans people’s acceptance should not depend on whether or not they present themselves in accordance with restrictive gender norms. No one’s should.

A Harvard man need not be cisgender, he need not pass. He need not even be a man at all.

E. Matteo Diaz ’27, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Grays Hall. His column, “Transcriptions,” runs bi-weekly on Thursdays.

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