A Bunch of Old, Close-Minded Boomers
Whenever people ask me why I chose to study in Utrecht instead of staying in my native country, Italy, my first answer is always that, in addition to living in a beautiful and cosy little city, it is nice to feel heard and accepted for who you truly are. My professors are very open minded, supportive, and do not discriminate between straight cis-gender students and LGBT students at all. This might seem normal to the Dutch people reading this right now but I promise you it is not.
I wish I could say it felt the exact same in each university I've studied at. One of my worst memories from when I used to study in Italy is the amount of homophobia and racism students experienced on a daily basis. I used to have a transgender classmate, who was working so hard on his appearance and voice tone to look and sound as masculine as possible. He even had a masculine name he liked a lot but, for privacy reasons, let's call him Vincent. Although most students did their best to show him support, not every professor seemed to accept Vincent’s new identity. During an oral exam we had together, it destroyed me to see how ardently our professor decided to call Vincent by his dead name as, on paper, he was still called something else, despite Vincent asking him more than once to stick to his chosen name. Vincent’s eyes were full of tears by the time he had – obviously – failed his exam and I still wish today I'd had the guts to call out my professor back then. Luckily, the bad experience did not shape Vincent at all. After two years of testosterone, he is finally a man on paper too and his voice sounds more masculine than ever.
In Utrecht, however, my first day at university included a meeting with my tutor, Hielke, and the group of students I am spending my first year with. The first questions he asked each of us were our names, our favourite books, and which pronouns we feel comfortable with. It warmed my heart to see how many students felt confident enough to admit they identify as non-binary; at that moment, I understood I had finally made the right choice. Also, calling my professors by their first names seemed impossible to me, as in Italy we were supposed to call them “Professor Surname” and use the equivalent of the Dutch U, “Lei” in Italian. Coming from a place in which I was not allowed to show up in class if my hair was dyed a different colour than my natural one or if I was wearing a skirt, seeing how my appearance or gender does not matter at Utrecht University makes me understand that there is actually hope for a better future and that there was nothing wrong with me in the first place. They were just a bunch of old, close-minded boomers.