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After I made the decision to attend UCSB, one of my first interactions with our school’s administration was a rather strange one. Following standard protocol, I had enrolled with the campus Resident Halls Association for a dorm room several months in advance of my first academic quarter. However, I was soon met with a particularly odd problem: For some reason (and I’ve never been able to resolve how this happened) the RHA had me listed in their student database as being female.
Now, in certain situations and circumstances this would not have been an issue, but in my personal case this represented quite a problem. This is perhaps the appropriate place in this story for me to mention that I am not a woman. Since birth I have been and have considered myself male, both by sex and by gender identity. Additionally, I have a name which leaves no ambiguity as to my gender, and my physical features could not even be described as epicene.
This particular inaccuracy on the part of the housing authority presented me with quite a dilemma, as roommate assignments are generally categorized by sex. What I anticipated was that once my secret was discovered, I would have to be reassigned to a different dorm — the possible result being that I would receive a less desirable room, as this would occur after assignments had been completed.
After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided to call the RHA office and explain the issue: “Signed up for housing; am not female; never have been female, etc.” Laughter came across the telephone line.
“I wouldn’t mind being in your situation,” chuckled the masculine voice on the other end of the call.
Within a few minutes the problem was rectified, and despite this small mistake, I then went on to have a fairly auspicious academic year.
Though not a particularly significant event in my life, I never imagined that this occurrence would serve as a quasi-prelude to a more recent quandary which I (and also other students, from what I’ve been told) have been met with.
Several weeks ago, I received an email of a particularly odd nature from Student Health Services. Now, normally when I receive emails where the subject title begins with “IMPORTANT,” I am nearly always correct in my assumption that the contents of the message will be hopelessly boring. Usually I’m able to ignore these, at least for a little while. However, in this instance, I felt a strong urge to unveil the contents of the message immediately — a result of feeling a bit miffed by this sudden end to a serene two weeks of not receiving any emails from the Student Health office.
The email contained a cursory message about my health insurance coverage. You see, I — like many other students — have my own insurance plan with an outside provider, and therefore I elect to not be provided with (charged for) health insurance by the university, a health plan which they automatically enroll you in (charge you for) unless you fill out this waiver with a bunch of esoteric insurance questions at the start of the school year. As you are probably aware, all UCSB students are required to have health insurance, a policy which I will fully endorse, as long as there are roundabouts on the campus bike path. (That we force freshmen to attend orientation workshops warning of the dangers of substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and mental illness but leave the roundabouts unaddressed has always seemed puzzling to me.)
What made this particular missive interesting was not the curt wording in the body of the message informing me that I’d had my waiver audited and rejected, but rather what was contained within the file attached to the email: a document which informed me that I was to be enrolled in (charged for) the campus health insurance program against my will. Following this edict was a very specific explanation as to why Student Health Services had determined that my outside insurance provider was inadequate:
“According to your insurance carrier, your plan does not provide you with coverage for maternity care. (Required for both male and female — California state law there be no [sic] gender-specific limitations).”
This was the solitary reason listed for the insufficiency of my health care provider and for my impending enrollment into UCSB’s insurance program for the paltry sum of $804.57 per academic quarter.
Though I have frequently been hailed as an individual with a fair distribution of talents and abilities, I’ve often been told that when it comes to pregnancy, I just don’t have it in me. In fact, I’ve lived most of my life under the impression that people like me (you know, men) have a certain deficiency when it comes to child-bearing. (You may recall the old anecdote about the clergyman who, when asked by a precocious woman to define the key difference between men and women, simply replied “Madam, I cannot conceive.”)
A few days later, at the conclusion of what might have been the most bizarre phone call of my life, I was reassured by a representative of my insurance company that in the event that I were to ever devise some way of achieving pregnancy, the maternity costs would indeed be covered by my policy. After receiving this confirmation, I then proceeded to the Student Health office to receive some answers regarding my needless and involuntary conscription into the student health insurance program.
After locating and entering the appropriate office, I sat opposite a student health representative and detailed my complaints: “waiver revoked; maternity coverage; am a man; can’t give birth; wouldn’t want to even if I could,” and so on. Stopping just short of explicitly explaining how human reproduction operates, I ceased talking and waited for a response from the official across from me. Having remained relatively expressionless for the duration of my remarks, you would have thought I’d been discussing the weather rather than how blatantly absurd it is to postulate that a male student needs maternity insurance coverage.
I later learned that the health representative’s dispassionate demeanor during our conversation wasn’t due to indifference, but rather that the office had recently been experiencing an influx of other students with identical complaints. It was explained to me that the gender-neutrality policy is part of a series of reforms within the state to accommodate the impending implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
After I explained that my health provider had confirmed their willingness to cover any costs incurred in the highly unlikely event that I become pregnant, I was then told that I would be able to once again waive out of the campus insurance program. I am quite thankful to the health staff for allowing me this concession. In the end, the decision to let me disengage myself from the program most likely saved their resources. Especially considering that since being notified of the $1,600 I would have had to pay in insurance fees for the remainder of the year, I had begun to entertain the idea of scheduling regular gynecology appointments at the health office, feigning ignorance when told that there must be some sort of misunderstanding.
Much has been said in the past year about the recent changes in the campus insurance policy, the discussion of which is frequently centered on the almost two-fold increase in costs to undergraduate students. However, I think it is important to note that these additional costs have also been accompanied by additional benefits. Perhaps the most notable of these is the removal of a “maximum benefits amount,” something which is highly beneficial for students who are diagnosed with a severe illness.
At the same time, it has often seemed as though the campus has been quite pushy in selling their product. Students accessing the waiver to opt out of the campus insurance program are met with what is essentially tactical advertising: statements asserting the alleged value of being “double-insured” by buying into the program. And had I not paid attention and challenged my position, I very easily could’ve been enlisted in the program.
There is a distinct difference between the mere offering of a product to a person and the active coercion of its purchase. These points of difference fall on the opposite sides of a line — the demarcation which marks the disparity between having a choice in purchasing what you realistically could have a need for, and the mandated subscription to a product which one could never realistically use.
Jonathan Rodgers wants you to know that he’s completely and totally secure in his lack of female parts, and the fact that he can quote lines from Mean Girls is a completely unrelated matter.