This is a historic week. For the first time, BU is recognizing and celebrating Transgender Awareness Week, featuring events and activities geared towards changing the conversation about reality as a transgender person.
Transgender Awareness Week 2013 is sponsored by Voices From the Middle, the Community Service Center’s LGBTQ+ program that works to support all individuals of all identities. The goal of this week is to unite the BU community and promote education about the issues facing the transgender community today. On Monday evening in the CSC “room of requirement” on the fourth floor of the GSU, VFM held their Trans 101 training session providing interested individuals with the opportunity and safe space to share their questions and knowledge.
For those who couldn’t make it, here is a nifty field guide to help you navigate the week:
Important terms as defined by the National Center for Transgender Equality (a more complete list can be found on their website):
1) Transgender- An umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth, including but not limited to transsexuals, cross- dressers, androgynous people, genderqueers, and gender non-conforming people. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. “Trans” is shorthand for “transgender.”
2) Gender Identity- An individual’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others.
3) Gender Expression- How a person represents or expresses one’s gender identity to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.
4) Queer- A term used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual and, often also transgender, people. Some use queer as an alternative to “gay” in an effort to be more inclusive, since the term does not convey a sense of gender. Depending on the user, the term has either a derogatory or an affirming connotation, as many have sought to reclaim the term that was once widely used in a negative way.
5) Sex Reassignment Surgery- Surgical procedures that change one’s body to make it conform to a person’s gender identity. This may include “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) or “bottom surgery” (altering genitals). Contrary to popular belief, there is not one surgery; in fact there are many different surgeries. “Sex change surgery” is considered a derogatory term by many.
6) Transgender Man- A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a man (see also “FTM”).
7) Transgender Woman- A term for a transgender individual who currently identifies as a woman (see also “MTF”).
8) PGP- Preferred Gender Pronoun. The pronouns that an individual would like used when referring to them.
9) Drag Queen- generally used to accurately refer to men who dress as women (often celebrity women) for the purpose of entertaining others at bars, clubs, or other events. It is also used as slang, sometimes in a derogatory manner, to refer to all transgender women.
10) Cross Dresser- A term for people who dress in clothing traditionally or stereotypically worn by the other sex, but who generally have no intent to live full-time as the other gender.
Terms to Avoid:
“Transsexual” and “Transvestite” are considered derogatory by many.
Concepts to Remember:
1) Gender and sexuality, like many things in life, are a spectrum and everyone has their own point on the gradient.
2) We’ve all done things that aren’t stereotypically “in line” with our gender. Men can wear nail polish and women can get the check.
3) The media is not always kind or fair to the trans community. Which leads to the next point…
4) Questions are welcome and information abounds! Attend VFM meetings, do some googling, be sensitive and curious and don’t believe everything you see on TV.
5) Be an ally.
How to be an Ally:
1) Educate yourself. Get the facts about the trans community and be well versed on the terms and concepts. Don’t rant without evidence.
2) Support friends/relatives/strangers. This also applies to general life. Be a good listener and ask how you can help.
3) Never make assumptions about anyone. You may not know how “out” someone is or how they are feeling at a given moment.
4) Empower others and advocate for trans people in every day life. Work to change the public conversation about gender identities and expression.
Skailer Qvistgaard (CAS ’15) is a trans man who was kind enough to lead the training session and share his story. Around middle school, Skailer (who was born a female) was always upset with himself. He wanted to roughhouse with the boys but found societal expectations put a strain on his psyche. After some late night Wikipedia research, he came across a LGBTQ article and “the lightbulb went off”. He immediately came out to his closest friend on her doorstep at 8 a.m. the very next day and to his parents soon after. “My life is continually transitioning,” he said. “Who I like, what’s in my head, and who’s in my bed are separate.” Now, Skailer is a very active member of the LGBTQ+ community and works with PFLAG and Fenway Health here in Boston.
Kristen, a second year graduate student in the school of theology, said of the session, “learning the terms and definitions was really helpful. As someone who doesn’t identify as trans, part of being an ally is educating myself about the issues.” Kristen will be leading a workshop on transgender religious identity on Thursday at 7 p.m.
So brush up on your terminology, grab a friend, and get ready to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week 2013!
Check out all of the transgender awareness events coming up this week on the Facebook page