“Are you a boy or a girl?” That question follows us the time before we are born to the end of our life. For some, the answer is simple, for others not so. On Thursday October 17, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Society (GLASS) of Baruch College took up the issue in their “Redefine Gender” panel, as part of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. Queer, Intersex and Allies (LGBTQIA) history month. I was privileged to be a part of his panel. Joining me on the panel were Professors Glenn Albright and Latoya Connor from the Psychology department, Dr. Ryan Androsiglio the Counseling Center and Melissa Dumont, former president of GLASS.
Here at Baruch I am the Head of Collection Management in the Library department where I make sure the library has all the resources you need to support for studying and research. I have also long been involved in gender and queer studies from a scholarly and activist point of view, having presented and published on making libraries transgender friendly both in terms of their policies and collections. I am also a member of the Trans Community Advisory Board at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center , a place that offers LGBTQ targeted health care, regardless of ability to pay. Their Transgender Health Care Protocols are widely used and referred to across the US.
I’ve been a member of the Dare to Engage group since 2011 and having been at Baruch since 1998, it was great to see the college actively working to make sure Baruch is a welcoming place for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities and to see the great strides we have made in this area.
I was very excited to see that GLASS had decided to dedicate one of their events to thinking about gender. There has been much talk in the media about gender and it seemed like a very timely topic. Remember hearing about Chaz Bono’s transition? But there have always been people who we might call transgender today (Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors offers a few – it’s at HQ 77.9 .F45 1996 on the 4th floor in the library if you want to check it out!). With the media and the internet however, more transgender people are finding support and resources for their transition and more people are learning about transgender people.
Who or what gets to determine our gender? It seems to be innate, based on visible biological signs, yet for many of us, those markers do not correspond to our own innate sense of our own gender. This disconnect between the gender you are perceived to be from the gender you feel yourself to be is an incredibly painful place to be; transgender people seek to align the two. They might do this by taking hormones, having surgeries, a combination of these, or neither. Each journey is individual. The term transgender is often understood as an umbrella term that refers to anyone who is living differently from the gender given to them at birth.
Unfortunately, because we are still mired in a rigid, binary gender viewpoint, this journey can often be met with discrimination, harassment and too often even death. Think of all the places where your gender comes into play: bathrooms, doctors’ offices, jobs, your passport, your driver’s license, when you apply for housing, homeless shelters, prisons,…the list is long. Any time your body, your legal documents and how you present your gender don’t match is a place where you might be denied services, or more. Transgender people have been denied care by paramedics and doctors and left to die, they have been turned away from shelters, they have been harassed and beaten in bathrooms, they have been fired from their jobs.
Colleges and universities have often taken the lead in offering safety to their students. Many schools, including CUNY, have issued nondiscrimination policies that include Gender Identity/Expression. While some states also have such nondiscrimination policies, New York is not one of them. New York City however does prohibit such discrimination in their NYC Human Rights Law. While laws are important, support from friends is also important and I was glad the panel and audience talked about that. It was inspiring to see audience member volunteering times when they have supported their friends and their wish to continue to do so.
This was an important panel within LGBTQIA History Month. The current LGBT movement often seems to focus on issues that affect predominantly lesbian and gay people and ignore the rest. Not only was there a significant trans presence and leadership at the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that sparked the current LGBT movement but even more importantly, the issues that affect trans people also affect lesbian and gay people, especially those around gender non-conforming gender expression and behavior. It was exciting to see so many in the audience interested in engaging with these ideas so enthusiastically.