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Room to improve Emerson's trans understanding

by Mal Meyer / Beacon Correspondent • February 28, 2013

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Emerson's campus often lacks appropriate facilities for trans students
Emerson's campus often lacks appropriate facilities for trans students

While the support of a transgender student this week has showed how progressive Emerson College can be, there is still work to be done.

A few weeks ago, Phi Alpha Tau started an Indiegogo fundraiser to help pay for Donnie Collins’ chest reconstruction surgery. Collins, a sophomore visual and media arts major, is a member of the fraternity.

Despite the fundraiser’s success, our college is not devoid of transgender ignorance. Making a donation does not mean everyone is aware of the struggles that transgender people face. The college, its offices, and its organizations should use Collins’ story to create change now.

The problem of trans awareness, or lack thereof, is that it’s difficult to realize the mistakes made when this issue only directly affects a small portion of the Emerson community.

This community includes me. I am a transgender male. Although my birth name is Mallory, people at Emerson exclusively call me Korey. I still use my birth name as my pen name because my family doesn’t know that I am transgender.

I will admit that Emerson has made strides to accommodate for the problems and struggles of trans people. These strides include gender neutral housing, unisex bathrooms, and some transgender awareness events sponsored by organizations and offices within the college. However, they have their flaws.

Transgender freshmen entering on-campus housing can find themselves facing a can of worms. If they tell residence life that they are transgender, there are three options: live in a single dorm room, have a roommate who is the “same sex” (but not necessarily the same gender identity), or work with the associate director of housing operations to try to apply to gender neutral housing. However, the student must already be out as transgender to do so, which may force them to reveal something they may not have yet shared with their own family.

Another campus-housing flaw are the supposedly unisex or gender neutral bathrooms. Yet these can only be found in only a few buildings, and many times they’re rather hard to find. Piano Row has only one unisex bathroom accessible to non-residents, and it’s tucked away on the second floor, which many students wouldn’t know about.

To many, the “simple” solution to this dilemma would be to use the men’s bathroom, something I’ve been advised to do in the past. Upon entering, I usually get stares. Someone might “inform” me that it is a men’s bathroom. Or, I might need a waste receptacle inside of the stall. With experiences like these in mind, it only seems practical that unisex bathrooms be more abundant, or at least more visible.

An easy solution would be a list on the school’s website listing the location of all the unisex bathrooms. At the very least, signs could be posted on the men’s and women’s bathroom doors denoting their trans inclusiveness. However, the biggest flaw is the lack of understanding regarding the use of pronouns. Many might see this as tiny issue; however, to many trans people, it is a very serious problem.

Each day at Emerson, someone uses the wrong pronoun for me. They will glance at my chest to figure out my gender and either awkwardly avoid all pronouns or refer to me using “she.” Sometimes this comes from faculty, but a majority of the time is from students.

There is not enough diversity training concerning trans people for staff and students. As an orientation leader, the necessary training last fall seemed to only discourage the use of offensive words such as “tranny.” We didn’t learn how to properly ask people their pronouns, even though it was acknowledged that pronouns should never be assumed.

Because so many OLs and staff were mis-gendering me, under my name on the name tag I wore every day, I wrote ‘he, him, his’. However, this barely rectified the problem: Many of them continued to refer to me as a girl until I corrected them.

But I shouldn’t have had to correct them at all. A simple resolve of people introducing themselves with their names and their gender pronouns could change this. Another way to properly ask me about my gender pronouns would be to politely pull me aside to ask what pronouns I use.

Perhaps organizations like EAGLE and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion should sponsor more events to talk about trans issues and how we can change. Through social media, peer to peer discussions, and panels, we could help educate our community about these and other problems.

Make no mistake—I’m happy that Phi Alpha Tau and other fraternities and sororities are helping Donnie out. I’m glad that he is has the support of many, that he is now able to get the surgery and donate the excess to a worthy charity.

But I don’t want this to be another example of a quick talking point and $5 donation to a cause without major awareness change happening.