By Emerson Shams (he/they)
November gives host to Transgender Awareness Week (13th-19th November) and Transgender Day of Remembrance (20th November). These events are about showing awareness of Transgender lives and remembering those who have passed away due to violence against their identities. So, I reached out to Morgan ‘Mal’ Lee (they/he), President of Durham’s LGBT+ Association, and Benjamin Southwick (he/they), Interim President of Students with Disabilities to talk to them about their experiences at Durham.
Q. What are the importance of Transgender Awareness week and Transgender day of remembrance?
B: For everyone, it is important to remember the transgender people who have died due to cis-normative violence. Without those like Marsha P. Johnson, there would not be the efforts towards having the same rights for people in civil partnerships as those who are married, both straight, gay, and any in-between. Transgender people who have died fighting for our rights should have a memorialisation. Transgender Day of Remembrance does this and creates space for all LGBTQ+ and other communities to remember those people.
M: Cis people need to understand that awareness alone isn’t enough. Being an ally during Transgender Awareness Week and beyond requires more than passively taking in Transgender content and sharing a cute infographic on social media. It requires action.
Q. What’s the best thing about being Transgender?
M: Coming to understand myself: who I am and what I want in life. Also, letting myself do things for me instead of trying to please others.
Q. What is being a Transgender student at Durham like?
B: Generally speaking, it is okay if you don’t talk about your Transness. However, most students and staff alike are unaware of what constitutes transphobia. As a result, I have had to read papers and books with transphobic language, slurs, and TERF ideology. I have spoken to some members of my department about this and feel that we should issue content warnings, but this is not enough. Staff need training in Transgender issues and awareness so that their students feel safe and supported in their learning environment. I should not have to worry whether a lecturer may be transphobic and markdown my work for talking about Transgender issues or nuanced and modern approaches to gender.
M: I’m always scared: every time I make a decision, I have to account for how I might be perceived and my safety based on that. I often have to compromise my comfort in favour of my safety. For example, the classic bathroom struggle. The women’s is the safest bet for me but can feel like a defeat, and I get weird looks whichever one I use so there’s no winning. If the university could stop being so stubbornly against gender-neutral bathrooms that’d be great.
I’m not closeted in my department – I am open if asked – but I don’t tend to disclose for fear of compromising my safety or making people uncomfortable. Especially in my department, I worry that I would be treated differently or even actively discriminated against and that it will affect my chances of success both in academics and in my future career. Often I feel I have to hide my Transness.
Q. Do you feel there are any opportunities you are unable to partake in due to your Transness?
M: Sports is something I worry about participating in as a non-binary person. I currently play for a women’s team because I played with girls growing up, but that can be invalidating and often dysphoric. Thankfully, I play with a great bunch of girls who haven’t treated me any differently since learning my pronouns and have been using them correctly. However, if I were to start HRT, I don’t think I’d be able to play anymore.
B: Many sports feel transphobic to me, whether that be the lack of consideration for Transgender people, or the culture surrounding certain sports. Also, as a disabled person, I feel that many sports would not allow for my attendance to be sporadic as a result of my disability. However, I know that the wheelchair basketball team would be happy to have me if my academic commitments didn’t clash with their sessions.
Q. What support does the LGBT+ and Transgender Associations offer to Transgender students?
M: I’ll admit I’m a little biased as the president of the LGBT+ association. In my opinion, the most important thing that these associations offer Transgender students is community. While we work hard to produce resources – like the Transgender guide I’m currently working on – I am most proud of the way we bring people together.
Q. If there was a piece of media that you feel is a good starting ground for allowing people to understand the history or modern lives of Transgender people, what would it be and why?
M: The podcast ‘Adventures in Time and Gender’ is great – it’s made by and features Transgender creatives, and it nicely balances history with insights into current experiences. It also provides variety from the books and documentaries that cis people are frequently recommended. You can listen to it and learn more.
Image credits: Alex Peckham via Flickr; Ellie Lee; Benjamin Southwick via LinkedIn