Transgender presentation promotes acceptance

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Students, faculty and staff gathered yesterday at the Student Activities Center to discuss transgender identity and ways UT can better serve the existing transgender community. The Gender and Sexuality Center conducts multiple seminars throughout the semester in attempt to educate the campus community on gender issues facing the population. Shane Whalley, education coordinator for the Gender and Sexuality Center, led the presentation titled, “Transgender Identities: Expanding the Concepts of Gender.”

A transgender person is someone whose self-identity and/or expression does not conform or transgresses traditional notions of male and female. Their gender identity differs from their gender assigned at birth, ze said.

Whalley identified hirself as “gender queer,” a gender identity where one does not identify as male or female and often seeks to blur gender lines. If a person is gender nonconforming, the use of pronouns, “ze,” “hir” and “hirs,” rather than gender-specific pronouns may be appropriate when addressing the person.

“[UT Austin] needs to make classrooms more open to transgender people, and there are ways to do that,” Whalley said.

Four gender aspects exist inside every individual — sex, gender identity, gender expression and romantic orientation, Whalley said. Transgender people spend much mental energy on the first three aspects, attempting to identify and understand their gender identity. In contrast, heterosexual people mainly ponder one gender aspect — romantic orientation, ze said. Whalley said if any students’ gender is unclear, teachers and classmates should keep gender assumptive language such as “you guys” out of the classroom. Offensive slang words such as “tranny” should be avoided as well, ze said.

History senior Juan Carlos Suarez attended the presentation and said Whalley’s points were informative and enlightening.

“It’s refreshing to hear someone talk about issues that most people don’t even think about, such as gender identity and gender expression,” Suarez said.

Suarez is a member of Peers for Pride, a program training peer facilitators to lead sexual orientation and gender identity workshops across the UT campus. Suarez said transgender people feel safe at UT, but not welcomed. Even though Austin has a reputation of welcoming transgender people, some forget that provincial views on sexuality still exist, he said. Suarez said gender-neutral housing, which has been suggested by the student group StandOut, would make transgender students feel more welcome and included on campus.

Therapist Laura Vanderslice, who also attended the presentation, said spreading awareness is vital to the process of expanding the concepts of gender.

“If you are unclear on someone’s gender, don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Vanderslice said.

Whalley said rather than ignoring the issue of gender identity, people should focus on long-term culture change.

“The most important culture shift of all is to not base one’s gender on genitals,” Whalley said.

Printed on Thursday, March 1, 2012 as: Transgender presentation promotes gender-neutrality