While acceptance of the LGBTQ community of JSC and in society has improved over the years, misconceptions and lack of information and education surrounding people who are transgender continue to be issues.
This series will serve as an introduction to the various issues, obstacles, and sometimes complicated experiences of the transgender community of JSC and in other parts of Vermont.
The word transgender is referred to as an umbrella term to describe people whose assigned sex at birth does not match what gender they identify with, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People.
According to the University of California, Berkely’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, someone whose gender identity conforms to their assigned sex may be called cisgender, as opposed to transgender.
Transgender students who attend JSC largely praise the college for its inclusive atmosphere, friendly faculty and staff, and some public accommodations like gender-neutral bathrooms but insist work needs to be done to address needs of counseling on trans-related issues.
Other complaints mention the lack of resources to aid transgender people whether they are transitioning or have yet to transition from what the sex they were born as, to the gender they identify with.
Zach Fox, a professional studies major at JSC, says while he appreciates that many students and staff members ask for his pronouns, he has faced issues with being referred to as the wrong gender and not having sufficient resources to understand the more difficult parts of his transition like gender dysphoria.
This type of dysphoria is a discomfort or conflict felt by someone whose sex is incongruent with their gender identity, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“Some of the challenges that I’ve faced as a trans man regarding school have been a complete hassle,” said Fox. “One of the challenges I’ve had is having my birth name called out in class and having to constantly remind teachers and students of my preferred name and pronouns. Another couple of challenges are getting my name and gender changed within the system, and not having the resources needed in the Wellness Center, such as counseling and gender specific therapy. Many trans men also face challenges such as dysphoria, [which] can lead to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
“Most teachers do not see these as reasons to miss classes,” Fox added. “You can get accommodations, but a doctor’s note is needed. With trans people, sometimes a doctor’s note isn’t easily available due to many personal variables. So, missing more than two classes can heavily damage your grades. I’ve had first-hand experience with having to choose my mental health over a grade, and the outcome only destroys a person’s feeling of self-worth.”
English and secondary education major Shane Wyman acknowledges a need for more recognition for transgender students before they’ve transitioned physically and legally.
“My first year here before I legally changed my name, I didn’t want to use my JSC email a lot because it had my old name on it, so I felt really uncomfortable with things like posting on Moodle, sending emails to classmates, or even my professors,” said Wyman. “They could probably work on that. I’m sure there’s some legal reason behind why they can’t do it.
“Having discussion forums and stuff like that when you have a transgender kid in class—it might not be the best way to go about it. Because then those students are seeing the other name. It can be kind of rough.”
In addition to working toward the placement of a gender-neutral bathroom in each building on campus, JSC Interim Dean of Students Michele Whitmore says the entire Vermont State College system has plans to implement measures ensuring students will be called by their preferred name.
“The entire VSC is currently working on a preferred name policy that will allow students to indicate their preferred first name on all documentation and paperwork regardless of whether or not they have legally changed their name,” said Whitmore.
Whitmore also says a possible expansion of gender-neutral housing to buildings such as select suites in Arthur will be considered, but will be contingent upon an open conversation between students, faculty, and staff to communicate needs and potential barriers, if any.
For JSC students like education and biology major Blair Koonz, asking for someone’s preferred pronouns in relation to their gender is preferable to guessing or assuming someone’s gender. She says the gesture is less likely to be taken offense to during a conversation.
“I think there needs to be more education around trans issues and LGBT issues in general,” said Koonz. “Not necessarily courses, but people don’t know the trans community or how certain niceties that people don’t think about that is pretty important; lots of people just assume people’s gender. If there was more education about it then people would ask what their pronouns are and stuff like that. It’d be easier.”
In response, someone could say, “They are she, her, hers” if they identify as female, or he, him, and his if they identify as male. Alternatively, using more gender-neutral terms like they, them, and theirs can avoid using the wrong pronoun.
Of the cultural misunderstandings of the transgender community, one simple distinction is often misunderstood, which is sex versus gender identity.
Gender identity and sex are not synonymous, according to APA’s guidelines for both terms. Being born with a certain set of sex organs [assigned sex] does not preclude one from being female or male [gender identity].
In a perfect world, transgender males and females would be referred to as simply men and women; however, sometimes external appearance dictates how people are perceived and treated by others, on forms of I.D., and even with clothes and in bathrooms.
Making the distinction between sex and gender can prove difficult; however, JSC student and JSC Pride Alliance club member Randy Raymond simplifies the two characteristics to a matter of anatomy and where one feels they fit, if at all.
“Sex [means] the parts that you’re born with, whether that is outside or inside your body,” said Raymond. “Gender is the way that you feel and where you feel you belong in terms of the gender spectrum.”
Koonz corroborates this distinction while making certain to identify the cultural expectations of gender roles:
“Just saying that doesn’t really teach people anything. It’s difficult to explain without thinking into it and having experienced it, but sex is your body and you accept it, and I don’t think anyone’s going to dispute that fact,” she said. “Gender is the cultural expectation of it, the cultural expectation of men working out more versus women more focused on house chores or something. 1950’s gender roles. That’s what gender is: what you expect someone to be doing.
“Gender’s just an amalgamation of a bunch of various expectations for a group of people and how you identify with those expectations.”
Despite some systemic and educational deficiencies for transgender students at JSC, the college was recognized as an LGBTQ-friendly college by Campus Pride Inc., a nonprofit organization in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has rated over 200 colleges in the United States on inclusion of LGBTQ students, staff and faculty.
The organization assigned JSC a 3.5 “campus index score” on a one to five scale of inclusion factors such as policy inclusion, academic life, housing and residence life, and campus safety.
Additionally, JSC’s Karii Cloud Memorial Scholarship assists transgender students with paying for their tuition, honoring the life of the alumna for whom the award is named.
Some students at JSC and in Vermont feel that even within the LGBTQ community, certain misconceptions of transgender people exist which could either hurt or cloud their visibility and confuse people who do not know what the term “transgender” entails for people.
Music theory major Peython Echelson-Russell says that within the LGBTQ community, and more specifically the transgender community, nuances beyond someone being gay or lesbian exist.
“It’s assumed that when someone is LGBT, they’re same-gender attracted,” said Echelson-Russell. “People often forget and hesitate to mention that there are straight people within the LGBT community because there are straight trans people. They’re just as LGBT as the rest of the LGBT community.”
Also, Raymond says he has noticed tension within the LGBTQ community relating to the drag community. He sees that misconceptions have the tendency to blur the two communities together in a way that is derogatory.
“Part of that issue is that people who aren’t well-versed with the community have this notion that trans people are drag queens,” said Raymond. “Of course, that’s not the case. This goes back to needing more trans visibility in the community. That will help people realize that trans people and the drag community are separate.”
Likewise, other students feel as though a need for more openness on the social aspects of being transgender exists at JSC. One transgender student, who wishes to remain anonymous, urges her peers to also consider that society is not always comfortable with these differences and to be willing to get to know someone who is different from them, if not transgender.
“There may be a general lack of understanding and general lack of awareness of trans issues amongst the student body,” she said. “Beyond pronouns and, ‘This person is trans!’ I think there’s a lack of understanding amongst the student body regarding both systemic oppression of trans people and how these systems are built in such a way where everything is so gendered that it oppresses trans people. That’s something that’s not thought about very much.
“Another thing that’s not thought about very much is what it’s like socially to be trans and everyday interactions with how often you are passive aggressively excluded,” she added. “Not only because people know you’re trans, but because people sense that you’re different. It’s easier for people to write you off as insignificant, they don’t want to deal with you, as opposed to actually trying to get to know you and enhancing and shifting their worldview.”
Several of JSC’s transgender students, like Wyman, roundly acknowledge that JSC ‘s policies and atmosphere are progressive, yet urge people to ask pronouns, clear up misconceptions of sex and gender, and see them for the gender they are, not just transgender.
“Testosterone and surgeries — that’s not what make you transgender — it’s not what makes you whatever gender you identify with,” said Wyman. “Whatever you say you identify with and feel most comfortable with, that’s what you are. Cisgender people seeing people as only being transgender; that needs to change as well, because when you’re trying to date you’ll get people that say, ‘Oh, but you’re trans, you’ll make me question my sexuality because you don’t have a male body.’ I wish people would look beyond the transgender label and really focus on who the person is.”