Wesleyingiversary: BZOD Recalls Reporting on Trans Activism

“I liked writing about social issues. I was CSS, so no surprise there.”

A photo from an article BZOD wrote about campus labor actions.

A photo from an article BZOD wrote about campus labor actions.

This is part of our series of Wesleyingiversary interviews. You can find the rest here.

In his more than 300 articles about Wesleyan for Wesleying (a place where we write articles about Wesleyan), BZOD was truly an online presence I wish I could have known (outside of this anticlimactic liveblog, at least). He covered some really important stuff circa 2010-2014, including labor actions, trans activism regarding gender-neutral bathrooms, and conversations and activism concerning sexual assault on campus.

Read past the jump for our interview.

So wesleying is turning 10 lol. Can you say a bit about your role on the site?

BZOD: Uh. Sure. So I joined in freshman year in part because I had already known one of the other editors (A-Batte) and he was like “oh yeah do it, it’s fun!” and also because Zach lived on writing hall the year before me and posted flyers, and I kind of said “what the hell” and joined. I ended up becoming an editor pretty quickly in part because I regularly cleared out the event posts in the inbox as a freshman haha. I then remained an editor and did event posts, features, and helped my fellow editors (Samira, pyrotechnics, Zach, etc.) run things

Word. What do you feel like you wrote about most?

BZOD: Oh geez. Uh. Trying to remember haha.

wilk: Or like do you have anything you felt was super fun to write

BZOD: Okay. I guess one thing is that I ended up writing several FAQ-style posts on topical campus issues. Basically an “I want to be informed about this thing happening on campus, what are some of the crucial bits of information?” I liked writing about social issues. I was CSS, so no surprise there.

Did you ever write anything that got a lot of traction or generated a lot of impassioned comments

BZOD: Well, this got a lot of traction: Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned: An FAQ About Wesleyan and Its Contracted Custodial Staff – Part I of III. It was part of a series of posts I did about the shitty working conditions of Wesleyan’s custodial staff. The most controversial thing was probably the trans* bathroom posts: “All Gender Bathrooms Now” – Pissed Off Trans* People on the DIY Gender-Neutralizing of Wesleyan’s Bathrooms.

wilk: What was the dialogue on campus like back then? Because gender neutral bathrooms seem to be pretty standard exist on campus now

BZOD: Hah. Well there are gender neutral bathrooms now in Exley, Olin (right?), and…I think most buildings on campus

wilk: Yeah, but in older buildings they’re not as standard/accessible. There are signs that say “go to this floor or this building”

BZOD: Some places *technically* have gender neutral bathrooms, but they are more or less off limits to students. The Center for Film Studies has one; there is a gender neutral bathroom, but it’s the staff bathroom, so it probably doesn’t meet the standard for a “gender-neutral bathroom”.

Right, so basically there weren’t gender neutral bathrooms in a lot of those buildings in Fall of 2013. Especially in Exley and Olin. So a group of people who called themselves Pissed Off Trans* People went and tore down and broke the bathroom signs. Pretty much all of them – because even the “unisex” bathroom signs had just a binary gender male/female symbols, which people also took issue with.

The bathroom signs were gone for…I don’t know, maybe 6 months? 8 months? For most of the year. The school ultimately replaced many of the unisex bathroom signs with what are there currently. But it caused a lot of friction.

BZOD: There were sexual assault survivors on both sides of the debate, trans* people against gendered bathrooms of all types, and others with less radical views. There were religious students who kind of quietly were uncomfortable with sign-less bathrooms, and older profs who put up signs like “THIS BATHROOM IS ONLY FOR MEN” on doors (which, in turn, got ripped down almost every few hours)

wilk: Jesus Christ

BZOD: Yeah it was pretty much a talking point for most of the year. And disability rights groups got very involved in this too. Because taking down the signs made the handicap accessible bathrooms indistinguishable from those that weren’t. But there was an informal group of trans* and disability rights groups that met weekly after this and brainstormed ways to work together on this issue.

wilk: And I bet the friction increased after the students got fined?

BZOD: Well they got…not quite SJB’d, but brought before deans in some sort of council thing. It was very weird. All closed-room; there was a protest of that too. I can’t speak to the detail now given how long ago it was. But yeah then they got fined–and it was a pretty exorbitant fine–but I think people protested the way it was done and the university relented and reduced it. They originally got fined like $80/sign each. And given that this was almost every bathroom sign on campus, they were each being asked to pay quite a bit of money.

BZOD: OH I remember what it was. They were fined and told that they only way to NOT pay the full fine would be to actively put up gendered bathroom signs, which they protested obviously because what trans* person wants to put up signs excluding themselves from a space?

BZOD: But yeah that was the biggest thing that I “broke.” It was also related to the topic of my thesis which was how it ended up on my plate. Oh also all that was before trans* issues had a place in the national sphere. It was big because for a lot of people it was the first time they’d really HEARD about trans* issues

wilk: Yeah I mean in a lot of ways Wes and the country is still only scratching the surface.

Was there a funniest or really absurdist post or two that stick out in your memory?

BZOD: I think our funniest April fool’s day joke (our first “big” one) was Weasleying. We wrote a bunch of posts and turned the site into a Harry Potter/Weasley family fan site. It was the first time we’d overhauled the whole site for April Fool’s, and it really caught people off guard.

wilk: Hahah yeah the theme this year was “Weedsleying” where we talked about weed and gardening

BZOD: hah, nice

What was Wesleying’s place in the Wes media realm?

BZOD: A lot of people on Wesleying wrote for the Argus. Wesleying’s role was always to do event posts, some snarky irreverence, and weird/interesting features that involved the Internet. We also did delve into more hard-hitting features frequently, but the Argus did a lot of that too. We cross-posted their stuff sometimes so it could get more views and frequently referenced them on older stuff.

The Argus was a great source of journalism, whereas Wesleying was a blog; we took a more informal approach, which often meant being readable sometimes at the expense of hard facts and unbiased reporting. Also we “broke” news earlier – though there was one time the Argus “broke” a story before us because the editors happened to all be in a lorise when the event happened and posted a funny little article on their site

So what are you up to these days?

BZOD: Last year, I worked 8 months helping teach English classes in northwest Spain. I’m going back in about 8 days, though this time I’ll also be doing a professional teacher certification course in September.
also, two years ago I started a coding camp in San Jose, CA, where I teach kids to code by making simple video games. I taught the second year of that this year and will be working to develop it further from abroad

wilk: That sounds awesome!

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