Write-Ins and All Campus Email: Wesleyan Responds to Federal Proposal on Defining Gender

Editor’s Note: This post contains references to transphobia/trans-erasure. If you are upset or disturbed by this news and need support, please reach out to CAPS at (860) 685-2910 and alert the CAPS staff you are in need of a same day appointment. If you are unsure if your issue is a “crisis,” please contact CAPS to discuss.

Wesleying aims to provide a safe(r) space for trans voices, and we are very willing to listen if you feel there are things we can be doing better towards this goal.

Cover Photo from the Trans at Wes Facebook page

Upon returning from Fall Break, students were greeted with an email from Interim VP for Equity and Inclusion Debbie Colluci and VP for Student Affairs Mike Whaley about the federal proposal on defining gender. This proposed federal policy would eliminate protections for trans and gender non-conforming individuals under Title IX, which has in recent years been one of the sole policies guaranteeing trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) people rights within institutions like the university.

In the email, Colucci and Whaley attempt to quell fears about trans and gender non-conforming students losing protections by pointing to Connecticut State laws and University Policy which prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity and/or gender expression. However, not everyone at Wesleyan lives in Connecticut full-time, and there are countless trans and gender non-conforming people in our wider community who don’t have the protections of the university, not to mention all of the trans/GNC folks who live in much more hostile environments.

We reached out to some trans/GNC members of the Wesleyan community to share their thoughts and feelings on the matter. Given the intent of the federal policy to literally erase trans and gender non-conforming people’s identities, we wanted to make sure we amplified trans/GNC voices in this post.

If you are trans/GNC and have thoughts or feelings you’d like to share (on this or any topic), please email them to staff[at]wesleying[dot]org and we can post them here at Wesleying! These can be published as anonymously or with your name, depending on your comfort level.

Read on for responses from members of the trans/GNC Wesleyan community, along with the full text of the email, below the jump:

From Isaac (he/him):

The discriminatory policies put forward by the Trump administration claim to be “grounded in science.” We need environmental policy that is grounded in science, not policies that misuse biology as a tool for discrimination. I am a transgender biologist and I will not be erased.

News like this is deeply troubling because it is a clear message from the federal government that that existence, dignity, and safety of transgender people is not protected or even recognized. It’s easy for me to feel scared by this, but it’s also important to remember and fight for trans people who are even more vulnerable, like trans youth. Also, even without Trump’s gender policy, trans people already face discrimination, especially in health care and housing.

From Abigail (she/her or they/them):

I’ve cried at each of the new headlines as I’ve seen them, and I don’t usually cry at things like this. It’s just very scary in a way that’s different than the usual anxiety and fear that goes along with being transgender. Day to day yes, in the back of my head is the knowledge that like, someone I don’t know could just harass assault, or kill me or that I should really thoroughly vet any man I want to be intimate with to be sure they’re not decide I’ve “tricked” them in some way and assault me.

But this news is like, a concerted action from the federal government to erase trans people, right? Like it’s explicitly that. And my hope is that most people don’t have any active desire to erase trans people in the way that these memos are advocating. But what I’m afraid of is that people don’t have to have any active desire in order for trans people to be erased if there’s an authority demanding it. Like, if this becomes the federal position, not only does it legally erase trans people, but it basically says, “Look, this is the prevailing opinion. If you don’t want to make waves, just go along with it.” If that makes sense. Like, in my experience, most people don’t care one way or the other, so shit like this basically says, “Standing up for trans people is going to make your lives harder.”

And so that’s how groups of people get erased, right? A concerted effort from an authority, and apathy from the majority. Like as long as the majority are unwilling to kind of make their lives harder by standing up to an authority that says this, then trans people don’t stand much of a chance, you know? My hope is that this is mainly just a midterms stunt from the republicans and that it’ll sort of go away. But I don’t really believe that’s what it is. I mean, as someone whose life will be directly affected my this, I can’t help but look for other instances of this. So I’d ask cis and het people to look into the way the German government systematically erased queer people in the 1930s. It started the same way, by denying the science of the day, which supported queer and gender nonconforming identities, and the majority didn’t speak up and it ended in systematic killing.

Personally, this news scared the shit out of me. And part of that is because I’m very privileged in many other ways, being white, coming from a liberal, financially secure family which has accepted and supported me, a lot of other things I don’t even think about. So if these changes go through, life is going to get so much harder for trans people without the social and financial protections that someone like me has.

And I guess one other thing that’s important to mention is that there are studies which find that legal recognition of gender is a really big factor that decreases suicide and mental health risk in trans people. So if this memo becomes the law, that venue for relief from the bullshit that trans people have to put up with is gone. So this is, in a lot of ways, not just an attack on trans recognition, but an attack on trans lives.

I also just want to ask people to like, start using gender neutral pronouns for people who haven’t told them their pronouns. Like if you just pay attention to what you’re saying it’s not hard and it makes a big difference.

Any trans and GNC people, as well as people questioning their gender, should feel free to reach out to me for anything and everything at odalysmith[at]wesleyan[dot]edu.

From Dani (they/them):

What’s most important for me to emphasize is that this is nothing new to trans people. Though it is jarring for the president to have formally made moves to declare gender within the binary– effectively erasing trans, non binary, and intersex people –this has been the prevalent rhetoric within conservative and liberal circles. Trans, non binary, and intersex people are not as surprised by this as we deserve to be. We have been desensitized to rhetoric that is hell bent on erasing us. However, we are hell bent on creating spaces that celebrate what the state wants to erase and uplift the subjects whose beauty and power the state fears. We do not need to disappear to be accepted by the state and by cis society, we dont need to straighten ourselves out and fit ourselves to the cis mold.

Alok Vaid-Menon also has a great short piece on their Instagram about this:

View this post on Instagram

To ensure that trans people #WontBeErased in light of recent attacks on trans rights we have to be critical of conditional acceptance. For too long LGBT people have had to say that we are “just like” cis straight people in order to be recognized. This is because by & large cis straight people have only extended sympathy in so much as they can see themselves in us. This is part of a historic pattern where dominant groups only accept marginalized groups for their own selfish interests, not out of a practice of justice. Identification should not be a prerequisite for justice. In the trans movement those of us who are visibly gender non-conforming &/ not on hormones are constantly told that we are not “legitimately trans” or “trans enough.” This is because in order for (white) binary trans people to get acceptance from cis culture they have to say they are “normal men & women” “brothers & sisters” like you. Shame & stigma are displaced on the next available target, not challenged all together. Visibly gender non-conforming people are collateral damage in this pursuit of normalcy. Conditional acceptance is not justice. This isn’t what freedom looks like — having to disappear our difference. This ends up hurting all trans people because acceptance is dependent on conformity, not simply for being. Ideology is prioritized more than dignity. During times of crisis often the most palatable representation of a marginalized group is uplifted because their narratives & appearances are seen as digestible by the mainstream. But how how much of us is left for ourselves after we are finished being consumed? In the face of erasure outside we erase our differences inside. The mandate of “trans people will not be erased” rings hollow when gender non-conforming people continue to be erased by the trans community itself. Now more than ever we need to center & celebrate gender non-conformity. We need to abolish the idea of “trans enough.” We need to fight not just for trans rights, but for the end of heteronormativity & gender binarism. We need to reject logics that link our worth to our appearance. Justice should not be dependent on what we look like.

A post shared by ALOK (@alokvmenon) on

From Ori (he/him):

I had a few, mostly cis, friends message me the day that big New York Times article was published, all just checking in. One (cis) friend just wrote, “hey – wanted to check in and see how you’re doing”, and that meant the world to me. I messaged other (trans) friends to check in, and they messaged other friends, and we created this network of support.

I always roll my eyes a bit when I see cis people re-posting a “trans rights are human rights” graphic on social media and calling it a day. That doesn’t do anything; we all know that trans rights are human rights. The people who I consider to be amazing cis allies never do stuff like that because they know that action is so much more impactful. The best cis allies aren’t loud about their allyship. They depend on small, meaningful actions.

One of the best things people can do, especially in a group setting, is to introduce themselves with their pronouns. It just normalizes the idea that pronouns are a part of how we respect others. I also recommend getting some foundational knowledge about trans experiences. NCTE, aka The National Center for Trans Equality, is a great online resource, and so is the American Psychological Association. When I’m having a conversation with someone and they already have baseline knowledge, it actually does mean a lot to me.

I mention these more “boring” resources because when we talk about “trans existence”, it’s easy to think of pride parades and all the fun stuff. In reality, being trans is actually pretty boring. For example, I attended and now work at a well-known summer camp for transgender youth, so I know many, many trans people. Out of all of those people, I don’t know a single trans person whose most interesting part of who they are is being transgender.

I want to get married, adopt kids, buy a house with a white picket fence, and join the local synagogue. I want to pay property taxes and get social security benefits when I’m old. I want to do the boring stuff, just like everyone else gets to. This potential federal legislation is important because it’s going to impact whether or not my community and I have those opportunities. For the vast majority, being trans is not about radically reshaping gender politics. It’s about living real lives, filled with joy.

If you would like to show your support for the trans community in a tangible, meaningful way, consider buying a “Hineini” t-shirt or crewneck. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), “Hineni” means “Here I Am”. It is said when someone is ready to do something important, however difficult that may be. By wearing this shirt, cis allies can unobtrusively show their active support and readiness to protect trans civil rights. For trans people, this shirt is a great way to say, “Here I am. You can’t erase my existence.” Proceeds benefit The Trevor Project, a 24-hour confidential crisis hotline for LGBTQ youth.

 

And here is the text of the all campus email from Colucci and Whaley on Wednesday, October 24:

To the Wesleyan Community:

We hope you enjoyed a relaxing fall break. As you may be aware, it has been reported that there are discussions at the federal level which would establish an official government definition of gender as being a person’s biological sex at birth. The change would basically eliminate federal recognition of 1.4 million Americans who identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. If adopted by the Department of Education, it could end protections now afforded by Title IX regarding complaints of sex discrimination at schools and colleges.

Wesleyan is committed to inclusion and to providing an environment in which all members of the community are supported and can thrive. To that end, our policies and procedures contain language prohibiting discrimination based on gender, gender identity and/or gender expression.

As President Roth recently wrote on his blog: “At Wesleyan we will fight back against any attempt to erase transgender people. We will stand by our transgender friends and colleagues, we will recognize them, acknowledge their struggles, and join with them to fight for equality.”

Furthermore, Connecticut is one of the states with significant civil rights protection for transgender individuals, including a 2017 memorandum from the state Department of Education reaffirming Connecticut’s commitment to providing every student with access to education in a safe, supportive, inclusive, and welcoming environment.

Wesleyan will continue to monitor this situation—and to continue working toward a more inclusive campus community—and will keep everyone updated.   Additionally, if you would like to discuss the overall campus climate and/or share your thoughts regarding steps toward a more equitable, safe, and compassionate community, please attend one of the remaining feedback sessions as outlined in the 2018 Campus Climate Survey Results.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Debbie Colucci
Interim Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Mike Whaley
Vice President for Student Affairs