The social and political hurdles faced by transgendered individuals will be the focus of the fourth annual Trans Issues Week this week.
The events, organized by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative, aim to raise awareness about the recent addition of “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the University’s official nondiscrimination policy, in addition to opening dialogue on the racial, religious, sexual and legal issues that transmen and transwomen encounter on a daily basis, event organizers said. The week’s events — which began with a Sunday afternoon panel on trans sexuality — include a trans liturgy offered by the Divinity School, a discussion with award-winning author Helen Boyd and a keynote address Thursday by activist Imani Henry, who is a staff organizer at the International Action Center.
Students involved in the event said they hope that increased student interest in trans issues will prompt the University to enact additional policies to make the campus more trans-friendly.
Anna Wipfler ’09, the Trans Issues Week organizer and coordinator of the co-op, said she hopes the members of the community who attend the events will come away with a more comprehensive understanding of the complicated and often misunderstood transition phase.
“People who define themselves normatively don’t think about gender on a daily basis,” she said. “But trans people think about gender every minute of every day.”
Wipfler said the event has developed over the past three years from a lone effort of the LGBT to a larger campaign involving the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Gay and Lesbian Studies Program, and several student and cultural organizations, such as the Queer Political Action Committee and the Asian-American Students Association.
Maria Trumpler, director of undergraduate studies in the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and a special adviser to the administration regarding LGBTQ issues, said she thinks Trans Issues Week presents a unique opportunity for open discussion among members of the Yale community who are exploring their gender identities.
“It can help frame the issues of what is at stake socially, sexually, legally in one’s gender identity,” she said.
Trumpler, whose liaison position was created last fall, said many of the presentations — including Henry’s keynote address — have been arranged to reach out to people who identify with multiple communities.
More than 50 students and faculty crowded into the Women’s Center on Sunday afternoon to hear a panel of graduate students and professionals speak on transmasculinity and eroticism. Most of the panelists self-identified as transgendered but said that they generally do not think of themselves as either male or female unless pointedly asked.
Brandon Michael, an entrepreneur from New York, described his difficult transition period 17 years ago from a woman to a man and said he disagrees with the commonly held perception that the transition is sparked solely by shifting sexual desires. Michael said the change more often arises from an individual’s conscious understanding that he or she is being classified by the wrong gender.
“I didn’t care if they told me that I did not grow or mature the right way,” he said. “I was not going to put that dress on.”
Loren Krywanczyk ’06 — who founded Trans Issues Week in 2004 and moderated the panel discussion — said the University’s continuing lack of formal policy concerning trans students will likely create problems, including difficulties with housing arrangements. She said she hopes the administration will consider adopting a policy that gives entering students the option of living in a single instead of a suite if they are transgendered or to opt for gender-neutral housing, like the system currently in place at Harvard University.
Krywanczyk said the number of students at Yale who self-identify as transgendered usually varies between five to six undergraduates.
But Scott Larson DIV ’08, who said he is the only student at the Divinity School who self-identifies as a transman, said he thinks it is difficult to make a specific correlation between administrative policy and the experience people will have at the University. Since Yale prides itself on being a prestigious academic institution, Larson said, encouraging more scholarship on gender studies across all its schools could help make transgendered individuals feel more comfortable.
“It’s really hard to have a shared experience when you can’t find a community,” he said.
In conjunction with the Co-op’s events, the Divinity School will hold a panel discussion with Larson and an openly transsexual priest Monday afternoon.
“Our events are largely intended to give people the tools they need to get used to discussing gender and sexuality in ways that are not so binary,” event organizer Jeannine Oakes DIV ’08 said.
Trans Issues Week will conclude with a Drag Ball in Morse College on Saturday evening.