In a recent runoff to elect a representative to the Mr. Yale competition, one of the residential colleges elected a female contestant. The Yale College Council, confused by this turn of events, initially disqualified the contestant from the competition. Upon further consideration, however, the group reinstated her. The YCC’s e-mail readmitting her into the Mr. Yale competition stated that, while Mr. Yale has previously been “a competition of all males because the idea of having a female pageant was received by many as objectifying the female body,” they were glad she had “expressed interest in competing and very much respect that [she is] against being defined by conventional standards of gender.”
The YCC and this contestant have all taken steps that the Yale campus, and society in general, are also beginning to take. Their conversation is symbolic of the larger dialogue around the nation about the importance and significance of one’s gender at a time when some are claiming we live in a “post-gender world.”
We disagree. Gender affects our ability to enter competitions, what pool of people from which we can select next year’s roommate and whether we have to walk 10 steps or 10 minutes to find a bathroom in the Mathematics Department building.
For most of us, these are simply inconveniences, obnoxious aspects of our lives that we shrug off instead of question. For many, however, gender is a daily struggle — from the female athlete who feels she has to be extra feminine to make up for being strong to the boyfriend who isn’t comfortable sharing feelings; from the girl with short hair who gets confronted about whether “she’s sure she’s in the right bathroom” to the boy people claim is “too flamboyant” because he wears tight jeans.
As co-coordinators of Trans Awareness Week, we are often asked what the point of the series is. Trans Week provides an opportunity for people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, as well as in the general Yale community, to delve into issues of gender and identity. This year, there are more than 10 events that explore and celebrate transgender and gender nonconforming identities and experiences through lectures, performances, photography and discussions.
We believe that Trans Week is accessible for all Yale students and any member of the New Haven community — whether you’re a person of faith, a person of color, queer or straight. But we should not forget that one of the reasons it is necessary to have a program like this is because transgender people continue to be harassed, beaten and persecuted throughout the world.
The word “transgender” is an umbrella term that generally refers to people whose biological sex does not correspond to the gender they feel themselves to be, mentally and physically. We hope that the week will provide support and encouragement to gender nonconforming students on campus, especially since Yale continues to fall behind other Ivy League Universities with regards to trans-friendly policies (such as gender neutral housing and health care), but we also think Trans Week is important because everyone deals with gender.
Transgender people, on some level, epitomize the problem with the gender binary, but if you look closely, we all have a bit of gender transgression within us. By coming to terms with our own gender nonconformity and relishing that intricacy, we will be better able to understand the trans community. Similarly, by reaching out to the transgender community, which is continuously in need of allies and support, we will be able to learn more about ourselves and our own complexities.
Seth Weintraub is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Rachel Schiff is a senior in Silliman College. They are co-coordinators of Trans Awareness Week.