This year is seeing a growing number of undergraduate and graduate course offerings that directly address transgender studies.
This upward trend reflects a nationwide increase in undergraduate and graduate initiatives aimed to promote the field. But it seems that at least at Yale, these offerings came about through individual professors who sought to address transgender issues in their curricula, and less as the result of a concerted departmentwide effort.
This fall, the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program offers one course whose main focus is on transgender topics, with two similar courses planned for the spring, as well as a number of others that deal with transgender issues in some capacity. But students and professors disagreed as to whether there is sufficient interest to merit adding more courses, especially given the small size of the program — there are about 10 WGSS majors each year.
“Given the limited personnel we have, I am very happy to say that there seem to be a terrific number of courses throughout the year that are seeking through dimensions of transgender in promising ways,” said Joe Fischel, director of undergraduate studies for WGSS and a WGSS assistant professor.
Isaac Amend ’17, a transgender student majoring in political science, said the maximum number of transgender studies courses that could be offered is only two or three since there is limited demand. Amend added that one alternative to courses completely dedicated to transgender studies could be for teachers in departments other than just WGSS to add transgender angles to their curricula.
Susan Stryker, former director of the University of Arizona Institute for LGBT studies, said there is an increasing demand for transgender studies among undergraduates across the country.
“We are in the midst of a profound cultural shift in how we understand gender, and trans*ness of various flavors and stripes is something more and more people know about, care about and experience for themselves,” Stryker said.
Assistant professor of American studies Greta LaFleur, who this fall is teaching “Gender and Transgender,” a course that introduces students to the field of transgender studies, was surprised by the number of students interested in taking her seminar. She had 44 students show up during shopping period — 30 more than she had expected.
This high turnout convinced H McCormick ’17, a transgender WGSS major currently enrolled in LaFleur’s class, that there was high enough demand for Yale to add more transgender studies-focused classes. Within the WGSS major, McCormick is concentrating in gender and religion.
“I think we have enough interest whether we have just 10 majors a year or five,” McCormick said. “Whenever you have 40 people shop a class on gender and transgender at the beginning of the semester, obviously you need to have another class.”
This is the second time LaFleur has taught “Gender and Transgender,” and there was not as much student interest when she taught the course in 2014. LaFleur said much attention has been paid to transgender identities, experiences and people in the media, citing the TV show Transparent and Vanity Fair’s spread on Caitlyn Jenner.
An estimated 0.3 percent of American adults are transgender. Maria Trumpler GRD ’92, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources and a WGSS senior lecturer, said the percentage of Yale students who identify as transgender is higher than the national average.
“The growing number of trans students in colleges need to have a curriculum that reflects their lives, and prepares them for living and working in a world that is rife with trans* phenomena,” Stryker said
Offering a wider selection of transgender studies classes provides transgender students at Yale a space to both promote transgender visibility and explore their identities in a classroom setting. Amend said that as a transgender person, it is sometimes difficult “on a personal and emotional level to be visible.”
“We want to channel visibility into public areas like classrooms,” Amend said.
For McCormick, taking the course “Transgender Cultural Production” taught by WGSS professor T. L. Cowan made them “peel back a layer” on queer and gender theory, they said.
Studying a topic close to home “helped me make sense of a lot of things that were going on in my life,” McCormick said. In particular, the class helped them think about how they wanted to present their masculinity.
“Trans studies classes helped me learn how to decolonize my masculinity and work toward masculinity that worked for me and that I thought was an anti-oppressive one,” McCormick said.
“Gender and Transgender” attracts a large number of transgender and nonbinary students, Amend said. Classes like these are especially important for transgender students. McCormick said they need classes where they’re “not going to feel like an outsider.”
Offering more classes on transgender studies assigns value to the transgender community at Yale, Amend said.
“When you boost transgender studies in any school curriculum, you’re giving value to that marginalized population. That’s huge,” Amend said.