8 things you can do to welcome trans* people in the classroom
Transparency Statement: These tips and my story are shared as part of my application for the #TransgenderFirst Scholarship.
Like many trans people, I’ve encountered some barriers when it comes to academia. I won’t pretend that being transgender defines my whole experience; my whiteness, my economic and social background, autism, speaking English as a first language, and other characteristics also factor into my experience.
More than anything, I want to be comfortable and seen at the same time. The claustrophobia of living inside and alongside this gender binary often makes me restless, both as an autistic person and as a trans and nonbinary person.
In academia, I imagine that I grate against some similar pain points as other trans and nonbinary students. Registration systems like to put things into neat lists and drop-down boxes, and the overall conflation of gender and sex make me feel second-hand embarrassment and something like a disgusted pity. The lack of gender-neutral or single-stall bathrooms can make things uncomfortable and unsafe, but, admittedly, I’ve been avoiding that via online classes.
I often feel very out-of-place in the Engineering and Mathematics fields, which are still dominated by cisgender men. I find that I am talked over or must prove my points more than my classmates because of how I pose my class contributions. My ideas are often ‘softer’, leaning on the people side of our discipline instead of the technological side, and at times, that seems to invalidate my ideas. I've gotten better at it over time, but academia still feels competitive and hostile, of which I am neither.
My trans*ness is also connected to university’s affordability. My last degree was paid for by my last job, until I had to pay them back the prorated amount when I left. Unfortunately, my job no longer felt safe to me. I was out to about 3 people out of necessity, but everyone else was devoted to the company's antiquated, 'boys club' culture. I was often advised to change the way I dressed to be ‘more professional’, and even recommended to not come out or use my pronouns to avoid disrupting the workflow. I felt the need to mask and pass, because I thought I could keep my head down and collect my paycheck. I really loved my work, but I couldn’t stand how stuffy and unhappy it felt. I should have left earlier than I did, but among other factors, I had to either wait it out or produce the money to pay back my educational expenses.
I am confident that this all will change. Change is inevitable, and we have a responsibility to guide the trajectory of it. For ourselves. For each other. For the future of humanity. We will change our collective culture by promoting inclusive policies and building equitable, community structures, not to homogenize but in an effort to form a more welcoming collective.
I wish you authenticity and joy in the 2022-2023 Academic Year!
Love yourself. Love each other.