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“I often feel guilty not identifying myself openly.”
Edward** is one of many students at UoN who hides his transgenderism from people at university. “No other students know of my transgender orientation. I have been on hormones for two years, and eight months ago I had some surgery, which I had to hide from people at Uni”. He reveals how difficult it can make certain aspects of his life. “I find relationships and sex very difficult to navigate. It involves a lot of strained relationships, and overall it’s really lonely.”
Transgenderism is a subject which many people may not know a lot about. As an issue, it’s almost totally absent from our mainstream media, yet transgender issues are more prominent and widespread than you might think. The NHS estimate that 1 in 11,500 people experience ‘gender dysphoria’, the feeling that the sex assigned to you at birth does not reflect who you really are.
Transgender issues can be confusing – there are various ways that people self-identify under the trans* banner, and a host of unfamiliar terms. The meaning of the asterisk after the word ‘trans’, for example, represents that the word applies to all those within the gender spectrum.
Transgender students face difficult circumstances and overcome endless obstacles. The main fear expressed is one of people misunderstanding them – for Edward, this was his main reason for hiding his trans* identity. “I have come across some prejudice and insensitivity at school and in my family,” explains Edward. ”This is usually through comments people make and jokes in which transgender people are the butt of the joke. They are portrayed as disgusting and less than human.”
“I have come across some prejudice and insensitivity at school and in my family”.
Trans* students speaking to Impact point out that the difficulties they face do not just involve overcoming potential societal prejudice, but also have daily practical consequences.
Impact spoke to Stacey, a student who chose to transition when she began studying at the University of Nottingham. She says that it was a good time to do so. “I think Uni is the best place I could have chosen to be honest. I made new friends who knew of my gender identification, and I got to use my real name, as opposed to the one I was given at birth.”
Nevertheless, Stacey still finds everyday life at University difficult. Attending lectures is a struggle, on both a practical and emotional level: “It takes me three hours in the morning to get ready, which means I’m waking up at 5 or 6am.”
Many trans* people feel neither male, nor female and choose to identify as being somewhere in-between entirely.
Because she is wary of attracting unwanted attention, her academic studies have suffered. “I’ve only really attended 10% of my lectures because getting out of my house, walking over there, and having to sit surrounded by 200 other people is quite difficult. I’ve missed really important lectures because I’ve been a couple of minutes late, because I knew everyone else would already be in there and I couldn’t face going in.”
Both Edward and Stacey identify as being one gender on the spectrum, but Sam** identifies as being bi-gender. Many trans* people feel neither male, nor female and choose to identify as being somewhere in-between entirely.
Sam’s gender identification changes, depending on life and circumstances at the time. “I made the decision to not deny my identity to anyone at Uni, but even then it wasn’t until late in the semester that I started ‘acting’ male in ways other than wearing male clothes – altering my voice was the big one.”
“The prejudice I come across is mostly encountered impersonally; seeing the reaction to Chelsea Manning coming out was something I found incredibly painful. It made me scared to come out”.
Sam spoke about the difficulties in revealing their gender identity. “The prejudice I come across is mostly encountered impersonally; seeing the reaction to Chelsea Manning coming out was something I found incredibly painful. It made me scared to come out.”
Part of Sam’s problem is a feeling that a non-binary gender identity is feeling misunderstood. “Most people have at least a concept of binary transgender people, even if it’s an unpleasant one. Non-binary identities are things many people simply haven’t heard of.”
We asked Zoe Hendrickse, the Trans* Officer from the University’s LGBT Network, what she thinks is important to know about transgenderism. She says that, “It’s not a choice and it should not be treated as a disorder. There’s a lot of medical evidence to support that trans* students are the genders they believe themselves to be.”
The University recently released updated guidelines for supporting trans* staff, and offers training to any department that wishes to learn about assisting their trans* employees. A similar policy rewrite is also being undertaken for trans* students.
“The trans process is change at its most profound level, and leads to experiences of growth and has many positive elements”.
Chris Baxter, the Head of Student Disability and Diversity in Student Services, says that, “It is aimed to be a source of support and guidance both for trans* students and those supporting them. The policy has been developed in consultation with the Students’ Union and will be publicly accessible. We hope to work on future initiatives to provide more guidance to make transition as easy as possible for students.”
The University’s Counselling Service has also committed itself to being available for both trans* students and staff. They tell us, “The trans process is change at its most profound level, and leads to experiences of growth and has many positive elements. In common with all processes of change it also involves feelings of loss, changes in attachments, alterations in the dynamic of relationships with family and with friends, and sometimes the loss of these relationships.”
They add: “We are not experts or specialists in this field, nor are we trying to be. We can perhaps be of most help in supporting the process of transition both for staff and students going through the trans process, and those who are close to that person.
We’re sitting on the cusp of a major shift in the way in which transgender people are viewed.
Nevertheless trans* students tell Impact about continuing problems the University has failed to acknowledge.
Edward** says staff members fail to discipline students who make transphobic comments in lectures. “Such language would not be tolerated in the discussion of gay people, so I’m not sure why this is allowed”.
Both Stacey and Sam bring up the issue of gender-neutral toilets. Stacey says, “Even in some of the newly developed buildings, I still can’t find one. They’re trying to be inclusive, but it’s not been implemented to the degree needed yet. I can acknowledge the change but it’s slow.”
Despite these problems, things are changing. We’re sitting on the cusp of a major shift in the way in which transgender people are viewed. As Zoe Hendrickse tells us, “They’re not weird people that need to be looked at in a weird way. They’re just people who are trying to be themselves, and they should be treated with respect.”
Additional Reporting by Sarah Dear
**Names have been changed.
Image: Ben Tynegate