In a time where trans women are being killed at a startling rate, conversations over using one’s correct name and pronouns are considered controversial rather than necessary, and Badgers who identify as trans are feeling increasingly unsafe, these students need our support more than ever.
These topics are not a matter of discussion or debate — trans folx are being impacted greatly by ignorance on this campus, and we cannot let these irrational arguments overshadow the wellbeing of our peers.
Cis students on campus don’t understand what it is like to face dysphoria at the hands of their peers when it comes to standard tasks such as receiving a University Housing assignment or taking a piss in a public restroom. In a system where trans students are not actively involved in campus planning and high-level decision making, efforts to be inclusive and aware of the unique struggles hindering the wellbeing of these students may appear to be an afterthought.
Heteronormativity is everywhere on this campus — but we can change that. While many UW students may have never engaged in open dialogue about the trans/GNC experience, this is no excuse for continued ignorance. UW has the resources to counter this harmful behavior via inclusion initiatives and programming.
Frankly, if we can convince a stadium of 80,000 people to cheer for fuzzy, animated letters in a predetermined race with literally no tangible result, we can manage to use our peers’ correct name and pronouns.
Unfortunately, a slew of anti-trans legislation has been introduced across the nation at the state level in 2020 — the South Dakota legislature has even proposed the enactment of a bill that would make it a felony to provide health services specifically for trans youth.
While this legislation obviously wouldn’t directly spill over to Wisconsin, we should be setting a precedent for the U.S. not only in laws, but interpersonal interactions and social norms as well. Just look at the rhetoric the university utilizes in marketing and outreach materials — “The Wisconsin Idea is our pledge to the state, the nation, and the world that our endeavors will benefit all citizens.”
The Wisconsin Idea is rooted in good intentions, but we can’t focus on large-scale, global change if we can’t even take care of our own within a 936 acre plot.
Especially in a city as presumably welcoming as Madison — which prides itself on its growing liberal and inclusive community — it is entirely unacceptable that we continue to alienate our trans peers, either intentionally or unintentionally.
According to the 2016 Campus Climate Survey, 25 percent of trans respondents had “seriously considered” leaving UW-Madison. Of these folx, nearly one-third reported that an “unsafe or hostile environment” was the reason for such a consideration.
Trans students are less likely to trust UWPD, feel comfortable approaching their professors and teaching assistants, and feel respected and welcomed on campus than nearly any other demographic group of students.
This is not even recognizing the experience of trans POC on campus, as this particular demographic of folx are disproportionately at-risk. Rates of violence, harmful assumptions by police officers, and a homelessness rate over five times that of the general U.S. population scratch the surface of these unique struggles. And on a campus that has struggled immensely with reckoning its racist past, this intersection of identities cannot be understated when acknowledging that many UW students have greatly disappointing college experiences.
Badgers, we must do better.
Gender identity should not negatively impact someone’s college experience — or experience in any space, anywhere — let alone lead a quarter of an entire student demographic to want to drop out entirely.
Upon talking to various students on campus who identify as trans about their experiences in Madison, there were glaring injustices and cases of outright disrespect from their peers, professors and TAs, and the greater UW community.
People whom these individuals expected to be solid allies were in fact not. Programs that consistently emphasized the importance of cultural competence and reflective rhetoric did not hold up to expectations of fostering a safe space to come out in.
“The general theme I found in coming out was that people were more concerned with being perceived as inclusive and supportive than actually being supportive,” said one student. “I never expected perfection, but I did expect that people would be more concerned with making me feel accepted, heard, and supported, than proving that they are an ally.”
While wanting to be inclusive and supportive is great, being an ally is more than sporting a trendy pin or reposting words of affirmation on the internet. Saying that you support trans folx — or that “trans people deserve to live authentically,” as one student noticed in their respective program — means absolutely nothing if you grossly mishandle interpersonal situations with a student that is trans.
“Pronouns are hard for me,” is not a valid excuse to misgender a person time and time again. While the evolution of language, particularly gendered language, may be difficult for some people to grasp at first, checking your own assumptions and privilege is an active process and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Listening — rather than attempting to spew your ‘wokeness’ for all of Twitter to relish in — is not difficult. Validating someone’s experiences, as coming out looks and feels different for everyone, is as simple as shutting up, noting their needs, and offering the support you can.
“I never fully felt listened to or heard in the opening months of coming out because my requests were often met with defensiveness, rather than introspection and growth,” said one student. “So one of the biggest ways to support trans folx is to listen to what they ask of you, rather than for you to [pretend to] know everything about trans people or how to be an ally for trans people.”
Not all is dismal, however. Here on the isthmus we are in a unique position to offer our trans peers the support they need in terms of resources and access — we must bridge this gap between
Madison is one of the handful of cities in Wisconsin to offer gender affirming surgery, and has a group of 24 designated LGBTQ+ friendly medical professionals with ranging specialities. Having a hyper aware and knowledgeable physician or therapist not only ensures the continued physical wellbeing of trans folks, but can provide an additional source of emotional support and validation as well.
UHS also has 5 professionals trained to provide hormone treatments, and offers HRT in a Informed Consent Model — effectively skipping the process of needing to acquire a letter from a mental health provider in order to begin hormone replacement. This sense of autonomy should be standard — expected even — across trans health services.
Apps like Restroom Refuge offer public ratings of these spaces in terms of their accessibility and comfort level, and offices like the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center provide resources to help queer students navigate campus both literally and metaphorically.
Given this information, though, how can cis Badgers be the best allies as possible?
- Use everyone’s correct pronouns! Here’s an informative piece detailing the effects of misgendering and the usage of incorrect pronouns.
- If you do misgender someone, respond in an appropriate way that doesn’t proceed to ‘other’ this person further. Be empathetic and introspective — while cisnormativity is rampant, we can prevent these mistakes by consciously processing this change in language. (One student suggested looking at a photo of this person and repeating their correct name and pronouns as a form of practice!)
- Yet, pronouns aren’t everything. While sharing your own pronouns and being aware of the needs of those around you is necessary, one must also deconstruct their own ideas about gender construction in order to really see someone.
- Avoid unnecessarily gendered language such as “ladies and gentlemen” or “guys” — not only does this alienate NB/GNC folx, but reinstates the cisnormative tendency for people to assign gender arbitrarily (and in some cases, harmfully).
- STOP GAWKING AT TRANS PEOPLE IN THE BATHROOM. These students are not a threat — we all poop, and the rooms in which we communally do this are not as big of a freaking deal as the media continually makes it.
- Remember that the struggles of trans folx are not a “debate” or “abstract issues.” “They affect real people, many who may be in the room with you,” said one student.
While this list is nowhere near comprehensive, we as a community can (and need to) be better. We must put our archaic perceptions of gender construction and expression aside, and band together to support our fellow Badgers regardless of something as arbitrary as genitalia at birth.
Cis people must act not only as strong allies, but as an additional defense system against transphobia — like a shield or suit of armor. By educating ourselves and those around us, we can foster a cultural shift of acceptance and celebration rather than xenophobia.
Sam is a senior studying journalism, with certificates in development economics and environmental policy. How do you think cis students can be the best allies for trans peers? Do you think there are additional steps required of the university to foster a welcoming environment? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org