He comes out to his students on the first day of class ““ not as gay, but as transgender.
Women’s studies doctoral student and TA Jacob Lau told me that putting a face to a label is vitally important. He jokingly says that he tells his class, “I’m not some demon that’s going to eat you, I’m here to teach you.”
But the treatment of transgendered individuals is no laughing matter. Transgender women and men make up a population that has been simultaneously ignored and targeted for decades. In our daily lives, most of us don’t think beyond the gender binary. Yet when people are made distinctly aware of their gender by those who defy their “roles,” the reaction is frequently one of disgust and violence.
The attempted suicide rate for transgender individuals speaks for itself: 41 percent of more than 6,400 transgender and gender nonconforming respondents admitted to attempting suicide in a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality survey.
A transgender individual is not necessarily of a specific sexual orientation; generally speaking, transgender individuals believe that their assigned sex, the one given at birth, does not represent their true gender identity. A transgender man, for example, was born female but believes his gender performance should be male.
Although UCLA may be considered LGBT-friendly, incidents of harassment are not uncommon. Just last week an incident occurred that university police are investigating as anti-LGBT. Peter Carley, interim director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center, said that instances of verbal abuse are very underreported.
While numerous events advocate for the “umbrella” of LGBT, we need more events that focus specifically on transgender issues, and they need greater visibility.
Students are often left to educate themselves about matters that may only be superficially discussed in classes. My only exposure to transgender issues in any depth was in a women’s studies class that I happened to take as a GE.
For homework, we watched a documentary called “TransGeneration,” which followed the lives of four transgender individuals. Had I not randomly taken this class, it is likely I would never have gained the empathy for the transgender community that I now have.
Although many are reluctant to establish a diversity GE despite its presence at all UCs except UCLA, at the very least students should be exposed to these issues early on in their college careers.
Personal stories told at orientation are a start ““ perhaps clips of documentaries such as “TransGeneration” could be shown in the hopes of inspiring students to continue further research on their own.
Transgender individuals face struggles that are unique even to the other members of the LGBT community; driver’s licenses may no longer match the individual and cause embarrassment in certain situations. In California, people may opt to change the gender on their licenses, but only if a psychologist or physician has validated the request.
Unfortunately, such gender policing reinforces the idea that some third party must approve our gender despite the fact that being a woman or a man is a role we choose to perform.
When it comes to health care, hospitals haven’t figured out how to ensure the safety and privacy of trans men who come in for a gynecological exam. Furthermore, the long-term effects of hormone therapy used to help individuals transition from one sex to the other have not been studied despite such treatments being around since 1925. And such a marginalized population has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS because they aren’t being given access to the resources they need to practice safe sex.
Although lesbian and gay issues have been in the public eye for quite some time, transgender issues are just beginning to become more visible at UCLA. The drag fashion show was the first of its kind last year. On Tuesday night, the Billy Wilder Theatre at the UCLA Hammer Museum held a screening of “Becoming Chaz,” which follows the story of Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male.
Gamma Rho Lambda, a national all-inclusive sorority for women, started a UCLA chapter just last year. Though they accept transgender women, they currently do not have any.
“There are so few in the public eye that it’s hard to even address their issues,” said Darlene Tran, a third-year psychology student and public relations officer for the group. “A lot of the time it’s overshadowed by the LGB.”
This points to the tension that exists even within the LGBT community that appears to be the result of misinformation. While getting his master’s degree at Harvard, Lau was frequently propositioned for sex by gay men who assumed that because he is transgender, he must also be gay.
Besides educating students, there are small steps UCLA can take to accommodate the transgender population. On a more routine level, gender-neutral bathrooms are critical in ensuring that transgender individuals won’t be subjected to violence. According to Lau, UCLA’s list of restrooms, which currently shows only 16 are gender-neutral, is not updated.
Generally speaking, the world is slowly becoming more tolerant of transgender individuals. In Pakistan, where members of the LGBT community have traditionally been outcast, from society, the “third sex” gained legal recognition that has paved the way for equal rights. Yet much also remains to be done, and we have an obligation to contribute to the progress that has already begun.
We must continue to actively ally ourselves with those individuals brave enough to resist immense social pressure in order to be who they truly are. Because, as Lau poignantly showed his students, we are all human ““ regardless of what label society imposes on us.