On Tuesday, April 11, Alexis Brenner’s (’16) senior project for her women’s and gender studies class debuted on campus. The Transgender Conference had three sessions throughout the day.
“Becoming Trans: The History and Politics of a Category,” delivered by Dr. Cael Keegan of Grand Valley State University, discussed the centuries old record of trans-life. Despite popular belief, transgender is not a new development. Keegan, who is trans himself, shared numerous stories of “trans-revolutionaries” who pepper American history, such as Albert D.J. Cashier, a soldier in the Union army who was a transgender man. He also spoke of Mangnus Hirschfeld who is known for working with Lili Elbe, a woman known as one of the the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery (her story is depicted in the 2015 film “The Danish Girl”) and his student, Harry Benjamin, were doctors recognized in the talk for their work with the transgender community. Outlets and activist groups were highlighted as well. Many groups were formed after a series of riots broke out at businesses in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which were in response to police arresting trans people for the illegal act of cross-dressing.
The trans political agenda began to get louder and louder, but both the gay and lesbian activists began separating themselves from the gender non-conforming population. In fact, it wasn’t until 1992 that the “T” for transgender was added to “LGB.” But this wasn’t before homosexuality was taken off the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM, and transexuality was added in 1980.
A recurring theme in Keegan’s lecture was that transgender is not a new phenomenon, it has always been considered an illness and disorder, and now more than ever, trans people are in danger of being affected by hate crimes.
Lee West, an alum of Hope College (’10), discussed the climate of Hope College and what could be done to make colleges and universities more accommodating to trans-people in his discussion “Any Body Can Go Here: Making Higher Education More Accessible for Trans Students.” Not only were students in attendance, but also faculty, members of the community and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, representatives. Before beginning his talk, West invited the audience to ask questions and think of the reason why they were there.
One of the biggest topics that was examined was bathrooms and whether a third bathrooms should be constructed or if society should throw out gendered bathrooms in favor of all gender bathroom. Gender integrated arrangements in residential halls were also reviewed. West explained three big tips for making higher ed trans friendly: utilize an integrative framework that acknowledges the existence and value of trans-people; work to dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy; and support activism.
“We created our own problems. Luckily we have a solution,” West said. “Once we stop prioritizing the comfort of those who are cisgender (identify with the sex they were assigned at birth) and stop isolating trans-people, we will be able to tackle problems the trans community experience,” West argued.
While Hope may not be able to implement unisex bathrooms now, professors attending the discussion devised ways to integrate transfriendly actions, such as inviting student to share their preferred pronouns.
The last session was built around the screening of the documentary “Screaming Queens.” The 2005 film is about transgender women and drag queens who fought police harassment in 1966 because they were cross-dressing and “obstructing the sidewalk.” Throughout the whole conference, a thought that was continually repeated was to take what was learned at the conference and continue the dialogue.
“We’ve been asking for the same thing for 30 years, and we keep hearing ‘no’,” West said while discussing action.
What students can do is band together because, after all, college is made for students. Following right after the conclusion of the final session, members of the student body who attended started talking with one another, discussing how they could